[INSIGHT]Will Kim Jong-il Show His Face Here?

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[INSIGHT]Will Kim Jong-il Show His Face Here?

Kim Jong-il's visit to Seoul seems less and less likely. President Kim Dae-jung dodges the question even though he suggested early this year that it might be in the first half of the year. Kim Jong-pil, who presumably has inside information through his party's coalition with the president's political supporters, predicted, "There is not much room for give and take even if he visits Seoul."

Why, suddenly, does the visit seem so unlikely? Seoul tacitly points to the hard-line policy toward North Korea by the U.S. Bush administration, but some observers think there is a problem with the terms under which a visit could take place. A senior North Korean at the recent Havana meeting of the International Parliamentary Union told reporters, "Ask Unification Minister Park Jae-kyu about it," when he was asked about timing of the visit. If we interpret those words to mean that the North had conveyed the terms for the visit to Mr. Park and was waiting for his response, then what are the terms? Some would guess that they would be revision of the National Security Law, mobilizing Seoulites to welcome him, among others. But such terms do not look critical to his visit.

North Korea may be asking Seoul to fulfill its pledges prior to last year's summit meeting in Pyongyang. In Berlin right before the announcement of the summit meeting, President Kim promised massive assistance to North Korea for roads, harbors, railroads, power plants, communication lines and agriculture. But the assistance has turned out to be only several hundred thousand tons of fertilizer, rice, and corn. Long-term social overhead capital projects in the North have been deferred, and even the supply of electricity, which seemed like an easy task, has been put on hold. North Korea asked for 500 megawatts first and the construction of several thermal power plants later if Seoul could not provide 2,000 megawatts (was this number secretly promised?) at the moment. But Seoul is under criticism for "giving without return," and is reluctant to grant the North's request, citing technical difficulties with the North's power distribution system and the differences between the electrical systems of the South and the North. Some observers wonder if the United States is holding South Korea's ankles behind scenes.

The prospects for constructing the Kaesong Industrial Complex and starting a joint project for information technology are also dim. The North provided 3.3 million square meters of land for the latter project near Pyongyang, but when personal computers with Pentium processors can not be brought in the North because the United States forbids it, how can there be joint software projects?

More than 480 footwear and textile companies applied for plant sites at the Kaesong Industrial Complex. But the Korea Land Corporation, which is in charge of construction of the complex, is worried that perhaps only 5 percent of the applicants would start operations when the complex is ready for occupancy. Most of the firms, Korea Land believes, are only interested in hoped-for government subsidies like Hyundai received for the Mount Kumgang business and have no idea whether Northern manufacturing operations would be successful or not.

From the North's viewpoint, Seoul broke its promises, and Seoul's attempt to blame the North for not signing the working-level agreement on relinking the Kyongui railroad does not help matters. There is probably skepticism in Pyongyang about Mr. Kim's entire sunshine policy.

Kim Jong-il is also postponing his scheduled visit to Moscow; some surmise the delay is because of North Korea's dissatisfaction with Russian aid levels; whether that aid is to be arms or economic cooperation funds is not clear. But we can be sure that Pyongyang wants something more tangible than slogans about an "iron silk road." If Chairman Kim sees no tangible benefits coming from a Seoul visit, he is unlikely to come simply to sign a peace declaration with vague mentions of degrees of confederacy.

The splendid shows - handshakes in Pyongyang and Nobel prizes - are over. North and South Korea must return to reality. North Korea should recognize that there are many obstacles for Seoul to overcome in order to fulfill whatever secret pledges it may have made while preparing for last year's summit. Seoul has to devise an assistance plan for the North which will be acceptable to the citizenry in the South.

If we don't have such a blueprint, the sunshine policy is a mere extension of an illusionary unification theory. If we pursue unification on a left-wing "unification for unification's sake" principle, then the national consensus in the South for the engagement policy toward the North would crumble. North and South Korea should meet again and agree on realistic forms of mutual assistance, not the exaggerated shows of the past. The two Koreas should start discussing the establishment of a peace system on the Korean Peninsula. As a result of such talks, the Koreas could begin to build mutual trust.

Shouldn't those steps be the terms for Chairman Kim's visit to Seoul?


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The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.


by Kim Young-bae

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