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South Korea Unveils Plan to Normalize Relations With North Korea Amid Tensions

Flags of North Korea, rear, and South Korea, front, flutter in the wind from the border area between two Koreas in Paju, South Korea, on Aug. 9, 2021. (Im Byung-shik/Yonhap via AP)

South Korea on Friday unveiled a plan for reunification with North Korea, which includes efforts to provide North Korea with humanitarian aid, in a bid to revive stalled denuclearization talks amid flaring tensions between the two rivals.

The South Korean Ministry of Unification presented a report to President Yoon Suk-yeol on its plans and prospects for 2023 outlining seven key policy objectives aimed at improving inter-Korean relations.

It aims to strengthen South Korea’s defense posture against North Korean provocations through an alliance with the United States while also pursuing efforts to create a conducive environment for dialogue.

The South Korean government will seek to make “direct and indirect contact” with North Korea through civic groups and international groups as part of efforts to normalize relations with the regime, it stated.

The ministry pledged to address human rights violations and issues brought on by Koreas’ division—such as families separated by the division and the detention of South Koreans in North Korea—if inter-Korean dialogues resume.

It also planned to publish an annual report detailing the human rights situation in North Korea and make public the contents of the Rodong Sinmun, the mouthpiece of North Korea’s ruling party.

“We intend to create conditions in which North Korea, which has been ignoring the livelihood of its people and has continued to take risks, has no choice but to come to dialogue for denuclearization,” Unification Minister Kwon Young-se told reporters.

“Now is the time to respond strongly based on the U.S.-South Korea alliance, to make North Korea realize that it has nothing to gain by military provocations,” he was quoted as saying by Korea JoongAng Daily.

‘Reunification Can Happen Suddenly’

In response to the report, Yoon ordered the ministry to conduct research and share its findings with the local and global community about North Korea’s politics, economic, social, and human rights situation.

Epoch Times Photo South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol speaks on the government supplementary budget at the National Assembly in Seoul, South Korea, on Oct. 25, 2022. (Jeon Heon-kyun/Pool/Getty Images)

Yoon said that both South Korea and North Korea must undergo changes in order for reunification to happen.

“Reunification can happen suddenly, so only when we are prepared can we realize it,” he said, according to his office. “Please prepare with level-headed judgment rather than through an emotional approach.”

North Korea has suspended virtually all cooperation with rival South Korea since the collapse of its nuclear negotiations with the United States in 2019 over disagreements in exchanging the release of U.S.-led sanctions and steps to cut back its nuclear weapons and missiles program.

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un further ramped up tensions in 2022, test-firing more than 70 missiles, including potentially nuclear-capable weapons of various ranges targeting South Korea and the continental United States.

In August last year, Yoon offered North Korea economic benefits in exchange for denuclearization steps, but it was rejected by the North Korean regime. Kim said that there will be no denuclearization talks, negotiations, or “bargaining chips” in that process.

North Korea passed a new law in September 2022 allowing it to conduct a nuclear strike “automatically” against any “hostile forces” posing an imminent threat to the nation.

Kim vowed that his country will “never give up nuclear weapons,” regardless of the military situation on the Korean Peninsula and even if North Korea is subjected to “100 years of sanctions.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.