Go to contents

[Editorial] Form Matters as Much as Substance

Posted August. 18, 2009 06:31,   


Hyundai Group Chairwoman Hyun Jung-eun has returned from North Korea with a joint news statement saying she reached a deal with the North’s Korea Asia-Pacific Peace Committee. Hyundai and North Korea reached agreement in five areas, including the resumption of tours to Mount Kumgang and Kaesong and family reunions at the mountain. An unconventional thing happened: a meager business executive discussed national projects with the North and made promises. The Unification Ministry in Seoul said the agreement was made on the private level, and that if the deal is to become effective, details should be made through inter-Korean talks. This is no good, however. The conglomerate is desperate to resume the Mount Kumgang tour, and the South Korean government is at fault for allowing Hyundai to decide such an important matter.

The North is responsible for the suspended tours to Mount Kumgang and Kaesong and inter-Korean family reunions. When a South Korean tourist at Mount Kumgang was shot to death by a North Korean soldier July 11 last year, Seoul immediately halted the tour to protect its people. The North stopped inter-Korean family reunions in July 2006. Reaching an agreement through inter-Korean talks is essential to resume the tours and reunion. The tours also cannot be allowed to resume unless Pyongyang explains last year’s tourist killing, promise that a recurrence will never happen, and guarantee tourist safety. Rumors say Hyun and Seoul held a prior consultation since she reached an agreement with the North as if she were an envoy.

Inter-Korean exchanges and cooperation require form as much as substance. It is problematic that Seoul will take over the promises made by a business executive with Pyongyang. Some say the North wants to reap economic benefits, including revenues from the tours that will reach tens of millions of dollars, through the agreement. Others say the North contacted the South’s private sector while rejecting government-level inter-Korean talks. If Seoul glosses over this problem without knowing Pyongyang’s intent, it will suffer later. The North is sticking to its strategy of provoking the South through nuclear tests and long-range missile launches.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Il held talks with Hyun on the seventh day of her trip at Mount Myohyang. He treated her like a North Korean resident but acted impolite to treat a guest that way. The North’s media, however, said, “Kim listened to all of Hyun’s wishes,” and, “At Kim’s special order, all conveniences and safety will be guaranteed.” To the outside world, Kim remains an old-fashioned dictator who is clueless about the ABCs of diplomacy and negotiations.

The South Korean government should not lose face when it contacts the North. Pyongyang should make specific agreements with Seoul at inter-Korean talks before the resumption of the Mount Kumgang tour.