|Chung Jae-suk, new Cultural Heritage Administrator / Yonhap|
By Kwon Mee-yoo
Chung Jae-suk, the new head of the Cultural Heritage Administration (CHA), said cultural heritage can contribute to improving inter-Korean relations as the two Koreas join hands in excavating and preserving cultural assets together.
"There certainly is a gap in many aspects between the two Koreas after separation, but there's no such thing as a gap in heritage and cultural assets will contribute to exchanges between Pyongyang and Seoul," Chung said at a press conference in Seoul, Tuesday.
Chung, named as the CHA head on Aug. 30, brings 30 years of journalism experience as a culture reporter.
Chung is the first journalist-turned-cultural heritage administrator in Korea and third woman to assume the role, following Byun Young-sup and Rha Sun-hwa.
"I am really nervous to take the helm here since I was on the other side just a few days ago. I feel like I should be throwing questions to the new CHA head," Chung said. "What we do at CHA is not very visible and doesn't take effect immediately. However, cultural properties can never be restored to their original state once damaged, just like Brazil's recent National Museum fire. We will put top priority on the safety of cultural assets."
Along with the rapid diplomatic thaw between North and South Korea after the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Games in February, the two countries are looking to work on cultural heritage projects together.
"Culture Minister Do Jong-whan announced last week that North and South Korea will resume the investigation on Manwoldae Palace in Kaesong, North Korea, starting later this month. This time, we will focus on the western embankment, which is said to have been collapsing," Chung said.
Chung named a few possible future projects between the two Koreas such as a castle from Taebong State (901-918) divided by the Military Demarcation Line between the two Koreas in Cheorwon, Gangwon Province, and royal tombs of the 918-1392 Goryeo Kingdom in Pyongyang.
Since the U.N. imposed sanctions against North Korea, some worry the joint cultural heritage excavation and restoration projects might violate the international sanctions.
"We consult with the Ministry of Unification and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to stick to U.N. sanctions. Basically, we only pay cash for food expenses of the laborers and all equipment we take to the North is brought back after the project," Chung explained.
Currently, North and South Korea separately submitted "ssireum," or traditional Korean wrestling, to the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage list, but Chung said the two Koreas are in talks to register ssireum together. If the negotiation goes well and both parties agree to register it on the list together, ssireum will be the first intangible heritage registered with UNESCO by both Koreas.
The new administrator said cultural heritage has no borders. "They are not just Korean cultural assets, but belong to all humankind. We will make the cultural heritage available for everyone, whether they make it to the UNESCO list or not," Chung said.