중앙데일리

[OUTLOOK]Time for Kim Jong-il to Help Out a Bit

North Korea's hard-line stance gives no hope for a better economy or for better ties with the world.

May 31,2001
It is almost the first anniversary of the June 15 summit meeting of North and South Korea, an event which caught the eyes of the world and lifted the hopes of all Koreans. Between the time of the summit and the award of the Nobel peace prize to President Kim Dae-jung, the summit seemed to spur cataclysmic changes in the frozen relations between the two Koreas. But since then, the North has been dragging its feet on official exchanges with Seoul, and dialogue has been all but cut off.

The fact that President Kim a few days ago found it necessary to issue a public appeal to North Korean leader Kim Jong-il to honor his promise to come to Seoul is a good indicator of the current state of inter-Korean relations.

Superficially, the reason for the North's freeze on official contacts seems to be the hard-line stance of the U.S. administration toward North Korea, and discontent in Pyongyang about the seeming inability of Seoul to influence U.S. policy. Chairman Kim said regarding the second summit, "I will wait until the United States finishes its policy review. President Kim seems to be keenly attuned to the United States."

It also appears that North Korea is unhappy with what it sees as the failure of the Kim Dae-jung administration to live up to his promises in last year's Berlin declaration and at the summit in Pyongyang for more economic assistance. The North evidently believes that a freeze on dialogue with the South will be an effective form of pressure on Seoul to keep its promises despite the turnaround in U.S. policy.

That is a misjudgement by Pyongyang. The longer the freeze goes on, the more the North will suffer. Seoul is not in a position to restart economic assistance to the North, as Kim Jong-il seems to want, as a precondition for Pyongyang's agreement to restart official contacts.

For the North to confront the United States in such a way might be a boost to its national pride for a while, but it would be a bad mistake, prolonging its international isolation and the poor living conditions of its people. It is a cold reality of today's world that North Korea can get help from international financial institutions only after Pyongyang improves its relations with the United States. It will have a chance to use expected reparations from Japan as seed money for economic development only when its U.S. ties are in better shape.

North Korea's hard-line stance toward the United States and the attitude making slight of South Korea's olive branch are not helpful in solving its current crisis. The harder the U.S. policy toward North Korea is, the more North Korea should develop cooperative and peaceful relations with South Korea. In other words, North Korea itself has to carry out what it has asked the South to do - begin earnest pan-national cooperation. When trust accumulates through official dialogue, including another summit, South Koreans will start talking again about helping North Korea. Then Seoul can provide North Korea economic assistance without difficulty and can also ask the United States to adopt more rational policies toward North Korea. International society will also put pressures on the United States toward that end.

In order to get what it really needs, which is economic assistance and especially electricity, North Korea has to show a bona fide attitude to give President Kim room to maneuver. Kim Jong-il once evaluated President Kim as "a friend as well as a leader, and a leader having a good mutual relations." He should start doing things that can help President Kim in his crisis as well as make himself look better.

If Chairman Kim solves the problem of the Mount Kumgang tour project with a reasonable approach, restarts official dialogue with the South and establishes permanent meeting places for separated families, he could project his flexibility to the world and provide a way for President Kim to get out of his current political quagmire. I can not understand why he, a man of such alleged shrewd judgement, is not considering things that make himself look better but would not cost a thing for him.

The peace on the Korean peninsula and future of Korean people depend on the new thinking on a major scale by Chairman Kim. His decision is urgently needed. Chairman Kim has to rely on President Kim if he wants to improve the standard of living of his people to the extent that "everybody eats white rice with beef soup, wears silk clothes and sleeps in a tile-roofed house" from the reality that many people are now starving to death. He has to respond to President Kim's request for a Seoul visit. Didn't President Kim liberate him from seclusion? When he visits Seoul, he will be able to be born again as a statesman who can liberate North Koreans from starvation. Has he already forgotten the deep emotion and joy of the June 15 summit?


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The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.


by Sioux Lee




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