North Korea’s hard and soft tactics

North Korea on Sept. 21 announced the indefinite postponement of a series of reunions — for families separated by the 1950-53 Korean War — that were set to start Sept. 25 at Mount Kumgang in the country. The reunions would have been the first in almost three years. North Korea’s unilateral decision is highly regrettable from a humanitarian viewpoint. It will plunge the relationship between Pyongyang and Seoul, which had thawed in recent months, back into a chilly state.

North Korea has carried out provocative acts, including launching what it claimed was an artificial satellite into orbit in December by using a long-range rocket, exploding a nuclear device — its third nuclear explosion test — in February and declaring the armistice agreement that ended the Korean War null and void in March. It also forced South Koreans to leave the Kaesong industrial park in late April. Some 53,000 North Korean workers work at some 120 factories in the area run by South Korean companies.

Later, the North appeared to have changed its course from provocation to dialogue. It resumed talks with South Korea over the industrial park. On Sept. 16, the operations of the industrial park resumed. In an international sports event for weightlifting held in Pyongyang on Sept. 14, the South Korean flag was hoisted and the South Korean national anthem was sung for the first time in an official event in North Korea.

It would not be far-fetched to think that North Korea is using hard and soft tactics to gain diplomatic advantages. White smoke believed to be steam was seen coming from an experimental reactor in Yongbyon in August, and the possibility has been raised that the reactor is now being operated.

Although North Korean leaders may think that their tactics are working to their advantage, they should realize that their actions are causing the international community to lose trust in the country. Such tactics will bring no benefits to North Korea.

Pyongyang should take a concrete step that will help create a peaceful environment in Northeast Asia that is beneficial not only to North Korea but also to other countries in the region. Such steps should include quick implementation of the reunions of families separated between the North and the South by the Korean War and allowing experts of the International Atomic Energy Agency to inspect North Korea’s nuclear facilities.

Vice Marshal Choe Ryong Hae, director of the North Korean armed forces’ General Political Bureau, said on the occasion of a military parade in Pyongyang on July 27 that for North Korea, which regards economic development and raising people’s living standards as urgent tasks, a peaceful environment is indispensable. The North Korean leadership should realize that the initiative to follow through with that peace is in its hand.