(ATTN: UPDATES throughout with unification minister's speech, details; CHANGES headline; ADDS photo)
By Yi Wonju
SEOUL, June 24 (Yonhap) -- South Korea's unification minister on Friday warned North Korea not to continue provocative acts, saying it has nothing to gain from brinkmanship that would only lead to tougher sanctions.
Kwon Young-se, who is in charge of inter-Korean affairs, was delivering a keynote speech at an annual symposium, co-hosted by Yonhap News Agency and his ministry. It was held under the main theme of "U.S.-China-Russia Competition for Hegemony in the President Yoon Suk-yeol Era," bringing together senior government officials and national security experts. It was meant to pool their wisdom on ways to deal with multiple challenges facing the Korean Peninsula, ranging from Pyongyang's unrelenting saber-rattling to Russia's invasion of Ukraine, and a growing rivalry between the United States and China.
"North Korea has refused to engage in dialogue, repeating provocations. But there is nothing it can gain from the provocations," the minister emphasized.
If Pyongyang is seeking to raise its bargaining power and create more favorable conditions through provocative acts, it is a "very wrong" idea, he added.
Kwon made clear the conservative Yoon administration will take a different approach toward the Kim Jong-un regime from that of the previous Moon Jae-in government. He reaffirmed the government will push for "practical and flexible dialogue" with the North in a "responsible" manner, as he urged it to accept Seoul's offer of talks.
He raised the need for the two Koreas to respond to an intensifying global hegemony war through their cooperation to maintain peace and stability on the peninsula.
He said it is not impossible for the two sides to launch a "considerable level" of joint infrastructure projects on the basis of the international community's consensus.
During a panel discussion session, meanwhile, Daniel Russel, vice president for International Security and Diplomacy at the Asia Society Policy Institute, warned that North Korea is likely headed for another period of "fire and fury."
He said the recalcitrant regime's leader Kim Jong-un is well aware that he can now "count on China and Russia to tolerate and protect him more than ever before," as he virtually joined the meeting.
The North is apparently keeping close tabs on the international community's response to Russia's invasion of Ukraine, the Moscow-Beijing ties and the Washington-Beijing stand-offs, he added.
Touching on South Korea-U.S. relations in light of the Joe Biden administration's Indo-Pacific strategy, Russel said Seoul can be an "active partner" for Washington in various fields. He is known for expertise on regional issues, having worked as assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs under former President Barack Obama from 2013-2017.
Korean American Rep. Young Kim (R-CA) said, also speaking via videoconferencing, that the North Korean human rights issue should be handled together with other pending issues, including denuclearization. She stressed that South Korea and the U.S. should ratchet up pressure on the North's leader to abide by universal values.
Rep. Sung Il-jong of the ruling People Power Party and Rep. Hong Ihk-pyo from the main opposition Democratic Party, shared their own views as well on South Korea's relations with the U.S. and China in the midst of their intensifying hegemony war.
The second session set the stage for discussions on the Yoon administration's strategies on inter-Korean relations and the Seoul-Washington alliance, and how to bring the North back to the negotiating table.
Former Ambassador to Russia Wi Sung-lac, who served as Seoul's chief nuclear envoy, stressed the importance of finding the "ideal point of balance" in a rapidly changing geopolitical environment amid the growing rivalry among the U.S., China and Russia.
"The important point for South Korea is to what level of alliance it will boost cooperation with the U.S., and how it will manage the counterreaction from China and Russia," he said. "North Korea will clearly become more provocative if South Korea strengthens cooperation with the U.S."
Ahn Ho-young, former South Korean ambassador to the U.S., delivered a presentation on the 70-year history and future of the alliance.
Other attendees at the forum included Kim Hyung-suk, former vice unification minister, and Jung Sung-chun, vice president at the Korea Institute for International Economic Policy.
Seong Ghi-hong, CEO and president of Yonhap News Agency, expressed hope the forum will provide an opportunity to "tackle the challenges facing us and gain wisdom to build the future fate of the Korean Peninsula."
"It is time to thoroughly assess the security and economic impact of the ever-changing security situations of the Korean Peninsula and the international community," he said.
On the role of Yonhap in its capacity as a public news agency, he said it will support South Korea's efforts to overcome the wave of diplomatic, security and economic crises, and contribute more to freedom, peace and prosperity worldwide.
This year's forum was livestreamed at https://www.onekorea2022.co.kr.