[INSIGHT]Bribing our way to unification

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[INSIGHT]Bribing our way to unification

We have yet to learn the truth about rumors that South Korea secretly sent $400 million to North Korea at the time of the summit meeting two years ago. But the president of Hyundai Merchant Marine, the company that borrowed that sum of money, is reported to have said that the money was "the government's to repay." Even without any proof, one has an idea of what happened when one hears testimony that a senior official of the National Intelligence Service told the chief of the Korea Development Bank, which extended the loan, not to worry about getting the money back.

Two years ago, when the government announced the summit meeting four days before the April 13 National Assembly election, there were already rumors that the government had paid North Korea to agree to a meeting. An opposition legislator said publicly that a large amount of money had been delivered to North Korea. Suspicions had been accumulating over the North Korea policies of the Kim Dae-jung administration, and that is what made this $400 million rumor so persuasive and explosive.

The Blue House and the Millennium Democratic Party will not be able to calm anybody down by saying these allegations are just a political ploy by the Grand National Party during the presidential election. The question to be answered is, "Where has the $400 million gone?" Accusing the Grand National Party of being conservative and reactionary doesn't answer that question. Even if the Millennium Democratic Party refuses to answer, the harm is already done and suspicions have settled in the minds of the people. And the government is not making any efforts to trace, investigate or explain the trail of the loan or where the money is now. If it is true that parts of the government secretly funneled the $400 million into North Korea, the problem is even more serious. Not only would the moral integrity of the historic North-South summit meeting be compromised, but the legitimacy of the June 15 joint agreement would be shaken.

Such dealings would make North and South Korea co-criminals and co-conspirators. This could hardly be called the sound development of North-South relations that the people of the Korean Peninsula so much desire. The offering of that money could even come back to haunt us over and over again and distort North-South relations far into the future. The North also upheld the summit meeting as the lifetime achievement of Kim Jong-il in his striving for the people and unification. How would "the general" look now if it were found out that he was pocketing money for his efforts to promote Korean reunification?

Because of the grave consequences that this problem could hold for the governments in both the North and the South, it should not be made into a political issue that can be swept under the table. For the security of North-South relations, the government should not hesitate to take swift measures to clear up the questions and let the peole know the truth, even if it means tarnishing its honor.

This incident has taught us the importance of improving communications between the North and the South. There has been too much talk about money in the North-South exchanges until now. As all kinds of events and ceremonies began to be held in the North and the South, rumors of "unofficial financial support" to the North snowballed. Allegations have surfaced during National Assembly inspections that broadcasting companies also paid money secretly to get North Korean performing troupes to come here.

But then again, we've always known and grumbled about the North and its extended hand and the South handing over cash. If the rumors are true, we even paid to have the North Koreans watch our performers and athletes entertain them.

It is a good and necessary thing for the economically better-off South to help the North. We must pursue even more projects and humanitarian assistance to help the North Koreans. But support and bribery are two different things. Bribery is illegal here, be it done by a business or by the government.

Both the North and South Korean governments should be aware that such "bribe communications" and other murky money dealings were one of the reasons those of us in the South distrusted the North and President Kim's policies so much.

From now on, any talk or exchanges between the North and South should follow a transparent framework, official and open. North Korea is showing changes on a large scale, resuming talks with Japan and the United States while designating a special economic zone in Sinuiju.

The $400 million rumor makes one feel how different things are now than the past.


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The writer is a senior editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Song Chin-hyok

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