Posted by: Ihlwan Moon on February 2, 2010
Despite North Korea’s salvos last week of artillery shells towards the disputed maritime border with South Korea, the Seoul government expects Pyongyang’s communist regime to seek inter-Korean détente and better ties with the West. South Korean Unification Minister Hyun In Taek on Feb. 2 described the firing and other North Korean provocations in recent weeks as “fallout” from defiant policies of Northern leader Kim Jong Il in 2008 and 2009, when the country undertook missile and nuclear tests. “If you look at the big picture, North Korea is in the process of coming out for dialogue from its hardline stance,” he told foreign correspondents in Seoul.
While North Korea has been sending out mixed signals, Seoul is encouraged by Kim’s policy shift placing a high priority on economic development. North and South Korea on Feb. 1 held talks in the joint industrial zone just north of the Korean border on ways to promote economic cooperation only days after the three-day firing of artillery shells near southern islands. There were no casualties from the salvos.
In another indication that the North wants to mend ties with the South, Pyongyang has offered to reopen a North Korean mountain resort to South Korean tourists. The tourism project used to give the cash-strapped communist nation tens of millions of dollars annually before Pyongyang closed it in 2008. “If South-North relations improve and economic cooperation picks up, the North Korean economy will get a boost,” Hyun said.
Underlining Kim Jong Il’s policy priority, the North Korean leader doubled his inspection trips to factories and power plants in January from a year earlier, according to the Seoul ministry. It told Bloomberg News that half of the 20 “field guidance” trips made by Kim in January were to economic projects, more than double the four such trips a year earlier. “You cannot be completely optimistic (about North Korea) but you can read its posturing for dialogue,” says Hyun.