CPRF vice chairman
On Jan. 7, North Korea notified the South of the final list of negotiators who will attend the high-level inter-Korean talks, bringing to an end the selection of negotiators for the talks. The heads of the two teams of negotiators came as no surprise. South Korea’s chief negotiator is Unification Minister Cho Myoung-gyon, an expert with abundance practical experience in inter-Korean exchange, talks and negotiations. North Korea’s chief negotiator is Ri Son-gwon, chairman of North Korea’s Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of the Fatherland (CPRF), another veteran negotiator who has represented the North at a variety of military talks and both working-level and high-level talks with South Korea.
More surprising is the fact that the two teams of negotiators will each include two vice minister-level officials. It’s particularly unusual that the teams of negotiators, which are led by the Unification Minister and the CPRF Chairman, also include Vice Unification Minister Chun Hae-sung and CPRF Vice Chairman Jon Jong-su.
Chun Hae-sung is regarded as an expert at negotiating with North Korea, a policy expert who has occupied key positions in the Unification Ministry. During his service at the Ministry since 1988, he has participated in various inter-Korean talks, including ministerial talks, both as a working-level staffer and a chief negotiator. When high-ranking North Korean figures visited Incheon to attend the Asian Games in Oct. 2014, Chun was the South Korean government official sent to meet them.
Jon Jong-su has also attended various inter-Korean talks, beginning with the inter-Korean summit in June 2000. Most recently, he served as North Korea’s chief negotiator during the vice minister-level inter-Korean talks in Dec. 2015.
North and South Korea have apparently both included vice minister-level officials who are veteran negotiators on their negotiating teams because they want these high-level talks to lead to talks that will address inter-Korean relations as a whole, including the issues of resuming tourism to Mount Kumgang and reopening the Kaesong Industrial Complex.
“You might have expected that one person [on the South Korean team] would have come from the Blue House’s National Security Office, but the Unification Minister and Vice Minister were chosen to fill the top two spots on the team. People with practical experience in talks and other aspects of inter-Korean relations were put front and center, apparently reflecting a determination to tackle not only the Pyeongchang Olympics but also the laundry list of issues affecting inter-Korean relations,” said Kim Yong-hyeon, a professor at Dongguk University.
“This appears to be aimed at facilitating future meetings between the vice ministers,” said Koo Kab-woo, professor at the University of North Korean Studies.
“This is unusual, but it’s also positive since it helps secure a variety of inter-Korean channels. Considering that a variety of channels will be necessary if we assume that the Unification Ministry will be taking the lead in inter-Korean talks moving forward, I think they took the right approach to appointing people [to the negotiating teams],” said Cheong Seong-chang, a senior research fellow at the Sejong Institute.
Experts also say that North and South Korea carried out smooth coordination for the rank of the figures appointed to the negotiating teams. Won Kil-u, North Korea’s Vice Minister of Physical Culture and Sports, is similar in rank to Roh Tae-kang, Second Vice Minister of Culture, Sports and Tourism. As the vice minister of the government department responsible for the Pyeongchang Olympics, Roh will be capable of discussing various matters related to North Korea’s participation in the Olympics.
In addition, Won has been introduced in the North Korean media as the vice chairman of North Korea’s Olympic Committee, and he led a delegation from North Korea’s Olympic Committee to attend a meeting of the heads of athletic squads for the Asian Games that was held in Indonesia at the beginning of last month. Ri Kyong-sik, a member of North Korea’s National Olympic Committee, was also apparently chosen to match the rank of Kim Ki-hong, vice-president of planning for the organizing committee of the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics and Winter Paralympics.
CPRF Director Hwang Chung-song is expected to be the counterpart of Ahn Mun-hyeon, deputy director general of the Office of the Prime Minister. Hwang attended vice minister-level inter-Korean talks held in 2015 and inter-Korean working-level talks held in 2013 to address the Kaesong Complex crisis as an advisor for North Korea’s National Economic Cooperation Federation, which oversees the North’s cooperation projects with the South.
“North and South Korea aligned their negotiators’ ranks perfectly. After North Korean leader Kim Jong-un proactively expressed his willingness [to improve inter-Korean relations] in his New Year’s address, the two sides have been playing ball with each other,” said Kim Yong-hyeon.
By Noh Ji-won, staff reporter
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