[OUTLOOK]Reflections on the Year Since the Summit

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[OUTLOOK]Reflections on the Year Since the Summit

A year after the historic June 15 Summit, South Koreans do not think there has been much development in inter-Korean relations. North Korea has provided part of the reason for the lack of progress. The latest example is the series of crossings of the Northern Limit Line by North Korean cargo ships, infringing on the spirit of reconciliation and cooperation embodied in the June 15 Joint Declaration. But part of the blame belongs to the Kim Dae-jung administration, which has failed to grow the summit into real developments in inter-Korean relations.

The first failure is that the administration has failed to integrate differing ideologies of South Korean society. A national leader working toward a goal laden with ideological landmines needs to be able to harmonize competing forces or ideologies. After Francisco Franco's 37 years of absolute personal rule, political elites of Spain, representing different ideologies, succeeded in coming together to achieve democracy and economic development. The British Labor Party succeeded in retaking office in 1997 by embracing the platform of the conservative forces. Left- and right-wing forces are fusing in numerous Western countries, such as the United States and Britain, so that not a few political thinkers opine that center-of-the road pragmatism is the only working political ideology in the modern era.

The obstacles hindering a clear public consensus toward North Korea are the tragic fratricidal Korean War, more than half a century of division and a gaping gap between the economic engines of the two Koreas. Such a social backdrop and historical context requires careful and meticulous thought and patience in formulating and implementing North Korea polices. And gains from such policies, however small, would have produced momentum for more public understanding on the first anniversary of the historic summit.

But North Korea policy under the Kim Dae-jung administration has deepened the division between conservatives and progressives. Rather than allowing for the co-existence of different ideas and approaches, the administration-led policies toward the North produced a zero-sum approach toward inter-Korean reconciliation. North Korea played its own part by at-tacking opposition political leaders and conservative media. All of these led to intensifying ideological confrontation and a consequent erosion in public support for reconciliation with the North.

The second failure is domestic. The fragile economy that is ever on the downturn, and the policy flops such as the medical reform that sapped the nation's health-care finance system, have cooled people's interest in reconciliation efforts. People often turn away from foreign policy when a mountain of domestic challenges intrudes. In particular, the limping southern economy, a crucial factor in inter-Korean reconciliation efforts over the past year, has dealt a devastating blow to South Korea's leverage in inter-Korean negotiations. The gross domestic product of North Korea stands at just 4 percent of South Korea's. Personal income in North Korea is $700, or just 8 percent of a South Korean's. There is no complementarity between the economies of South and North Korea. The economy of the Korean Peninsula depends on Seoul unilaterally investing and supporting the North Korean economy. Providing economic aid to the North is undoubtedly the most important aspect in inter-Korean relations, but the government can not take initiatives when the public is saying, "We are having a hard time."

Third, the government has failed to set up and apply clear principles in dealing with North Korea. This failure is reflected in economic aid and cooperation with the North, in the issue of the National Security Law revision, in the promised Seoul visit by Chairman Kim Jong-il, and recently in the government's response to the intrusion of our waters by the North Korean ships.

Economic aid should be provided in a transparent manner within our economic capability, revision of the National Security Law should be resolved according to law and the North Korean leader's visit should be left to the North to decide. Seoul's decision to "deal wisely" with the Northern Limit Line violations is too ambiguous for an area where our national security is concerned.

Fourth, the government failed to prepare for the foreseeable changes that a Republican Party president in White House would bring. The diplomatic confusion over Seoul's expression of endorsement for the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, which irked Washington, is an example. There is, to be sure, anti-American sentiment, but most of the public believes that economic and national security cooperation with Washington is important for Seoul.

Reflection on past failures can lead to preparation for the future. It is time that a moderate center embracing both right and left forces in society should grow and mature, so that policies that can improve domestic issues, promote North Korea policy with principle and strengthen alliance with traditional allies can be implemented.


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The writer is a professor of international politics at Myongji University.


by Ahn Young-sop

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