September 29, 2020

May day: Are the 5.24 Measures holding back inter-Korean relations?

North Korea watchers think South Korea needs a ‘detour’ around trade restrictions

Enacted in 2010 in response to the sinking of South Korea’s Cheonan naval vessel, the May 24 measures have barred virtually all inter-Korean trade outside of the Kaesong Industrial Complex. As this was basically the extent of the South’s punitive measures in response to the Cheonan, a panel of experts agreed that it would be very hard to undo them.

However, they generally agreed that the measures have done little to curtail North Korea’s economy thanks to its trade with China and black market activity. Also, the North does not appear interested in offering an apology for the sinking, and the reasons for its unwillingness aren’t entirely illogical; an act of contrition could backfire among the South Korean public, just as Kim Jong Il’s 2002 apology for abductions enraged Japan, with the international community then empowered to take action against the North. Instead, more than one expert suggested looking for a “detour” around the sanctions that would allow cooperation.