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South Korea slows engagement but is married to North

Written by: Staff

SEOUL, July 7 (Reuters) South Korea's engagement policy with North Korea has been strained by Pyongyang missile tests, but while Seoul might be a little less friendly, analysts say it cannot break up with its partner on the peninsula.

Leading voices in the South criticised the government for being too soft on the North following the launch this week of seven missiles, one of them a long-range weapon.

Newspaper editorials expressed betrayal, politicians expressed outrage while many South Korean took the news as just another development along the Cold War's last frontier.

But no leading figure called for breaking ties, realising the country's destiny is tied to the North.

Indeed, its constitution states that the government in Seoul is the government for the entire peninsula.

''For South Koreans, pushing the North too far and deepening the crisis is a greater threat than any missile the North may be holding,'' said Peter Beck, a Korea expert for the International Crisis Group.

South Korea's government and companies have invested billions of dollars on projects in the North, hoping it will lead to economic integration that would help cushion the blow for unification, which South Korea has said could cost hundreds of billions of dollars.

''No one (in the South) has been able to put forward a viable alternative to engagement with the North except to make it more conditional or reciprocal,'' Beck said.

Indeed, the North today voiced its repeated desire for integration with the South.

''When the country is reunified, Korea will shed its rays all over the world as an independent sovereign state with a population of 70 million, brilliant national culture and powerful economy,'' the official KCNA news agency said.

That day seems a long way off and in the meantine, South Korean officials have said the missile tests have led them to reconsider how they dispense aid across the border.


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