Kim Jong-il Must Give Back

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Kim Jong-il Must Give Back

It is my belief that we have now entered a stage in which North Korea's National Defense Commission Chairman Kim Jong-il has emerged as a leader of great influence and control across the Korean Peninsula. The inter-Korean talks, reunions and visits, and acts of economic cooperation that have taken place since May this year were largely made possible through Chairman Kim's personal resolve. We cannot deny that President Kim Dae-jung's 'Sunshine Policy' of engagement with the North allowed this resolve to have such visible effect. Nevertheless, I believe that all the developments between the two Koreas are products of Chairman Kim's making. He now wields influence even in the everyday affairs of the South Korean government. Witness this year's R.O.K.-U.S. Ulchi military exercises: due to protests from the North now taking place under held breath and in skeletal form.

There are two messages that Chairman Kim is trying to deliver to both Koreas and the world that are of great interest. The first is that the future course of inter-Korean issues is entirely in his hands. The second message is that those who commit themselves to supporting and strengthening the North Korean system will be remembered and rewarded. Let's consider the form and implications of these messages.

During his luncheon with the delegation of South Korean media presidents that recently visited the North, Chairman Kim gave the first message loud and clear, stating, "The timetable of reunification is up to me." And indeed, the agreement on the inter-Korean summit talks, the opening of a direct flight route between the two Koreas, the South Korean media heads' visit to the North, the reunion of separated families, and the development of Kaesong into an industrial complex and a tourist destination - all these issues took place in accordance with his personal resolve. He also stated that he would arrange two more reunions of separated families this year, and would even allow them to visit their hometowns across the border. He also gave an advance indication of the speed of developments in inter-Korean ministerial talks by stating that the talks would begin in earnest from the third round. Although this developments constitute positive news for the peninsula, they were undertaken too unilaterally. The situation is such that the various forms of inter-Korean reconciliation are over-reliant on approval from the North.

Chairman Kim's second message - that loyalists are rewarded - is starkly evident in the fate of the 63 unconverted former long-term prisoners to be repatriated to the North in a few days. Their repatriation is the outcome of the North's tenacious pursuit of the issue. Chairman Kim would also have played a key role in the selection of the majority of the North Korean sperated family reunion delegates. Most of them were relatively successful members of North Korean society who had either served in the volunteer army or defected to the North from the South. He would also have had a hand in the insensitive choice of the North Korean chief delegate, the widow of a former South Korean foreign minister who fled to the United States when charged with embezzlement and subsequently defected to the North, where he continued to denounce the South Korean system. Chairman Kim has even tried to assure the well-being of the South Korean students who raised the North Korean flag at their schools, demanding that they go unpunished. He repaid Hyundai Honorary Chairman Chung Ju-yong's generous assistance to the North when it was suffering severe food shortage by giving Hyundai the rights to develop Kaesong into an industrial complex and to develop tourism. Chairman Kim did not hesitate to state that he gave Hyundai "special privileges". He is sending the message across that he sees to it that the people who are loyal to him and support his regime are properly compensated.

Perhaps this is why the unconverted long-term prisoners soon to be repatriated to the North denied at a recent meeting the existence of any South Korean prisoners of war in the North. They also upheld North Korea's official position that none among the South Korean abductees is being detained against his will. In contrast, the South Korean government failed to carry out in full the annual Ulchi Focus Lens military exercises conducted for the sake of national security. In the end, the United States had to voice dissatisfaction indirectly, pointing out that the North Korean Army had itself continued to carry out summer military exercises. In the process of reaching an agreement with the North to return unconverted former North Korean spies who had tried to bring down the South Korean system to the North, the South Korean government allowed discussions of the South Korean POW and abductee issue to remain "unofficial".

The government's attitude is being reflected in other sectors. Now, making even a constructive criticism of the North or taking issue with unresolved past grievances between the two Koreas is liable to result in condemnation as anti-reunification or in accusations of perpetrating Cold War structure. Choi Woo-young, leader of a group calling for the return of South Koreans kidnapped by the North, even testified that several civic groups and human rights organizations told the families of South Korean abductees not to link the repatriation of the abductees with that of unconverted former long-term prisoners. It is only too natural for the families of abductees to respond furiously to such a lack of interest and to ask, "How can we think of this administration as a 'government for the people'?"

The Kim Dae-jung administration, now in the latter half of its term of office, is facing an unstable economic situation and the eruption of various social conflicts. But the North must understand that if it comes under fire even over North Korean issues, this will not benefit the North. Chairman Kim has repeatedly said that he is indebted to President Kim, and expressed his trust in him as a companion by stating, "If President Kim and I were to join hands, we could do anything." Of all the people in South Korea, it was President Kim who has most faithfully and willingly helped out the North and consistently pursued cooperation. If President Kim is to get into hot water over the issues of South Korean POWs and separated families, the only person on the entire Korean Peninsula capable of rescuing him from the crisis will be Chairman Kim. Now is an ideal time for Chairman Kim to demonstrate the essence of an open-minded and benevolent politics.

by Lee Soo-keun

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