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South Korea to confirm new unification minister


South Korea to confirm new unification minister

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South Korean Unification Minister Lee In-young will be sworn in today after his predecessor Kim Yeon-chul vacated the post following a deterioration in North-South relations.

The move was triggered after shots of rhetorical brinksmanship were exchanged between Pyongyang and Seoul over their respective commitments to peace, culminating in North Korea’s demolition of an inter-Korean liaison office in the demilitarised zone (DMZ). This has been exacerbated by threats of military deployment to the Kaesong industrial zone in the DMZ, once a symbol of Korean synergy. Collectively, these actions threaten to undo the thawing relations brokered by President Moon Jae-in in 2018.

Lee has strongly advocated for the depoliticisation of unification efforts—focused primarily on the delivery of humanitarian aid and medical supplies—and the pursuit of engagement strategies unencumbered by US interference. Moreover, he has criticised economic sanctions against North Korea, which have impeded humanitarian transfers across the border. His suggestions have facilitated a scaled-back version of joint US-South Korean military drills slated for August, which likely would have escalated peninsular tensions in their previous form.

Regardless, continued sanctions and the border closure with China have aggravated the food crisis in North Korea. With Moon failing to mediate stalled denuclearisation talks between Washington and Pyongyang, expect North Korean leader Kim Jong-un to continue to leverage North-South relations as a distraction from domestic troubles.

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