When I went to bed last night, the prospect of an agreement was looking bleak… which, of course, meant a last-minute accord would be waiting for me when I awoke.
The two Koreas narrowly avoided – well, I’m not sure exactly what, but it probably wasn’t war – by agreeing to a six-point agreement. The joint press statement reads:
1. North and South Korea agreed their officials would hold talks in Pyongyang or Seoul at an early date in order to improve ties and have multi-faceted dialogue and negotiations in the future.
2. The North expressed regret over recent land mine blasts that occurred on the Southern side of the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ), which maimed two South Korean soldiers.
3. South Korea agreed to stop all loudspeaker propaganda broadcasts along the military demarcation line from noon Aug. 25, considering no unusual activity along the border occurs.
4. The North will lift its quasi-state of war declaration.
5. North and South Korea agreed to arrange reunions for the families separated by the 1950-53 Korean War on the occasion of the upcoming Chuseok Holidays in September and continue to hold reunions in the future. The two sides agreed to have working contact with the Red Cross for the event in September.
6. North and South Korea agreed to renew NGO exchanges in various fields.
This was probably the best 43 hours of talks could produce, even with South Korean national security adviser Kim Kwan-jin reportedly negotiating like a bit of a bad-ass. Frankly, I’m surprised the South even got the North Koreans to issue a statement of regret – a.k.a. the closest thing, practically speaking, you’ll ever get to a public apology from the North Koreans – regarding the mines. Nothing on the rocket fired over the DMZ, it seems, though. No harm, no foul, I suppose.
Anyway, South Korea’s free K-pop broadcasts to the Korean People’s Army were suspended at noon today. But don’t frown, comrades – the agreement does suggest the broadcasts could begin again if your government screws up. And nobody ever lost money betting on Pyongyang to screw up.
In its editorial on the agreement, Ye Olde Chosun indicated general satisfaction with the agreement – the North’s de facto admission that it was responsible for the landmine attack stands in sharp contrast to its attitude following the sinking of the Cheonan and shelling of Yeonpyeongdo. The paper also said we should draw three lessons from the experience:
1) The government and military should respond according to principle from start to finish. President Park and the ROK military stuck to their guns, so to speak, and they got North Korea to back down. In the past, the South Korean authorities had been all talk.
2) Politicians and public opinion can lend support to the government and military by speaking with one voice. Condemnation of the North was very much a bipartisan effort in the South, and the ruling party and opposition showed a great deal of bipartisan cooperation. Again, this stands in contrast with the past, when the North would take advantage of political divisions within the South between doves and hard-liners.
3) South Korean citizens were united in their desire to see their government stick it to the North. Local residents along the DMZ who were forced into evacuation bunkers told the public they were fine and that the government should concentrate on correcting the North’s bad habits.
Anyway, Ye Olde Chosun thinks the agreement could become a starting point for Park to improve relations with the North and to begin realizing her vision for inter-Korean relations. The paper hopes, though, that in future talks with the North – over such likely topics as the restart of tourism to the Geumgangsan Mountains and the ending of punitive measures taken by the South following the Cheonan sinking – the president sticks to her principles even while showing flexibility.
The Dong-A Ilbo took a much grimmer view of the agreement, expressing regret that the South agreed to end its broadcasts – Seoul’s only real asymmetric asset against Pyongyang, the paper said – even though the North did not outright apologize for its wrongdoing. As far as the Dong-A’s concerned, it’s rewarding the North for its bad behavior, or more of the same old same-old.
The Hankyoreh, meanwhile, seemed pleased with the results – despite having been apprehensive about the administration’s tough stance vis-a-vis the North.
Fun Fact: North Korea has apologized or expressed “regret” over a military provocation a grand total of five times, including this latest time. The previous four times, you ask?
– Late North Korean leader apologized – not “expressed regret,” but outright apologized – to visiting South Korean intelligence chief Lee Hu-rak when the latter secretly visited Pyongyang in May 1972. Kim was apologizing for the attempted attack on the South Korean presidential mansion by a North Korean commando team on Jan. 21, 1968. It should be pointed out, though, that the North Korean leader still avoided taking direct responsibility for the attack, instead blaming in on radicals within North Korea.
– Four days after North Korean troops killed two American officers during the so-called Panmunjeom Axe Murder Incident on Aug. 18, 1976, a North Korean commander apologized to a UN commander, but only after the United States had executed the Mother Of All Tree-cutting Exercises, which included parking an aircraft carrier off the Korean coast.
– In December of 1996, the North Korean foreign ministry expressed regret for an armed incursion by North Korean commandos into South Korea’s eastern coastal area in September of that year. It also said it would work to ensure such things didn’t happen again. Which was nice of them.
– During military talks in July 2002, the head of the North Korean delegation expressed regret to his southern counterpart for the “accidental” naval clash that took place off the coast of Yeonpyeongdo Island in June.