Today separated family reunions took place for the first time in years at Mt. Geumgang with the whole world watching.
To be honest, as the day of the reunions approached, I was nervous to see if North Korea would use the issue of the repatriation of North Korean waitresses as an excuse to pull out of the event last minute.
Fortunately, it the reunion proceeded as planned.
This family reunion is the the most meaningful exchange between North and South Korea since the Panmunjom Declaration was adopted.
As such, it should be appreciated that North Korea did not link the reunions to a political issue but rather proceeded on humanitarian grounds.
South and North Korea should use the current reunion as a stepping stone to ensure the regularization and widening of the reunions of separated families.
In order to make this to happen,
First, the principle of separating humanitarian issues from politics and allowing flexibility must be kept.
At this moment in time, there are thousands of separated families who die every year from old age or sickness.
Ten years from now, the first generation of separated families will no longer be around.
Separated Families should not be taken captive by the political systems or be caught up in the ideological confrontation between the North and South.
We cannot let the elderly separated families pass away without having seen the faces of their family members in the 21st century.
Right now, North Korea is worried that the reunion of separated families will allow the diffusion of South Korea‘s free and democratic values and superior system into the country which may threaten the regime.
Therefore, the South Korean government should not use the reunion of separated families as a way to show its policy achievements.
Rather, it should allow the North Korean government, which is currently feeling uneasy about the inter-Korean exchanges, to make the decisions on the issues like the procedure, schedule, location and times for the family reunions.
Unlike South Korea, the North Korean authorities will face a tremendous financial burden if they proceed with the reunion of separated families.
Since North Korea considers the reunion of separated families as a propaganda tool, the participants of the reunion are taken to Pyongyang one month before.
They are then dressed in new clothes, given gifts to present to their South Korean families and even given new dentures– all using state funds.
If the South Korean government is able to provide some financial support to the North Koreans to relieve some of their burden, without violating the UN sanctions, it will help the regularization of the family reunions.
Second, the North and South must build a system to allow the continuous reunion of separated families.
Instead of expanding the the size of meeting places in Mt. Geumgang, the number of the reunions should be increased.
Also, meeting centres should also be set up in places such as Kaesong or Panmunjom that are easily accessible from Seoul.
Additionally a system to check the living status of separated family members as well as their addresses should be put in place.
Visits to the native places of the families should be connected with the tourism industry of North Korea to allow the North to have some certain financial benefits.
Third, the scale of reunion of separated families needs to be expanded.
There are currently tens of thousands of families of abductees who are unaware of whether their family members are dead or alive.
The South Korean government must take aggressive measures to bring abductees back to South Korea, even by providing financial support to the North.
Right now there are about 30,000 defectors in South Korea.
Some of them came to South Korea to escape the hunger not because they hated the North Korean regime.
In fact, the defectors that came to South Korea in hunger, are those that the North Korean authorities should embrace.
Most defectors who resettle in South Korea, do not say a hostile word against the North Korean government but rather live their daily lives trying to sustain their livelihood.
They are longing for their families left in the North.
In order to realize true peace between North and South, there should be exchanges and the freedom to go and forth as one pleases.
North Korean government should allow those defectors who are living quietly in South Korea to reunify with their families back in the North. .