[TODAY]An Anniversary and the Taste of AshesIt was almost like a great epic when the leaders of North and South Korea greeted each other in Pyongyang last June 14; seventy million Koreans were enthralled for three days. According to a public poll conducted by the JoongAng Ilbo two months later, 82 percent of all South Koreans were supportive of President Kim Dae-jung's policies toward North Korea, and 57 percent believed that the North and South would be unified within 10 years.
What are Koreans, who were so excited then, thinking one year later? Another survey conducted recently by the JoongAng Ilbo to mark the first anniversary of the North-South Joint Declaration shows that most Koreans woke up to the grim reality of the relationship between the North and South. The approval rate for President Kim's North Korea policy is down to 58 percent and the number of people who foresee unification within 10 years has dropped to 30 percent.
There is no need to explain the background of this collective dashing of hopes in less than a year; the agenda promised in the North-South agreement has not been carried out. Although family reunions were to be made systemic, only two have been held, and ministerial-level talks were discontinued after four rounds. North Korean leader Kim Jong-il's Seoul visit was first postponed from this spring to sometime in the first half, then to this fall － and now, some people think, perhaps not at all.
An obvious question, then, is what are the actual achievements of the June 15 Joint Declaration? A high-ranking official who took part in the formation of North Korea policies says that the most significant achievement was that the leaders of the North and South were able to clear up misunderstandings and resolve issues that could lead to misjudgments. But those statements all suggest that the accomplishments were only conceptual, not practical.
But what got us so excited last year was not the agreement itself but expectations that the agreement would serve as an instrument for practical results such as easing tensions, regular visits between separated families and active exchanges to bring peace to the peninsula. President Kim's report to the people on his Pyongyang visit and active government publicity on the historic visit certainly were enough to raise the public's expectations. To rebut criticism that the June 15 Joint Declaration have not resulted in any systemic results between Seoul and Pyongyang, the government says four programs of economic cooperation have been set up, referring to the agreements on prevention of double taxation, investment guarantees, a payments clearing system and a conflict resolution mechanism. These are all indispensable, meaningful and necessary agreements in order to promote economic cooperation between the North and the South. But it is somewhat misleading for the government to say that these agreements are major achievements. No concrete steps have been taken for trust-building measures to reduce tensions; the separated family unions have been stopped; Kim Jong-il's visit to Seoul has been cancelled or at least postponed and North Korean vessels have invaded our territorial waters.
One of the main reasons given for Kim Jong-il's "wait-and-see" attitude toward inter-Korean issues that keeps North-South dialogue at a stalemate is the Bush administration's hard-line rhetoric toward the North. The cold and harsh words on North Korea by President Bush, Secretary of State Colin Powell and National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice during the Washington visit by President Kim last march were enough to make our president appear small and shabby and disappoint Chairman Kim Jong-il.
The North Korea policies announced last week by the U.S. president are no cause for the North to be comforted. Although they appear externally to be engagement policies, they are, in fact, the same old hard-line policies of the Republicans. They order the North to allow examination of its nuclear program before the construction of the light-water reactor is completed and to stop developing and exporting missiles. Especially, its request for the North to reduce its conventional military threat to the South puts massive pressure on the North and interferes with working out the most important item on the North-South agenda － lowering tensions between the two countries. Finally, the United States made no mention of the North's complaints about delays in the light-water nuclear reactor project.
Chairman Kim Jong-il has reportedly said that he is ready to give anything for the normalization of relations between North Korea and the United States. We regret that the North did not suggest any flexibility on its missile program until last October, too late for the Clinton administration to respond meaningfully. South Koreans can do nothing but hope that Kim Jong-il's conciliatory attitude will be reflected in his response to the Bush administration's negotiating demands.
In short, we feel an emptiness inside as we celebrate the first anniversary of the June 15 Joint Declaration.
The writer is a senior columnist of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Kim Young-hie