The cancellation of the Korean rivals’ much-anticipated meeting, felled at the last minute by a protocol dispute, shows their deep mutual mistrust. Still, they may have more reasons than not to eventually unpack the meeting gear and get back to negotiations.
South Korean President Park Geun-hye is under pressure to make good on her campaign promises to reverse a deterioration of ties under her hard-line predecessor. A high-level meeting would validate her efforts to be tough against provocations while committing to aid and calls for dialogue.
North Korea is interested in reviving the two economic projects that were to be the main focus of the meetings, both as an emblem of reconciliation and as a source of foreign investment and hard cash. Pyongyang may also be feeling a pinch from its only major ally, China, which has clamped down on cross-border trade and financial dealings in displeasure over the higher tensions.
On Wednesday, Pyongyang wouldn’t answer Seoul’s calls on a communications line that was restored ahead of preliminary negotiations for the failed meeting. On Thursday, North Korea release a statement in state media warning Seoul against advocating “confrontation accompanied by dialogue.”
Ryoo Kihl-jae, South Korea’s Unification Minister and Park’s point man on North Korea, had likened the talks’ failure Wednesday to “labor pains” in the creation of new relations.
Yoo Ho-yeol, a North Korea studies professor at Korea University in the South, said calling off the talks at the last minute shows the degree of mistrust is high.
Later Wednesday, more than 100 right-wing protesters, including Korean War veterans, chanted anti-Pyongyang slogans as they burned an effigy of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and ripped a North Korean flag with a box-cutter.
“Even though a cooling-off period at this point is inevitable, it is still possible for a different level of the South-North talks to take place as time passes,” said Kim Yong-hyun, a professor of North Korea studies of Dongguk University in Seoul.