Korea meeting going ahead despite patrol boat incident

By Chen Heying Source:Global Times Published: 2014-10-8 0:53:01

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Tuesday's brief exchange of fire between patrol boats from North and South Korea is not expected to derail upcoming talks between the two nations, which analysts say are an attempt by Pyongyang to alleviate international pressure being exerted on its nuclear program.

South Korea's defense ministry said the South's patrol boat had initially fired a warning shot after the North Korean vessel penetrated half a nautical mile inside the South's territorial waters.

Instead of retreating immediately, the North's patrol boat opened fire, so "our side fired back," a ministry spokesperson was quoted as saying by AFP, adding that neither vessel had directly targeted the other and "no damage" was sustained.

The exchange of fire came after a visit by a high-level delegation by North Korea at the closing ceremony of the Asian Games at the weekend, which included a top military aide to North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un.

After meeting South Korean officials, they agreed to resume dialogue between late October and early November on improving ties that had been cut off in February, raising hope for a breakthrough in ties.

North Korean officials also denied that Kim's public absence since September 3 was related to health issues.

Cui Zhiying, director of the Korean Peninsula Research Center at Tongji University in Shanghai, said that the incident was unlikely to affect the high-level dialogue, as it is only one of a series of similar altercations near the maritime border, which the North refuses to recognize.

In 2010, the North bombed Yeonpyeong Island near the sea border, killing four people, including two civilians.

South Korea's President Park Geun-hye said Monday the visit by the North Korean delegation, organized with just 24 hours notice, should be an opportunity to open a regular channel of inter-Korean dialogue, adding that the resumption of talks was a meaningful step in improving ties.

The surprise visit was meant to ease the tension between the two Koreas, and the upcoming talks may help finally restart the dialogue between Pyongyang and Washington, Cui told the Global Times.

Similarly, Reuters quoted Joel Wit, who runs the North Korea monitoring project, 38 North, as saying that if North-South talks did move forward, it could leave Washington increasingly isolated since it has imposed preconditions on a resumption of international talks on North Korea's nuclear program.

Lacking diplomatic and financial resources, North Korea has launched an all-around diplomatic approach in a bid to attract foreign capital to improve people's livelihoods and develop the economy, Cui said.

Jin Qiangyi, director of the Asia Studies Center at Yanbian University, told the Global Times that since China is unlikely to offer strong support to the North due to the lingering nuclear issue, Pyongyang is attempting to seek breakthroughs in diplomacy by holding talks with countries including Russia, Japan and South Korea.

In July, Chinese President Xi Jinping paid a state visit to Seoul, the first time that a top Chinese leader had visited South Korea before visiting the North while in office. Kim has yet to hold a summit with the Chinese leader.

Around that time, Japan eased some sanctions on North Korea in exchange for North Korea's agreement to reinvestigate the fate of Japanese people abducted by North Korean agents in the 1970s and 1980s.

North Korea's Foreign Minister Ri Su-yong visited Russia on September 30, aiming to increase economic cooperation and trade.

North Korea increased the number of special economic develop zones to 19 in July to stimulate foreign investment and boost the economy as a result.

"However, [given the risks posed by the political environment,] most foreign companies shun the zones," Cui said.

The South's Unification Ministry said Monday that South Korea wants to discuss the reunion of families separated by the Korean War with North Korea.

Agencies contributed to this story

Posted in: Asia-Pacific

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