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Dagyum Ji is a senior NK News correspondent based in Seoul. She previously worked for Reuters TV.
Seoul and Pyongyang must resume cooperation at the Kaesong Industrial Complex (KIC) and Mount Kumgang to make a “new turning point” in inter-Korean relations, senior DPRK official Ri Son Gwon said in Pyongyang on Friday.
The speech came at the two Koreas’ first-ever joint commemorative event marking the 2007 October 4 Declaration at Pyongyang’s People’s Palace of Culture, according to the Joint Press Corps Pyongyang, with over 3000 people in attendance.
Thursday saw the 160-member South Korean delegation, led by Minister of Unification Cho Myoung-gyon, fly to Pyongyang to participate in the event, kicking off a three-day visit.
In his Friday speech, chairman of the DPRK’s Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of the Country (CPRC) Ri Son Gwon urged the two Koreas to push ahead with the implementation of last month’s Pyongyang Declaration, including the “swift operation of the Inter-Korean Joint Military Committee.”
The two Koreas also last month agreed to “normalize” operations at the now-shuttered Kaesong Industrial Complex (KIC) and the tourism resort at Mount Kumgang “as conditions mature.”
“It’s truly regrettable that the Kaesong Industrial Complex and Mount Kumgang tourism project have been suspended,” Ri said in a statement provided by the Joint Press Corps Pyongyang.
“North and South Korean authorities should make a new turning point in inter-Korean projects by resolving the issue of the projects properly,” he continued.
Ri said Seoul and Pyongyang must “clearly show” their firm determination to fulfill the promises of the declaration to the world by resuming inter-Korean projects.
The CPRC chairman also called on both sides to accelerate the implementation of the Pyongyang Declaration by “holding a groundbreaking ceremony as soon as possible.”
September’s Pyongyang Declaration saw the two Koreas agree to hold a ground-breaking ceremony this year for a project connecting railways and roads along the east and west coast of the Korean peninsula.
To this end, the South Korean presidential office last Friday said Seoul would hold a consultation with the United Nations Command (UNC) to begin an on-site survey in October.
August saw the UNC disallow South Korean trains from travelling between Munsan and Kaesong with the purpose of conducting a joint on-site survey of the North’s Gyeongui railways.
In his speech on Friday, Ri also urged the two Koreas to take practical steps to boost cooperation in the field of forestry and health care, adding the issue of separated families and cultural exchanges should be discussed “as soon as possible.”
“There will be hardship, hurdles, and ordeals in the path for the improvement of inter-Korean relations as well as peace and prosperity,” Ri said.
President of the Presidium of the DPRK Supreme People’s Assembly (SPA) Kim Yong Nam also attended the event and delivered a speech.
Kim Yong Nam hailed South Korean President Moon Jae-in and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s three summits this year, saying it showed their “noble intention and unyielding determination to put an end to the history of division and confrontation and write a new history of peace and unification.”
Kim, the North’s nominal head of state, also said achievements by the two Koreas had been “brutally trampled by anti-unification forces for the last ten years,” adding that the “dark cloud of war” had loomed on the Korean peninsula.
Meanwhile, the Ministry of Unification (MOU) on Friday said the South Korean government had passed a proposal allowing KRW 280 million (USD$ 247,875) in funding to be spend on the ongoing inter-Korean event.
Deputy Spokesperson Lee Eugene told a press briefing that the concrete amount of out-of-pocket expenses will be calculated after the event wrapped up.
Seoul will cover the “actual costs” for the inter-Korean events, she said, which include transportation, accommodation, and “inevitable minimum expenses,” and make the payments to Pyongyang within the framework of international sanctions.
The authorities of the two Koreas previously hosted cultural events in Pyongyang this year, with the North reportedly covering expenses.
“With regard to expenses, the national unification ceremony has the significance in the sense that the project aims to implement the Pyongyang Joint Declaration,” Lee told assembled media.
After the joint commemorative event, the South Korean delegation is scheduled to visit the Mansudae Art Studio and Mangyongdae Schoolchildren’s Palace, as well as watch a performance of the “Glorious Country” mass games.
South Korean President Moon Jae-in visit to the Mansudae Art Studio in September raised concerns, however: it was designated by the UN Security Council in August 2017 and unilaterally sanctioned by Seoul and Washington in December the previous year.
When asked why the Moon administration pushed ahead with the controversial visit, the MOU deputy spokesperson said the schedule was decided after a consultation between the two Koreas.
“I’d like to say once again that we strive to make sure that the events are held without violating… sanctions,” she said.
The South Korean delegation is scheduled to return to Seoul after visiting the DPRK Central Botanical Garden on Saturday morning.
Edited by Oliver Hotham
Featured Image: Joint Press Corps Pyongyang