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[From Kwanghwamun] Europe is coming

Posted April. 02, 2001 13:30,   


Last year, a diplomat from a European country often remarked that the European nations were lining up to establish diplomatic relations with North Korea. And an ambassador from Europe opined that many European nations were making preparations for setting up diplomatic ties with the North as soon as the United States did so.

The statements made by these European diplomats have come true. Since the tensions between the U.S. and North Korea significantly fell following the visit to Washington by Jo Myong-Rok, first deputy chairman of the North Korean Defense Commission, last October, and a visit to Pyongyang by former secretary of state Madeline Albright, the European Union (EU) nations have rushed to establish diplomatic rapprochements with the communist state. Britain set up ties with Pyongyang Oct. 20 last year; Netherlands on Jan. 15 this year; Belgium on Jan. 23; Germany Jan. 24; and Spain Feb. 7. As a result, out of the 15 EU member nations, only France and Ireland have yet to do so.

Furthermore, Pyongyang`s diplomatic maneuvers have been stepped up. By the end of May, Swedish Prime Minister Goeran Persson, chairman of the EU, and two other EU leaders are scheduled to visit the North. Since the EU states are to hold the chairmanship for six months in rotation, their visit to the North signifies the EU`s official function with regard to the Pyongyang regime. Noting that Swedish Prime Minister Persson`s North Korean visit would mark the first for a chief executive of the country, his North Korean trip could provide important momentum to bring about some changes on the Korean peninsula.

Nonetheless, the Seoul government seems to be little concerned with the development. While preoccupied with the relationship between Pyongyang and Washington, the government has given the impression that it could not perceive the importance of the EU moves toward the North, a significant variable in the development of inter-Korean relations.

Meanwhile, in the U.S., arguments among government officials and the mass media about the EU moves toward the North include such assertions as that the EU members are going to bridge the gap between the North and the U.S., which has widened since the inauguration of President George W. Bush. There is also speculation that the European nations launched their independent diplomatic maneuvers out of concern over President Bush`s hard-line North Korea policies.

Thus, to the European nations, North Korea is no longer an enemy state but a friendly one with which diplomatic rapprochement is possible. The North and the EU nations have become partners who can discuss any issue of mutual concern. During the course of negotiations on the establishment of diplomatic ties, the two sides reached a set of agreements, among others, on the free activity of European diplomats and journalists in the North and the free monitoring of the distribution of European aid in that country. And they began discussing sensitive questions such as the North`s human rights record and arms reduction.

While Washington is tied up with the issue of the North`s nuclear and missile problems, the European nations are taking minor but necessary steps to eliminate negative factors for the reclusive nation to become a viable member of the international community. Such a movement will provide both opportunities and challenges for the nation`s inter-Korean relations.

It should be recalled that the major European powers joined in the struggle to divide and parcel out the Korean peninsula during the Chosun Dynasty era. At that time, Germany, Britain and France intervened in Japanese attempts to swallow up the peninsula and snatched gold mining and railway construction rights, among others.

It is no time for the Korean people to remain complacent, thinking that such events will not be repeated, since things have changed greatly from a century ago. In order to take the initiative in determining the fate of the Korean peninsula, we are obliged to closely watch and analyze the movements of the powers surrounding the peninsula and make adequate preparations to cope with any contingencies. For now, the European nations` maneuvering should be assessed in this light.

Bhang Hyong-Nam hnbhang@donga.com