SEOUL - South Korea's Unification Ministry said Friday it will push to allow more journalists to travel to North Korea to cover civilian exchange programs between the rival countries.
Ministry officials said they are aiming at actively support sports, culture, academic and other civilian exchange programs with North Korea as a way to boost cooperation.
The announcement came a week after the end of annual military drills between Seoul and Washington, which Pyongyang calls an invasion rehearsal. But it remains unclear whether North Korea would positively respond to the overture as it has been more interested in resuming lucrative cooperation projects with South Korea first.
Unification Ministry spokeswoman Park Soo-jin said cross-border soccer and table tennis matches and joint excavation projects on historical sites could help people from the two countries communicate and better understand each other.
Seoul had toughened restrictions on civilian trips to North Korea following an attack on a South Korea warship in 2010 that has been blamed on North Korea. Pyongyang has denied its involvement in the sinking that killed 46 South Korean sailors.
Animosities between the Koreas remain, with North Korea conducting a slew of short-range missile tests during the South Korea-U.S. military training this spring.
“The [South Korean] plans will have limited effect, because South Korea still isn't offering North Korea what it wants,” such as the restart of joint tours to the North's scenic Diamond Mountain resort, said Yang Moo-jin, a professor at the Seoul-based University of North Korean Studies.
The tourism project, which had provided a legitimate source of hard currency to the cash-strapped North, was suspended following the 2008 shooting death of a South Korean tourist there.
The two Koreas remain divided since the end of the World War II and share the world's most heavily fortified border.