[VIEWPOINT]Koizumi and Kim tip the balanceJunichiro Koizumi, prime minister of Japan, visited Pyeongyang on Tuesday and had a summit meeting with North Korea's leader Kim Jong-il. The two leaders had an extensive exchange of opinions concerning current issues.
The Korean Peninsula is the only place on the planet earth where the legacy of the Cold War still breathes on a divided nation. North Korea certainly was a hypothetical enemy of South Korea under the Cold War system. But riding the tide of reconciliation, exchange and cooperation between North and South Koreas during recent years, North Korea at some point rose to a position of exercising critical influence on Seoul's foreign policy and security posture.
Japan, along with the United States, certainly remains one of the most important and staunchest allies of Korea. Maintaining cooperative relations with Japan directly influences the national interests of South Korea.
The reason that we are keenly interested in the summit between Mr. Kim and Mr. Koizumi is that the meeting of the hypothetical enemy and one of the best allies of South Korea could result in significant impact on both inter-Korean relations and Japan-South Korean relations.
In other words, the meeting of the North Korean and Japanese leaders can change the geopolitical landscape surrounding the Korean Peninsula. That would demand the revision and reshaping of South Korea's foreign and security policies.
The symbolic meaning of the summit is that the top leaders of North Korea and Japan met for the first time since the end of World War II. We do not need to make a list of visible effects that the summit will bring about. The fact that the Japanese prime minister visited Pyeongyang, the capital of a country with which Japan has yet to establish diplomatic ties, carries significance in terms of Japan's "closure of the war."
Japan and North Korea are expected to spur their efforts toward amicable relations. The two countries aim at normalizing diplomatic ties this year. Working level talks are already in progress. Their efforts toward improved relations will only increase.
But for the two countries to achieve their goals successfully, there are several things that they both must keep in mind.
First, after the summit between Kim Jong-il, National Defense Commission chairman of North Korea, and Prime Minister Koizumi, Tokyo has to make advance consultation with the government of South Korea in relation to every diplomatic contact with Pyeongyang. Meanwhile, Tokyo must keep close diplomatic ties with Seoul, its ally.
Second, the improvement of the diplomatic relations between Japan and North Korea must not stand in the way of South Korean-Japan friendship or the advancement of the inter-Korean relations.
In other words, the pace of amity between Japan and North Korea must coincide with the development in inter-Korean relations. Otherwise, excessive and arbitrary contact with North Korea by the United States or Japan could create factors that would hamper inter-Korean relations.
Japan, in the future, is expected to pursue South Korean and North Korean policies with an upper hand. Japan will advance its interests by using North Korean cards when dealing with Seoul and South Korean cards when dealing with Pyeongyang. In other words, Japan now has broader choices and options.
The contacts between North Korea and Japan can be comparable, in diplomatic history, to the late 19th century. While more than a century has passed, the United States, Japan, China and Russia are still closely keeping their hands on the politics of the Korean Peninsula. South Korea, in turn, considers the four countries main pillars in its diplomatic policies.
We are at a critical juncture. We must revise our diplomatic polices to prepare for the major changes that are taking place on the international political front.
In this regard, we have to learn from Hwang Jun-heon, a diplomat sent to Japan toward the end of the Joseon Dynasty. Mr. Hwang insisted that Korea had to simultaneously maintain amicable ties with China, Japan and the United States in his book "Joseon Strategy."
The writer is the president of Asia-Pacific Policy Research Institute.
by Shin Hee-suk