Foundations for Future Must Be Built on Popular Consensus

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Foundations for Future Must Be Built on Popular Consensus

It seems that the June 15 South-North Joint Declaration announced by South Korean President Kim Dae-jung and North Korean National Defense Commission Chairman Kim Jong-il is a milestone on the long road to reunification and will play a principal role in future South-North relations. The Joint Declaration, agreed at the three-day, two-night Pyongyang summit, will become the reference point for discussion of all inter-Korea issues from now on, replacing the July 4 (1972) South-North Joint Communique, the backbone of negotiations over the past 28 years.

The historical significance of the declaration at Pyongyang cannot be over-emphasized. For the first time since the peninsular division the Korean leaders have met and recognized each other as partners in negotiation. Furthermore, the declaration embodies both a gesture of hope of eventual reunification, and the practical means to begin the long journey by working towards increased mutual prosperity. In particular, accelerated inter-Korea exchanges and economic cooperation on the ground seem likely to result from this opening of the window of dialogue.

However, the detailed substance of the agreement must be thrashed out to eliminate possible differences in interpretation and clarify vague sections of the Joint Declaration, prior to further talks between governments.

The Joint Declaration generally consists of two themes: reunification in the first and second items and exchanges and mutual prosperity in the third and fourth items. The declaration assumes that the two government authorities will realize these principal aims themes through talks.

The two leaders agreed to “achieve reunification independently,” and on their own terms. But this use of “independently” could be interpretated in different ways. North Korea, until now, has insisted that “independence” means the denunciation and rejection of foreign powers - in the case of South Korea, the ejection of U.S. troops. If North Korea has indeed transformed its attitude in this time of peace from its former hostility - for example, when it dismissed contact with South Korea in preference for negotiations with the U.S. “over the shoulder of South Korea” - it could indeed be heralded as a tremendous victory. However, if this is not the case, it could become a major stumbling block to progress.

The common focus on eventual reunification in the agreement has rightly attracted great attention; however, the framework for that reunification as previously defined by the two sides was markedly different. While South Korea proposed a “confederation”, the North advocated a “loose form of federation”. Chong Wa Dae spokesperson Park Joon-young has explained that the two leaders agreed on a proposal in which local governments of South and North Korea would each hold rights of diplomacy and national defense. This appears to be much closer to the “loose form of federation” espoused by the North.

Of course this intermediary set-up for reunification has not yet been definitively agreed. However, the reunification formula must be subjected to the approval of our people: it must be thoroughly assessed and debated at the National Assembly.

It is very regretful that there was no mention of peace on the Korean Peninsula as well as ways to ease the tension in the joint declaration. Delegates have supplied an explanatory appendix to the agreement, which states that the two leaders “confirmed that the two sides do not have intention to attack each other, and decided to restrain any actions which could be perceived as threatening.”

It is known that President Kim urged National Defense Commission Chairman Kim to tackle urgent issues including issuing a prompt resolution on issues related to missile development. But this issue is of too great importance to be consigned to the delegates‘ accompanying commentary. This is of great significance to allies, including the United States and Japan, which have insisted that North Korea accept downsizing of its weapons program, including missile development, at this summit. The fact that these powers may have concerns about the absence of any such affirmation is illustrated in that the United States, while welcoming the Joint Declaration, has refrained as yet from making official comment. Our government must provide sufficient concrete detail to surrounding nations in order to avoid any doubt regarding its intentions. Moreover, the government must urge the establishment of a permanent military commission to ease tensions on the Korean Peninsula at further talks between Seoul and Pyongyang.

Another issue causing concern is the fate of the families separated by the Korean War. Doubts persist over whether the agreement will result in just a single one-time reunion event on August 15, National Liberation Day. The government cannot claim success in negotiation of this issue if “success” turns out to be not an ongoing program but a small-scale temporary event.

The government is laying itself open to the criticism that it provided all necessary support, including economic cooperation, to North Korea but for a meager return. The August 15 separated families reunion will be seen as a symbolic gesture without a deeper commitment to the problem’s resolution. We must be assured that this is the first step in consistent long-term efforts to reunite divided relatives. It is important to recognize that North Korea can gain trust through the implementation of follow-up measures to agreements, including the establishment of meeting offices and post offices for separated families.

The Joint Declaration provides another impetus for reference to the South-North Basic Agreement, which has been ignored by North Korea since its effectuation on 1992, because it did not include so-called “principal issues,” such as independence and grand national unity. However, as the two leaders have agreed on these principles of reunification, the Basic Agreement can be resuscitated and made useful in developing South-North relations.

National Defense Commission Chairman Kim made his grand debut to the world through this summit. Our people seem now to appreciate the tides of change in North Korea and its will to open up.

We would like to emphasize that government must be true to the reconciliatory spirit behind the agreement between the two leaders, but based on loyalty to the people. In order for this to have a lasting impact and for the people to be assured of its transparency, the government must have a solid foundation on which to build future developments.

by Kim Jin

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