Korea summit ′is a great opportunity′ | Asia| An in-depth look at news from across the continent | DW | 26.04.2018
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Korea summit 'is a great opportunity'

The meeting between North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and South Korean President Moon Jae-in offers a chance for both leaders to build trust through open and honest talks, South Korean diplomat Keum Chang Rok tells DW.

For years, North and South Korea haven't been on speaking terms. And ties between the two sides deteriorated to a point of total breakdown due to the North's repeated nuclear and missile tests. After Donald Trump took office as US president, risks of a military conflagration spiked.

With his willingness to engage in dialogue, South Korean President Moon Jae-in paved the way for an inter-Korean summit and eventually for a planned meeting between North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and Trump.

In an interview with DW, diplomat Keum Chang Rok spoke about South Korean expectations and lessons from the German reunification process.

DW: Given that for years there wasn't any progress in terms of resolving the Korean conflict, how do you explain this sudden willingness for dialogue from all parties involved?

Keum Chang Rok: The participation of North Korea in the Olympic Winter Games in Pyeongchang and the mutual deployment of special envoys gave an opportunity to ease the ongoing tensions on the Korean Peninsula and to agree on holding an inter-Korean summit.

Generalkonsul Keum Chang Rok (Botschaft Südkorea)

Keum Chang Rok: 'We expect the inter-Korean summit to improve relations not only between the two Koreas but also between the US and North Korea and neighboring countries'

There are some doubts as to whether the drastic change in North Korea's attitude is merely to save time for advancing its nuclear program. However, we should not judge Pyongyang's changed attitude from a specific point of view, but adapt to all conceivable situations and opportunities and prepare ourselves thoroughly.

One can say the "Berlin Initiative," which President Moon announced during his visit to Germany last July, could also have given an impulse for dialogue. As part of this initiative, the South Korean government sets out a coherent North Korea policy and seeks positive responses from Pyongyang. Since the North was apparently in agreement with South Korea's political stance, it responded positively to the offer of inter-Korean talks.

Since the Olympic Winter Games in Pyeongchang, a mutual understanding has developed that a peaceful resolution of the conflict on the Korean Peninsula has to be achieved through dialogue.

It would be a historic success not only for Korea, but also for world peace, if the current inter-Korean summit and the US-North Korea summit would lead to denuclearization, lasting peace-building and the improvement of inter-Korean and US-North Korea relations.

What are South Korea's expectations from the inter-Korean summit and the US-North Korea talks?

The inter-Korean summit is taking place in the border town of Panmunjom, within the demilitarized zone, a place symbolizing the division and military confrontation on the Korean Peninsula. Given that inter-Korean relations have long been plagued by mutual distrust, it will be important for President Moon and North Korea's ruler Kim to build trust through open and honest discussions.

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We have a great opportunity — to achieve denuclearization, a peace agreement and a path to shared prosperity for both Koreas. At the summits, we have to find a practical solution regarding denuclearization. Our government will do its utmost to ensure that the two summits are successful, and that North Korea makes the strategic decision to initiate appropriate denuclearization measures.

We expect the inter-Korean summit to improve relations not only between the two Koreas but also between the US and North Korea and neighboring countries. It will certainly be a groundbreaking result for world peace if denuclearization in North Korea and normalization of the US-North Korean relationship are achieved. On these issues, we are in close contact with US officials on different levels.

President Moon is hoping for confidence-building measures, no matter how small. What could these be?

President Moon firmly believes that war should never break out again on the Korean Peninsula. He has stated that the Republic of Korea does not wish for a collapse of North Korea, and that reunification should not be unilateral or artificial.

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The harsh international sanctions against the North, which are still in force, currently limit economic cooperation between South and North Korea. Nevertheless, we want to implement the "Initiative for the New Economic Community" that will bring prosperity to the entire Korean Peninsula. We must try to create the right conditions, as an economic approach will be needed to ensure peace. But serious discussions about economic cooperation will only be possible if there is substantial progress in solving the nuclear issue.

We will also try to consistently promote exchange and cooperation on a non-political level, regardless of the political situation. Today, about 58,000 people, who lost their homes due to the Korean War and the division, and who were separated from their families, still live in South Korea. For humanitarian reasons, separated families must be allowed to meet and reunite. Inter-Korean exchange in sports, as demonstrated by the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, can also be a good measure.

Reconciliation through confidence-building measures is reminiscent of former West German Chancellor Willy Brandt's "Ostpolitik." Do you think a "change through rapprochement" is possible in North Korea?

Despite the different historical and political backgrounds between Germany and Korea, Willy Brandt’s "New Ostpolitik," based on the slogan "Change through rapprochement," is significant for our North Korean policy. However, the Germans in the former East and West could write letters to each other or to a certain extent even visit each other, which is not at all possible with us. Therefore, it is essential that both Koreas build mutual trust through the "policy of small steps," and create an atmosphere of reconciliation.

Kim Jong Un has expressed his will to denuclearize on various occasions recently, and unlike before, he seems to have softened his stance on the issue. Therefore, would it be worthwhile for Korea and the international community to press for reconciliation?

We hope that Germany — because of its history of painful division and peaceful reunification — will share its valuable experiences with us and encourage us to pursue policies that promote trust and confidence.

Through his surprise visit to Beijing, Kim appeased China while securing its support for the upcoming negotiations. Do you think a re-run of the six-party talks is the right format for further negotiations?

On many occasions, including the recent Pyongyang-Beijing Summit, China has played an active and constructive role in bringing North Korea back to the negotiating table regarding denuclearization, and also contributed toward making the inter-Korean as well as the US-North Korea summits possible.

Currently, our government is also focusing its diplomatic efforts on making both summits a success. Progress during these meetings could open up various dialogue channels.

Keum Chang Rok has been serving as consul general and head of the Embassy of the Republic of Korea in Germany's Bonn city since February 2016.

The interview was conducted by Alexander Freund.

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