Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Behind Breakdown of Korea Talks, a History of Suspicions

My wife commented that north Korea has not been able to figure out President Park.  I think perhaps the north's action here (though expected and in line with their playbook of how to scuttle agreements) may be an illustration that it is wary of (if not fears) the potential of President Park's policy of "trustpolitik."    She is taking the moral high ground and the north may be beginning to understand that she is not one who will back down in the face of provocation and rhetoric.  Furthermore, I think one of the things China has made clear to the regime is that the ROK/US Alliance is stronger and more unified than ever and that the north is not going to be successful in splitting the Alliance.  And most importantly the strength of the Alliance provides President Park with a strong foundation from which to operate and from this she has a lot of flexibility.  I think the regime may be beginning to figure this out.

June 12, 2013

Behind Breakdown of Korea Talks, a History of Suspicions

SEOUL, South Korea — Plans to hold what would have been the highest government dialogue between North and South Korea in years — and hopes for a rapprochement on the divided Korean Peninsula — collapsed over what appeared to be a minor technical issue: who should lead their delegations to the planned talks.

But in the decades-old confrontation between the two Koreas, even a matter of protocol can escalate into a highly sensitive struggle over pride. Their latest tussle over the proper ranks of their chief delegates was in part an extension of a struggle that has persisted for decades.

“We must think of the pride of our people,” Prime Minister Chung Hong-won of South Korea told the National Assembly on Wednesday, explaining what was at stake in the dispute with North Korea.
During border talks decades ago, both sides took the competition over protocol and appearances to the extreme, with North Korean military officers secretly adding inches to the legs of their chairs so they would look taller than their counterparts from South Korea and the United States across the table.
In those cold war-era meetings, the sides usually exchanged invectives and retorts. But they also sometimes persisted in silence — for over 11 hours in one session in 1969 — challenging the other side to speak first.

In the best-known contest of pride on the divided peninsula, North and South Korea once engaged in a race over which country could raise its national flag higher over the heavily fortified border. That battle was eventually settled with the North beating the South; today, the North’s flagpole stands 500 feet tall, beating the rival South staff by roughly 200 feet.

The latest tussle of pride began when the two Koreas agreed this week to hold government-to-government dialogue in Seoul, starting on Wednesday, but could not come to terms on who should be their chief delegates.

South Korea said it would send its vice unification minister, Kim Nam-sik, to the meeting as its chief delegate. North Korea said that Mr. Kim was not senior enough and demanded that the South send Mr. Kim’s supervisor, the Unification Minister Ryoo Kihl-jae, as chief delegate. The South retorted that the proposed chief North Korean delegate — Kang Ji-yong, director of the secretariat of the Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of Korea — was already below Mr. Kim “in status.”

Last-minute negotiations for a compromise had failed, with both Koreas complaining of a bruised ego. Then, on the eve of the talks, North Korea pulled out of the planned meeting in Seoul, accusing the South of “an insult,” South Korean officials said.

It appeared unlikely that the two Koreas would try to resume negotiations any time soon.
South Korean officials said they were still open to dialogue but had no plan to reach out to the North by making a concession over the chief delegate. On Wednesday, Mr. Chung, the South Korean prime minister, said his government had no intention of succumbing to the North’s “humiliating” demand.
North Korea has not made any announcement on the matter since its withdrawal from the talks. On Wednesday, it did not respond when the South made routine maintenance calls on the cross-border communications hot lines.

Critics accused the South Korean government of ruining a chance to engage the North through dialogue, instead bickering over protocol matters. The planned talks had raised hopes of a thaw on the peninsula after months of bellicose rhetoric, including threats of nuclear war, from the North. But South Korean officials said that their firm stance reflected the new approach under President Park Geun-hye, who has stressed “principle” and “trust” in relations with the North and vowed to make the North respect “global standards.”
(Continued at the link below)

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