North Making the RulesDuring the third round of inter-Korean ministerial talks, North Korea''s chief delegate took strong issue with the South Korean foreign minister''s UN speech, which attributed the improvements in inter-Korean relations to President Kim Dae-jung''s policy of engagement. The delegate implied that improved relations on the peninsula should be credited to the North''s leader, Kim Jong-il. Cho Myong-rok, first vice chairman of the North? National Defense Commission, is planning to visit the United States soon, apparently to discuss matters related to the thaw in inter-Korean relations.
Mr. Cho''s visit may frustrate President Kim''s hopes for reaching a peace agreement between the two Koreas, as the exclusion of the South from such discussions would give the impression that the role of the South in the peace process has been greatly diminished.
North Korea currently exercises total control over the talks and contacts between the two Koreas. It selects which organizations and individuals it wants to invite to the North, and sends whomever it pleases to the South, rejecting any of the South''s proposals that might not be in its interests. In short, Pyongyang dictates the terms and conditions of the reapproachment, as Seoul acquiesces.
Hundreds of pamphlets denouncing South Korea were scattered inside the Shilla Hotel on the day North Korean Workers'' Party Secretary Kim Yong-sun held talks with South Korea''s intelligence chief. According to the police, the fliers were from the North and somehow found their way into the hotel despite tight security. The administration did not utter a word about the incident until the opposition leader disclosed it. The North is indeed doing marvellously in maintaining the upper hand.
Upon returning from the Pyongyang summit, President Kim announced that he would discuss issues related to North Korea with the people. He has failed to keep that promise.
A case in point would be the repatriation of former North Korean agents, which proceeded without any public debate. As for food aid, shipments began without obtaining assurances that the distribution process would be transparent. The shipments were also set in motion despite the absence of a contract. The North is certainly enjoying the South''s largesse.
It seems the North has further requests for assistance from the South. President Kim has already stated that additional food aid will be delivered. Seoul also appears set to offer help building power transmission facilities and power plants in the North.
The government asked the North to hold a joint groundbreaking ceremony for the restoration of the Seoul-Sinuiju railroad, but the ceremony failed to take place, sparking speculation that Pyongyang wants Seoul to finance the costs of putting 30,000 of its soldiers to work on the project.
The government also urged the nation''s conglomerates to invest in the North. When they failed to show much interest, citing the precarious economic situation, talks of impending government investigations spread and reportedly touched off protests about the not-so-subtle government pressure. The government is going out of its way to implement the June 15 Joint Declaration, which called for "balanced development of the national economy," and as a result, it is allowing the North to sit back and enjoy the show. One can only marvel at how well the North is making out.
The head of South Korea''s intelligence agency seemed to agree with Pyongyang''s claim that there were "no South Korean prisoners of war" in the North, even as North Korean spies were being repatriated. Pyongyang then invited 30 South Korean government officials, politicans and civic organizations to celebrate the anniversary of its Workers'' Party. One might expect the government to at least politely take issue with the invitation, but again, nary a word.
North Korea unhesitatingly speaks its mind about any issue, while the Seoul remains ever so timid lest it incur the wrath of Pyongyang. The administration''s lack of negotiating experience, which caused President Kim to deplore the absence of any documentation to contest Ford''s withdrawal from the sale of Daewoo Motor, could account for its deference to the North.
The best form of reunification would be one that takes place with the two Koreas recognizing each other''s system. An attitude of willingness to change and to promote mutual understanding should be a prerequisite. For whatever reason, the North is trying to educate the South, and the South Korean government appears only too willing to learn. It pours funds into the North without any reciprocity or guarantees that peace will be restored on the Peninsula.
It is time for the South to demand reciprocity in its dealings with the North. Only then can inter-Korean relations enter a stage of mutual respect and understanding.
by Lee Soo-keun