[TODAY]Mystery shroud North's proposalWhat could have made the North Korean leader Kim Jong-il, who has been known for capriciousness, consider opening the overland route between Mount Geumgang and Pyeongyang? It's not clear what is going through Mr. Kim's mind, but on the surface the purpose of such an idea is to draw dollars from the pockets of South Korean tourists via the Arirang Festival to be held in Pyeongyang from late April through June.
However, during almost the same period the World Cup will be held in South Korea. I personally think that the intention of Mr. Kim was to abate the enthusiasm during the world's premier soccer event in Seoul by carrying out a mammoth mass exercise in which 100,000 participants grouped in a stadium create huge images by holding up cards. It's evidently a scene that Mr. Kim thinks will impress the world. There is a possibility that at some point Mr. Kim changed the objective of the Arirang Festival from impeding the World Cup to luring foreign currency.
According to a well-informed source on inter-Korean relations, China pressured North Korea to connect the Gyeongui Line so that the Chinese could travel by train to see the World Cup in Seoul. I presume that President Kim Dae-jung had been informed of China's pressure on North Korea and later hinted to the public that there was some movement in North Korea related to the reconstruction of the Gyeongui Line. The source also told me that if the connection of the Gyeongui Line is not completed, Chinese tourists plan to travel to Gaeseong and then take a bus to Seoul.
In other words, during the Arirang Festival, South Koreans could travel to Pyeongyang on a bus or plane that would pass through Wonsan from Mount Geumgang. And Chinese tourists could participate in the Arirang Festival on their way to Seoul via Pyeongyang and back. For months the relations between North and South Korea have been at a standstill, but such suggestions from the North show progressive moves may be coming.
Yet there are too many problems that lie in the North Korean proposal. The most suspicious part of all is that whether one takes the route from Panmunjum to Pyeongyang or Mount Geumgang to Pyeongyang, will the temporary opening of the roads continue to connect the North and South afterward? If not, wouldn't we feel depressed after all?
In order to improve the relationship of the two countries the South Korean government has to continue pouring material support into North Korea. However, it would not be easy for a president whose popularity has hit rock bottom and who has turned lame duck. Most of all, could we really trust the proposal of North Korea?
The relationships between North and South Korea and that of the North with the United states are interdependent. North Korea seemed to lose interest in the meetings with South Korea when President Bush took over the Oval Office. Hence, the relations between the two countries will be highly affected by the meeting between President Bush and President Kim, which will take place in Seoul next month.
If President Kim could persuade President Bush to resume talks with North Korea, since the war against terrorism may be entering its final act, the hope of progress in an inter-Korean dialogue could be rekindled. Unfortunately, the Bush administration's mistrust of North Korea goes deeper than we have imagined. Additionally, President Kim's government is not trusted by the U.S. government.
Since Sept. 11, North Korea has been sensitive toward the United States' actions and decisions. The reason the United States could wind up the war against terrorism in such a short time is because the U.S. military for the past decade has developed its missiles and bombs to be more precise in hitting targets.
North Korea must have noticed such military improvements in the United States. After witnessing the devastating defeat of the Taliban in the face of the state-of-the-art weapons of the United States, North Korea would not think of resorting to brinkmanship as before. Such actions could mean that even if the inter-Korean relations are stalemated during Mr. Kim's remaining tenure, it is not likely that incidents threatening the security of the peninsula would erupt. Therefore, President Kim's administration should give up any ambitions of leaving behind achievements unless the summit with President Bush comes up with an agreement.
It is up to the next government and the ruling party to decide how to improve the Mount Geumgang project. It's unfortunate that President Kim is reluctant to leave unresolved issues between the North and South Koreas in the hands of his successor.
The writer is a senior columnist of the JoongAng Ilbo.
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