10/06/2007, 00.00
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Intra-Korean summit raises hopes but also anxieties

by Pino Cazzaniga
The joint declaration by the two Korean leaders stresses security, prosperity, dialogue and peace. The South makes a lot of concessions in the area of economic development, but fails to get the North to accept disarmament further along the demilitarised zone.

Tokyo (AsiaNews) – Unlike the first summit in 2000, the historic summit between South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun, and northern leader Kim Jong-il on October 2 to 5 did not receive much international media coverage. But on the basis of their joint declaration the two leaders seem to have made some progress.

According to the Korean Times, the “eight-point declaration addresses issues of peace, co-prosperity and reconciliation, going beyond the South-North Joint Declaration that was issued following the first-ever inter-Korean summit meeting in June 2000 between then South Korean President Kim Dae-jung and the North Korean leader. While the 2000 joint declaration was a broad five-point statement that affirmed the desire of the two countries to achieve reunification and laid the groundwork for promoting economic cooperation, the latest declaration contains details on a broad range of issues confronting the South and North.”

The lack of media interest is never the less understandable. The 2000 meeting aimed at bringing the “hermit nation” in from the cold and break its isolation, which was a threat to international security. The recent summit instead essentially sought to foster intra-Korean dialogue with peace and unification as the objective.

South Korea’s president was behind this meeting. His northern counterpart agreed out of self-interest, probably urged by his regime’s ruling circles. But Roh’s motives are not without ambiguities. In fact South Korea is scheduled to hold presidential elections in December and under its constitution, Roh cannot run again. Given that in the past year his popularity has plummeted to less than 20 per cent—a second intra-Korean summit would enable him to leave office with honour.

Security and prosperity are the key bywords that sum up what was discussed at the summit; they also condense the main issue contained in the joint declaration.

In analysing the accords, The Korea Herald wrote that for “Roh, nothing was more important than to forestall another armed conflict between North and South Korea. The security threat was made more ominous when the communist state, already with formidable conventional weaponry in its arsenal, detonated a nuclear device last year.”

“On the other hand,” it noted, “Kim's overriding concern—despite any grandstanding rhetoric he used at the summit—was Roh's commitment to economic assistance. As the leader of one of the most destitute countries in the world, he had to obtain as much aid from the well-to-do South as possible to feed, shelter and clothe his impoverished people. This would allow him to maintain his tight grip on the North Koreans.”

The two leaders agreed to a summit on security with the four nations involved in the Korean War (the two Koreas, plus the United States and China) in order to turn the current armistice into a peace treaty.

In 1997, under China’s initiative, four-nation talks had begun for this same purpose but had quickly ended because of Pyongyang’s refusal to admit Seoul’s participation.

The invitation to renew the initiative is thus a diplomatic victory for Roh. However, he failed to get the North to agreed to further disarmament along the demilitarised zone. From an economic point of view, the South also had to concede much more than the North on security. Yet the summit did have an important symbolic impact.

For the first time a South Korean president travelled to Pyongyang overland. On arriving at the border he got out of his car to cross on foot the yellow line that marks the line dividing the two sides. On his way back, he stopped on the outskirts of Kaesŏng to address Korean workers employed in an industrial complex built by southern businessmen with southern money. This is sign that the wall separating North and South is starting to crumble, at least from a psychological point of view.

In South Korea though the second summit has generated more criticism than enthusiasm. But in its editorial page The Japan Times wrote; “We believe that Roh’s visit to Pyongyang, his meeting with Kim and the joint declaration will open the way for a new era of national reconciliation, cooperation and peace.”

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