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Could North Korea bring South Korea and Japan together?

If signed, two proposed military cooperation agreements to deal with North Korea would be the first such agreements between the two nations since Japan’s occupation of Korea in the early 20th century.

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“The US has a very close military alliance between both Japan and South Korea. So this is the missing link, between South Korea and Japan,” says Professor Lee. “It could serve to keep the pressure on North Korea.”

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The meeting between Defense ministers comes as North Korea is pushing for inter-Korean dialogue. On Saturday, North Korea formally proposed “an unconditional and early opening of the talks between the authorities of the North and the South."

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Window into the North's economic situation

Pyongyang also urged Seoul to consider resuming tours to the South Korean-built Mount Kumgang resort, located in southeastern North Korea. The resort was a major source of income to the North until tourism programs were suspended in 2008 after a South Korean tourist who wandered into a restricted area was shot dead.

North Korea’s repeated calls for inter-Korean dialogue underscore Pyongyang’s dire economic situation.

The Korea Finance Corp., run by the Seoul government, reported on Sunday that North Korea’s total trade dropped to $3.41 billion in 2009, the largest year-on-year percentage drop since 1998. A similar study, released by Statistics Korea last week, found that as of 2009 South Korea’s gross national income was 37 times larger than that of the North.

North Korea’s economy is expected to have taken further hits in 2010. Seoul froze almost all inter-Korean trade and assistance last May after an international panel found Pyongyang responsible for the sinking of the South Korean warship Cheonan in the Yellow Sea, which killed 46 sailors. Analysts here believe that one of North Korea’s first demands in any future dialogues that take place will be for the resumption of aid and trade with the South.

“For the North Korean economy to get back on track, inter-Korean trade has to be resumed and aid from the international community should be expanded,” an official at the Korea Finance Corporation told South Korea’s Yonhap News Agency.

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