After another false start in what appeared to be a thaw in North-South relations, plans to hold high-level government negotiations collapsed. This time, North and South Korean officials squabbled over who to send as their top delegates to participate in the dialogue.
South Korea planned to send unification minister Ryoo Kihl-jae, and asked Pyongyang to send Minister Ryoo’s North Korean counterpart, Kim Yang-gon, a Workers Party secretary. However, the North claimed that Kim was above a minister’s level, and appointed a party official of lower rank instead. In response, the South said it would send a lower ranking official as well. North Korea then withdrew from the talks, accusing the South of a “grave provocation.”
This inability to agree on which officials are equivalent in authority reflects South Korean President Park Geun-hye’s firm stance against North Korean provocations. It also reflects a competition over pride that dates back decades. At one border talk, North Korean military officials added inches to the legs of their chairs so they looked taller than their South Korean counterparts. In an infamous 1969 meeting, both sides remained silent for over 11 hours, challenging the other side to speak first.
“We must think of the pride of our people,” said South Korean Prime Minister Chung Hong-won (http://www.nytimes.com/2013/06/13/world/asia/behind-breakdown-of-korea-talks-a-history-of-suspicions.html?ref=northkorea).
Hopefully similar bouts of competitiveness will subside so that high-level negotiations can take place in the future.