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North Korea Groping for Timesaving Tactics
[Analysis] Inter-Korean matters have been dwarfed by the hostage crisis
Lee Byong-chul (merrycow)     Print Article 
Published 2007-08-09 04:55 (KST)   
This article is only lightly edited.  <Editor's Note>
In inter-Korean relations, it's frequently said that good news and bad news often coexist. Pyongyang's refusal to participate in an annual inter-Korean event to mark Liberation Day on Aug. 15 in Busan, the second largest city in South Korea, was surely bad news. It will likely now become extremely difficult to establish the so-called institutionalization of inter-Korean dialogue that began to work in a full manner following the South-North summit meeting of 2000.

Firstly, North Korea was politically quick to strike an ideological chord again by claiming that it does not want lawmakers from the conservative Grand National Party to take the main seats and deliver speeches at the ceremony. Apparently, the North did not hide its uneasiness over the highly possible victory of the GNP in the December presidential election. The GNP's recent change of policies toward North Korea -- despite the political backlash from traditional conservatives -- did not seem to satisfy the North at all.

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Secondly, North Korea's boycott reflects its attempt to distance Seoul from Washington by demanding a stop to the upcoming annual Ulji Focus Lens military exercise. The North wanted to lend an element of anti-Americanism to South Korean liberals' calculations so they would protest against the exercise.

Thirdly, North Korea should be very satisfied with what it has so far obtained from South Korea and the United States for shutting down its nuclear facilities -- for example, rice and heavy oil. In other words, it goes without saying that North Korea has successfully garnered what it wanted, and thus has found it unnecessary to respond hastily to South Korea.

Lastly, the North seemed to take into consideration the South Korean hostages being held captive by the Taliban in Afghanistan. Obviously, inter-Korean matters, including the nuclear issue, have been relatively dwarfed by the hostage crisis. It is thus estimated that the event could run counter to the liberal faction's wishes unless the hostages are successfully released before it starts. The North Korean delegation could become "unwanted guests" while causing some sharp conflicts between the conservatives and the liberals.

Pyongyang was adroit enough to offer the mid-September inter-Korean ministerial talks one day before it notified Seoul of its Busan event boycott. North Korea fully remembers that the past inter-Korean talks worked wonders in terms of garnering economic assistances from South Korea. Its expectations may be misplaced now as the people are sick and tired of the South Korean government's seemingly one-way assistance.
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