[OUTLOOK]When Mr. Kim met Ms. Park

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[OUTLOOK]When Mr. Kim met Ms. Park

The recent visit to North Korea by Park Geun-hye, the head of the Korean Coalition for the Future and the daughter of former President Park Chung Hee, has generated endless questions. The biggest question is whether the visit was possible without help from the government. Common sense tells us that it would have been impossible. The timing of the visit was also strange. The visit was arranged at a time when the provincial elections were only a couple of months away. Thus, all kinds of speculation are circulating concerning the reasons for the visit.

One of those reasons was said to attract votes from the Gyeongsang provinces as a way of yoking support for Lee Hoi-chang, a presidential candidate for the main opposition Grand National Party, in the region. Ms. Park is running for the presidency because she is from North Gyeongsang province, which would thus benefit Roh Moo-hyun, who is from South Gyeongsang province and a presidential candidate for the ruling Millennium Democratic Party. According to a GNP legislator, that is why the government helped Ms. Park in her visit to the North.

Another speculation is that the MDP wants Ms. Park to be an alternative candidate for the MDP. This notion is related to declining public support for Mr. Roh. This is a revival of the original Yongnam candidate theory that claims that the presidential candidate should originate from the Gyeongsang provinces. This is what a nonmainstream faction of the MDP says.

However, speculation is only speculation. Ms. Park's visit may be unrelated to this speculation. Ms. Park said the Korea-European Union sponsored her visit, but there was likely a better reason. Kim Jong-il, the North Korean leader, eagerly wanted to meet her. Mr. Kim has expressed his wish to meet her every time he met high-ranking officials from the South. But the government was not in the position to make it public.

For the summit between President Kim Dae-jung and Kim Jong-il in 2000, Ms. Park was supposed to accompany the president, at the request of the North. But the GNP opposed her visit at the last minute. The North Korean leader told the president as follows: "Why did Park Geun-hye not come? I do not understand why chairman Lee Hoi-chang kept her from coming here."

Some time after this occasion, media executives visited the North. During a dinner party, Mr. Kim suddenly told an executive sitting beside him: "How is Ms. Park? I would like to meet her."

Park Jae-kyu, the minister of unification, heard similar comments. So did Lim Dong-won, a presidential envoy who recently visited the North. The government could not help but send Ms. Park to the North. Well, there is a saying, "Sincerity moves heaven."

On the night of May 13, Mr. Kim said to Ms. Park, "I told many people that I would like to meet you, but the Korea-European Union, which I had not even considered, arranged your visit." Why then did Mr. Kim want to meet Ms. Park? "It seems like Mr. Kim wanted to have a frank conversation," Ms. Park said.

Mr. Kim did not give a specific reason this time, but Mr. Kim explained why he wanted to meet Ms. Park when he met an official from the South long ago. Kim Yoon-whan, a former lawmaker, heard this remark from a government official: "As the son of the North Korean leader Kim Il-sung, I wanted to seek reconciliation with the daughter of Park Chung Hee." Mr. Kim actually expressed deep regret to Ms. Park. "I feel sorry for the suffering you have had," Mr. Kim said to Ms. Park.

Then why did Mr. Kim want to have a reconciliation? Was it merely a childish gesture from someone who has absolute power or a clever tactic before the presidential election?

Mr. Kim also asked about the ideology of the new party Ms. Park created. She answered that the party's ideologies are liberty, democracy and a market economy. Mr. Kim reacted: "The political parties there seem to have many fights."

Mr. Kim and Ms. Park's reconciliation could generate a reconciliation between the two Koreas. If not, the meeting was a contrivance to win her over, and Ms. Park should realize this. Other presidential candidates should also be aware of this.


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The writer is a political reporter of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Lee Youn-hong

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