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ROK, DPRK agree to hold talks this weekend

By Zhang Yunbi | China Daily | Updated: 2013-06-08 01:51

The Democratic People's Republic of Korea has accepted the Republic of Korea's proposal for a working-level meeting on Sunday, in what could be the first direct bilateral talks since 2010.

Observers said the development is conducive to further talks, but warned that caution is necessary because tensions remain on the Korean Peninsula.

ROK, DPRK agree to hold talks this weekend

Military vehicles travel on a bridge leading to the Kaesong Industrial Complex in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea on Friday. The DPRK proposed to hold a working-level meeting in Kaesong, while the Republic of Korea has requested to hold it in Panmunjom. Jeon Sin / REUTERS

The DPRK proposed on Friday establishing working-level contacts with the ROK in Kaesong in the DPRK.

The DPRK then reportedly reopened the Panmunjom Red Cross liaison channel.

The ROK accepted the proposal for government-level working talks, but requested that the meeting be held instead in the truce village of Panmunjom, the ROK's Yonhap News Agency reported.

On Thursday, the ROK had said it wanted to hold a ministerial-level dialogue with the DPRK on Wednesday in Seoul, in response to the DPRK's proposal for holding official talks on reopening the Kaesong Industrial Complex.

In light of the two sides' strained relations and mistrust, initial contacts were necessary before ministerial-level talks, a spokesman for the DPRK's Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of Korea said on Friday.

Shi Yuanhua, director of the Center for Korean Studies under the Institute of International Studies of Fudan University in Shanghai, said both sides are taking a pragmatic stance.

The topics they chose were "not that tough", steering clear of the denuclearization issue, making it easier for them to reach a consensus, said Shi.

"But the tense situation on the Korean Peninsula is still far from achieving a major turnaround," he added.

Beijing welcomed and expressed delight on Friday at the decision by the two sides to make contact and start a dialogue.

All those involved are expected to cherish the hard-won momentum of dialogue and contacts, achieve a turnaround in the situation and jointly ensure the peace and stability of the peninsula, China's Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said.

Wang Junsheng, a researcher of East Asian studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said Beijing has made a great effort to bring the two parties back to the table for talks, but the continued improvement of the Korean Peninsula situation depends on the turnaround of relations between the ROK and the DPRK.

"The two sides are expected to meet each other halfway because a strained relationship will limit the role of China to ease tension," Wang said.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Thursday welcomed the announcement of the talks.

"This is an encouraging development toward reducing tensions and promoting peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula," Ban said in a statement issued by his spokesperson.

It is the beginning of a process of trust-building between the parties, said the statement.

The DPRK shut down the Kaesong Industrial Complex in early April and pulled out 53,000 DPRK workers. The ROK also withdrew its workers starting on April 26 after the DPRK rejected the ROK's proposal for working-level talks.

ROK President Park Geun-hye will visit China from June 27 to 30, Hong announced on Friday.

During her stay, Park will meet and hold talks with Chinese leaders. The two sides will exchange views on bilateral ties and major international and regional issues of common concern, Hong added.

Park has shown great interest in the ROK's relationship with China after her election success, beginning when she dispatched her first post-election envoy group to China, Wang Junsheng said.

"Beijing has responded positively to the signals sent by Park, and the two countries' new leaders now need to show more tangible results from the nations' relationship," Wang said.

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