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Why is the minister going to Pyongyang?

Posted March. 08, 2001 14:19,   


Extraordinary attention is being paid to the forthcoming visit to North Korea by Culture-Tourism Minister Kim Han-Gil.

Although Kim said that his Pyongyang visit was for talks with North Korean officials on ``non-political matters,`` the suddenness of the trip raises concerns at a time when ongoing discussions are being held over a visit to Seoul by North Korean Defense Commission Chairman Kim Jong-Il.

Some analysts said the culture-tourism minister would go to the North on a special mission to discuss the timing of the North Korean leader`s Seoul visit. This speculation was bolstered by the fact that Minister Kim was invited by Kim Yong-Sun, secretary of a department of the (North) Korean Workers` Party in charge of South Korean affairs and concurrently chairman of the Asia-Pacific Peace Committee.

In a press conference Wednesday, Kim stressed that he would discuss only culture-related matters. He admitted that Kim Yong-Sun may have extended the invitation, but quickly added that in the North there is no single cabinet minister in charge of culture, tourism and sports.

The head of the culture-tourism ministry disclosed that South and North Korea had agreed to take up the question of Kim Jong-Il`s forthcoming visit during their scheduled Mar. 13 to 16 ministerial talks in Seoul.

Asked what he would say if he was unexpectedly allowed to meet with North Korea`s head of state, Kim answered that he was ready for any contingency.

Even if Minister Kim`s trip to the North is unrelated to Chairman Kim`s Seoul visit, his trip to Pyongyang is expected to boost inter-Korean dialogue and cooperation. Though North Korea has so far placed emphasis on political and economic matters, Kim`s talks with the North are likely to provide the momentum to invigorate cultural, tourism and sports exchanges between the two Koreas.

Officially, Minister Kim`s North Korean trip was realized through Pyongyang`s compliance with Seoul`s request to hold culture-related ministers talks, with a view to concluding agreements on inter-Korean exchanges and cooperation in the fields of culture, tourism and sports. In other words, the North Korean side is also preparing to expand mutual cooperation in these areas. Specifically, the North is said to be concerned with the lucrative inter-Korean tourism programs, hoping to earn additional foreign funds. The apparent change in North Korea`s policy line toward increased exchanges in these fields is interpreted as a sign that Kim Jong-Il`s Seoul visit is imminent.