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[Friday Forum] Price of Kim Jong-Il`s return visit

Posted April. 27, 2001 13:52,   


The possibility of North Korean strongman Kim Jong-Il`s reciprocal visit to Seoul rivets attention both at home and abroad. The Pyongyang summit last June 15 put aboard the same ship the leaders of the two Koreas, which had been at odds with each other for half a century. President Kim Dae-Jung is obliged to stay the course of engagement. In contrast, the North Korean strongman might change his course of action on the pretexts of South Korea`s breach of promise or betrayal.

Examination of the factors to be considered in connection with the North Korean leader`s visit to Seoul would be helpful in fathoming the possibility of the visit and the contents of a likely joint declaration to be made at the second summit. Pyongyang is expected to require the following conditions to be met.

First of all, progress needs to be made toward reunification of Korea. North Korea must take the initiative toward the federation formula its espouses. It might want to agree on the establishment of an apparatus for a federal government or a forum to study and implement of common ground between a federation and a confederation. The divide between the conservative and progressive forces here might hold the quest at bay.

Second, Pyongyang might be concerned about how much the stature of Kim Jong-Il as the leader of a unified Korea could be enhanced. The numbers of pro-North Korean forces and their sympathizers in the South are not yet known to North Koreans. Provided that millions of South Koreans turned out on the street to welcome the visiting North Korean strongman, it could immensely delight and embolden North Koreans interested in upholding the legitimacy of Kim Jong-Il and the North Korean regime.

Third, North Korea cannot but take great interest in the amount and type of assistance South Korea could offer for the economic recovery and growth of North Korea. It would closely follow the continuation and development of the South`s cooperative projects including the cruise tour to Mt. Kumgang and similar tourist programs, construction of industrial parks, shipment of food and fertilizer, supply of electricity and other aide to build infrastructure in the North. The restraining influence of the United States, as was revealed in the last Washington summit and the economic slowdown in South Korea, are the external and internal conditions militating against Seoul`s commitment to give generous assistance to the North. It is open to doubt how North Korea would measure the will and capacity of the Kim Dae-Jung administration to keep those promises.

Fourth, North Korea must evaluate the effectiveness of its united front strategy aimed at undermining the anti-Pyongyang conservative forces inside South Korea and escalating anti-American campaigns by driving a wedge between Seoul and Washington. Northern officials must weigh the moves of Kim Jong-Il`s opponents inside the South and his personal security here when Kim visits Seoul. North Korea also should meticulously analyze the domestic situation of the South, such as the stability of the Seoul government, its changing North Korea policy, the shifting alliance between Seoul and Washington and the character of the next government of the South. Pyongyang strategists should have to choose the right time for playing its best card of the return visit -- whether to use it before the present administration leaves office or to put it off until the next government takes over.

Fifth, the effects of the visit upon the surrounding big powers, China, Russia, the United States and Japan, call for serious consideration by North Korea. It must think over whether it could serve the purposes of its omnidirectional diplomacy and gaining admission to international organizations or of resolving its preoccupation with improving ties with Washington.

In sum, the volume of the political and economic reward President Kim of the South could offer will have a decisive impact upon scheduling the proposed return visit of North Korean strongman. Pyongyang might think conditions and atmosphere favorable for immediate decision on the visit would not be forthcoming soon. It might believe negative reaction within the South, lack of spontaneity and self-reliance on the part of the Seoul government, doubts about the feasibility of various promises made and changing international environment call for discreet judgment by North Korea.

If North Korea sticks to these considerations as demands or prerequisites, the Seoul government also ought to make a hardheaded decision on what price it should pay for the North Korean leader to visit Seoul. Supposing that the visit would not be one for its own sake, the government clearly needs to determine what meaning and what benefit the visit could bring to the country and the people, and seek the endorsement and support of the latter.

The South Korean government says it wants regular summit-level meetings and expanded exchange and cooperation. However, under present circumstances where fairly regular family reunions got nowhere and the Northerners keep asking for more aid, and no headway has been made in the way of reduced military tension and mutual confidence building to solidify peace in the Korean peninsula, public understanding and support would be hard to come by.

The Seoul government seems to be determined to realize the return visit of the North Korean leader by all means and by exhausting all resources. It is necessary to reinforce the existing framework of engagement policy with realistic policies and broaden the base of popular support for its pragmatic implementation. It could take a posture of readiness to receive Kim Jong-Il whenever he becomes responsive enough to shake the hands of amity and cooperation extended by the South. We hope the visit will be made in a way that should move ahead our genuine efforts toward reconciliation, co-prosperity and peaceful unification.

Kim Young-Jin, honorary professor at George Washington University in the United States and currently visiting professor at Keio University, Japan