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The Peninsula

South Korea Pursues Bottom-Up Inter-Korean Engagement

Published June 12, 2020

This briefing comes from Korea View, a weekly newsletter published by the Korea Economic Institute. Korea View aims to cover developments that reveal trends on the Korean Peninsula but receive little attention in the United States. If you would like to sign up, please find the online form here.

What Happened

  • On May 26, the Ministry of Unification announced its plan to revise the Inter-Korean Exchange and Cooperation Act to simplify administrative procedures and to allow wider cross-border exchanges with North Korea.
  • On May 27, the U.S. State Department said South Korea’s attempts to increase engagement with North should be pursued in parallel with North Korea’s denuclearization.
  • On May 12, South Korea’s Minister of Unification said the ministry is planning to prioritize the inter-Korean tourism project, after the COVID-19 crisis is resolved, that would allow its citizens to visit North Korea.
  • During the May 10 speech, President Moon reiterated his vision to bolster inter-Korean cooperation.

Implications: Seoul is exercising its option to pursue a bottom-up approach to inter-Korean engagement while government-to-government efforts are stalled. The proposed revision of the Inter-Korean Exchange and Cooperation Act aims to designate municipalities and civilian groups as agents for cooperative projects with the North and ease regulations for more individual-level interactions. The government hopes that these revisions would promote exchanges between the two Koreas and facilitate state-led projects like inter-Korean tourism and reconnecting railways in the long run.

Context: President Moon invested significant political capital in inter-Korean détente since he took office in 2017. However, many of his efforts have been hampered by broader geopolitical challengesdomestic opposition, and an uncooperative North Korea. With the ruling Democratic Party now fully in control of the National Assembly, the Moon administration is likely to leverage the momentum to push ahead with its desired North Korean policy.

Korea View was edited by Yong Kwon with the help of Gordon Henning, Soojin Hwang, and Ingyeong Park.

Picture from flickr user TeachAgPSU

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