Following the June 12-14 North-South Korea summit in Pyongyang, there will be one sure way to tell if the proceedings have been even moderately successful.
Of course, some applause must be given for the fact that the parties have even agreed to sit down at all 50 years after the Korean War started. North Korea invaded South Korea on June 25, 1950, there was a truce in 1953, but technically the two Koreas are still at war.
The consensus among diplomatic analysts is that the tete-a-tete between South Korean President Kim Dae Jung and North Korean leader Kim Jong Il, can be judged successful if the North’s enigmatic chief agrees to reciprocate; that is, if he will go to Seoul for a followup meeting in the near future.
“Such a visit could really make a difference,” said a diplomat formerly posted in Pyongyang.
So far most of the accommodation has been on Kim Dae Jung’s side as he pursues the national goal of reconciliation and the personal goal of winning the Nobel Peace Prize.
His is the magnanimity of a Christian, statesman and patriot.
Lately there has been a quiet crusade to “humanize” the North’s Kim, which is among the greatest public-relations challenges in the world, considering the man’s record.
Even Kim Dae Jung has said, “Kim Jong Il has improved,” which has more to do with flattery than with facts.
For my part, which serves only to confirm my bias, I would not trust Kim Jong Il further than I could throw him, to use an old American saying. But I may pay attention to the influence of his advisers.
Kim Dae Jung is able to handle the flak from his domestic opponents that he has gone soft and has made too many concessions.
Georgy Kunadze, a former Russian ambassador to South Korea, pointed out recently that these opponents will say “according to true Korean tradition, the North Korean leader Kim Jong Il, who is almost young enough to be Kim Dae Jung’s son, should come to Seoul first, not vice versa.”
The summit agenda and negotiations will have little to do with reality until the Korean states bury the demons, phobias and psychological hangups that have accumulated over the past five decades.
Western nations are likewise encumbered with myths about the Korean Peninsula that need to be dissolved.
Kunadze, who is now the chief researcher at the Russian Academy of Science’s Institute of World Economy and International Relations, says: “Idealists would like to believe that North Korea pursues its unpredictable and occasionally violent policy because of its leaders’ lack of understanding. But statesmen must acknowledge that, on the contrary, the country does so because its leaders understand everything only too well.”
This leads to the question of Kim Jong Il’s advisers. It is going too far too say that a virtual coup d’etat has occurred in the Pyongyang palace. But a combination of pragmatism, elevation of younger officers to the inner circle, gentle arm-twisting from China and what might be called “reading the handwriting on the wall,” have led to a perceptible change in approach.
The recent decisions to establish diplomatic relations with Italy and Australia is evidence that Pyongyang wants to become part of the world again. The Stalinist model is still too much ingrained to be thrown into the trash can of history just yet, but there is movement in that direction.
Foreigners have given Koreans the short end of the stick for too long. Of course there are other than indigenous players in the background and in support roles even now. But it will be heartening to see Koreans occupying the two main chairs at the upcoming summit.
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