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South Korean President Moon calls for closer ties with North Korea

South Korean President Moon calls for closer ties with North Korea
President Moon Jae-in delivered his New Year's address at the presidential office in Seoul on Tuesday, calling for efforts to revitalize the inter-Korean relationship. Photo by Yonhap

SEOUL, Jan. 7 (UPI) -- South Korean President Moon Jae-in called Tuesday for improving his country's strained relationship with North Korea through inter-Korean economic projects and a visit by North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

During a televised New Year's Day address, Moon said, "It is a time of hardship for peace on the Korean Peninsula," but that he hoped that a "peace economy" would allow both North and South to prosper.

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"The cloud of war, which had been over the Korean Peninsula until 2017, has receded," Moon said. "However, there is much regret that we have not made any further progress in inter-Korean cooperation over the past year."

During an inter-Korean summit in Pyongyang held in September 2018, the two sides agreed that Kim Jong Un would visit Seoul "at an early date" and Moon repeated the invitation on Tuesday.

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"We hope that the South and the North will work together to ensure that the conditions for the visit of Chairman Kim Jong Un are prepared as soon as possible," he said.

Moon, who has made closer ties with Pyongyang a central focus of his administration since his election in 2017, underlined his ongoing commitment to two major inter-Korean projects: reopening the joint Kaesong Industrial Complex and resuming tourism to the Mount Kumgang resort area.

He also said he still hoped to connect rail and road links between the countries, which he said "will not only lead to international cooperation but will also greatly support the resumption of tourism between the two Koreas and invigorate tourism in North Korea."

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Economic projects have been touted as a centerpiece of Moon's engagement policies with Pyongyang, but they have remained in limbo as international sanctions on North Korea stay in effect amid stalled diplomatic relations with the United States.

Nuclear negotiations between the United States and North Korea have been at an impasse since a summit between U.S. President Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un in February in Hanoi, Vietnam, ended abruptly without an agreement.

Rhetoric from Washington and Pyongyang has heated up in recent weeks, while North Korea carried out a series of missile and rocket tests during the latter half of 2019.

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Last week, Kim Jong Un announced that there was no longer any reason to be "unilaterally bound" to its commitment to halt nuclear and intercontinental ballistic missile tests and warned of a "new strategic weapon" coming soon.

In his address on Tuesday, Moon stressed the importance of resuming negotiations between the United States and North Korea.

"If North Korea-U.S. dialogue is successful, the door to inter-Korean cooperation will open wider and faster," he said, adding that South Korea "will do all we can" to foster dialogue.

Moon touted the benefits of sports exchanges between the two Koreas, holding out hope for a successful joint bid to host the 2032 Olympics.

"The joint co-hosting of the 2032 Olympics will be a great opportunity to show off to the world that the two Koreas are a Korean people and to take a leap together," he said.

It was North Korea's participation in the 2018 Winter Olympics held in Pyeongchang, South Korea, that kickstarted a period of detente between the two countries, including a historic summit at the DMZ between Moon and Kim in April of that year.

Moon also called for the North's support in an effort to have the DMZ, which has divided the Korean Peninsula since the armistice agreement that halted the Korean War in 1953, listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site.

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"The Demilitarized Zone is a place of enormous value, including ecology and history, reconciliation and peace between the two Koreas, and co-listing the UNESCO World Heritage is something we can start right away," Moon said. "I hope that North Korea responds."

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