by REERA YOO
South Korean officials made a small breakthrough on Saturday when top-ranking officials of the North Korean delegation dropped in for a surprise visit to Incheon for the closing ceremony of the Asian Games, reported the New York Times.
The North Koreans were led by Hwang Pyong-so, the highest-ranking officer of the Korean People’s Army who is considered by outside analysts as North Korea’s second-most powerful man. Hwang and his delegation held talks over a closed-door lunch with South Korean Unification Minister Ryoo Kihl-jae and national security director Kim Kwan-jin.
During the meeting, both sides agreed to renew talks about cross-border issues and the reunion of families separated by the Korean War between the end of October and early November.
“While calling the upcoming talks a second round of dialogue, the North explained that it intended to hold more rounds of South-North talks in the future,” South Korea’s Ministry of Unification said in a statement.
This is the highest level delegation the two countries have had in five years. The last senior visit occurred in 2009 when senior Workers’ Party official Kim Ki-nam and spy chief Kim Yang Gon met with former South Korean President Kim Dae-jung, according to the Associated Press.
For the last few months, there’s been serious tensions between the two countries, especially after North Korea conducted test firings of about 100 projectiles this year. Since then, both sides have exchanged a steady stream of harsh criticisms between each other, with the North Korean state media calling South Korean President Park Geun-hye a prostitute.
Although there appears to be no major breakthroughs from the meeting due to time constraints, the weekend meeting was considered a “small but meaningful step” for inter-Korean relations, according to a senior official from the South’s Unification Ministry.
The surprise visit comes amid ongoing speculation about Kim Jong-un’s health as the North Korean leader has not been seen by the public since Sept. 3. Ryoo told local media on Sunday that he had asked Kim Yang Gon, who is now a secretary of North Korea’s ruling Worker’s Party, about rumors of Kim Jong-un’s ill health, and the secretary insisted that there was “no problem at all.”
However, no explanation was given for why Kim has disappeared from the public’s eye. In the meanwhile, there have been reports of the leader’s younger sister Kim Yo-jong acting as his regent in North Korea.
Photo courtesy of Yun Tae-hyun/Yonhap/Retuers