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Optimism remains over resumption of talks

By Zhou Wa (China Daily)

08:42, June 13, 2013

Pyongyang and Seoul both are still willing to resume communication, experts said on Wednesday after high-level intergovernmental talks between the two sides were called off.

But the Democratic People's Republic of Korea and the Republic of Korea should attach more importance to the broader situation on the Korean Peninsula rather than on saving face, observers said.

The two countries had initially agreed to hold their first high-level talks in six years in Seoul on Wednesday and Thursday, but the meeting was called off at the last moment on Tuesday due to a disagreement over the level of the talks.

Pyongyang and Seoul both are reluctant to make concessions when it comes to cross-border communications, but it is more important to improve bilateral ties, said Wang Junsheng, a researcher on East Asia studies with the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.

"Lack of mutual trust is a structural problem between the two countries," he said. "If they cannot resolve it, a tiny issue like protocol can sink any attempt to restart communication."

The DPRK and the ROK had exchanged a list of their five-member delegations that would represent them at the talks, the Seoul-based Yonhap news agency reported.

Seoul planned to send Vice-Unification Minister Kim Nam-shik as the chief negotiator, but Pyongyang complained about the nomination of such a low-level official. Pyongyang nominated Kang Ji-young, director of the DPRK's Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of Korea, as its chief delegate.

Huang Youfu, a professor of Korean studies at Minzu University of China, said that the dispute on the protocol issue shows that the two countries both want to gain the initiative in the planned negotiations.

Pyongyang didn't reply to calls that Seoul made on Wednesday on the communication line that runs through the truce village of Panmunjom, a day after high-level government talks were called off, Yonhap said.

Blaming the ROK's joint military drills with the United States, the DPRK cut the Panmunjom communication mechanism - one phone and one fax line - on March 11, reconnecting it only last week.

Such a development means there is no direct contact between the two countries because three military hotlines were all cut due to the mounting tensions on the peninsula.

However, when asked to comment on the cancellation, ROK Unification Minister Ryoo Kihl-jae said it is a temporary setback for new inter-Korean relations, implying that Seoul is still open to dialogue with the DPRK.

Meanwhile, Pyongyang also showed a desire to improve ties between the two countries.

On Wednesday, Yonhap cited a report in DPRK's ruling party newspaper as saying that it is important to maintain a good atmosphere to further develop relations between the two countries.

Since both the ROK and the DPRK have the willingness to restart communication, "it is still possible for direct official talks in the future, although they cannot be resumed in the short term", Huang said.

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