Go to contents

[Editorial] Inter-Korean Summit Has Much to Consider

Posted August. 09, 2007 05:58,   


The second-ever inter-Korean summit will be held for three days starting on August 28. Given the unfavorable geopolitical atmosphere in Northeast Asia, we hope the summit will make solid progress, however small it may be. With a lot of pressing issues at hand, including North Korea’s nuclear issues and the establishment of a peace regime on the Korean Peninsula, the summit shouldn’t be reduced to just a symbolic and politically-motivated one.

Through the summit talks, North Korean leader Kim Jong Il should make it clear that he is determined to dismantle his country’s nuclear weapons program. Though talks on the second steps of this process (reporting and disabling the nuclear program) are underway, the pace has been too slow. Nobody is sure that Pyongyang will follow through on its promises made on September 19, 2005, and February 13 this year, to completely renounce its nuclear weapons program. At this juncture, holding an inter-Korean summit could be seen as South Korea’s approval of Pyongyang’s possession of nuclear weapons.

We have made a big concession by agreeing to President Roh’s visit to Pyongyang. Many people say they felt humiliated at the news because the North’s leader didn’t make good on his promise to make a return visit to Seoul. National pride will be clearly damaged if president Roh fails to discuss the nuclear issue and produce a visible result. Given the fact that there is no clear agenda agreed upon for the summit, it is worrisome that the summit will fizzle out to be a mere photo opportunity.

Some government officials have excessive expectations that the summit will contribute to establishing a peace regime. In shifting an armistice signed in 1953 to a peace treaty, agreements from the U.S. and China, parties of the truce treaty are required. Reaching a consensus between the two Koreas cannot solve the issue. Furthermore, when it comes to talks on a peace treaty, the North has considered the U.S. a “senior partner,” and the South a “junior partner” which is not the direct partner of the talk.

The chances of the second summit talk facilitating the six-party talks are also slight considering unfavorable situations. If anything, Pyongyang is likely to put on the table issues that it failed to go through with at the six-party talks. Among the issues is the resuming construction of light water reactors. However, president Roh has been advised to draw a clear line on the issue of light water reactors by making it clear to the North that the matter must be dealt with at the six-party talks.

What really worries us is that we see Mr. Roh, with his remaining four-month tenure, making too many promises to the North. This is not unfounded worry since he made remarks such as, “If I sign the agreement, no successor can dissolve it,” and “Being generous to North Korea is a viable business.” However, Roh should change his mindset. It will be difficult for the outgoing president to implement any agreement reached with North Korea. After all, the next administration will find itself taking the responsibility. Making pledges beyond our ability will not only place financial burdens on the next administration, it will also bring about conflicts between South Korean citizens.

There are also the chances to exploit the summit politically, which is a more serious problem. Though officials of the present administration place emphasis on its pure intention, in the eyes of the majority of people, it seems that they attempt to turn the tide of the upcoming presidential election through the historic second inter-Korean summit, mobilizing supporters, and driving opponents into a corner by branding them anti-nationalists and anti-pacifists. After all, it’s highly likely that the North agreed to the summit talks to help those who oppose conservatism and the Grand National Party win the presidential election.

They all cling to the outdated idea of influencing local politics with inter-Korean issues. President Roh and the ruling camp cannot dismiss this means because it may be the only way to win the election, but the public still remember how the former ruling party exploited the 6.15 Joint Declarations of 2000 in its favor. If president Roh can afford to hold the summit, he would do well to take South Korean abductees and war prisoners with him as former Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi took Japanese abductees to Japan when he visited Pyongyang in 2002.