[OUTLOOK]Kim’s trip to North has promise

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[OUTLOOK]Kim’s trip to North has promise

It is very fortunate in many ways that former president Kim Dae-jung has put his Pyongyang visit off until after the local elections in May. No matter how he aims to improve inter-Korean relations, it is only reasonable to accommodate the circumstances by refraining from pursuing projects or policies that can potentially encourage internal division among us.
The former West German leaders who led Ostpolitik, or Eastern politics, such as Willy Brandt and Richard von Weizsacker, all emphasized alike that only a unification policy based on a bipartisan and nationwide consensus could succeed. The decision of Mr. Kim must be a prudent choice that the veteran politician has made based on his experience and wisdom in consideration of concerned citizens.
Just as government officials have made clear repeatedly, the scheduled Pyongyang visit of the former president is not an official event representing the government nor of Mr. Kim as a special envoy. Mr. Kim has also stressed that he is preparing for the visit purely as an individual civilian. The very special meaning of Mr. Kim’s visit is that he will be able to talk to the North Korean leader as a man with free standing.
The Korean government has more than a few things to say to Pyongyang but restrains its tongue out of fear that it could bring an end to dialogue. The government not only asks for the understanding of its citizens but also does not hesitate to threaten that provoking Pyongyang with either the nuclear or human rights issue could lead to war. Therefore, Koreans hope that Mr. Kim, who is free from the various restrictions the government has in official dialogues, might be able to exchange frank opinions without much risk. On the other hand, the Pyongyang visit could be a chance for Mr. Kim to exploit the special position and weight he has in Korean politics and in international society. As a leader of the democratization movement who risked his life by opposing dictatorship, and as a human rights activist who does not tolerate infringement of the rights of a single individual, Mr. Kim projects great authority and dignity. When the aging senior politician goes across the demarcation line and sincerely makes requests out of worry for the future of the nation, it is hard to figure out how the North Korean leader will react.
In order to escape the domestic and international restraints pressuring the North Korean regime today, and to earn support and understanding from the South, Pyongyang needs to consider a few things first.
Firstly, Pyongyang needs to make a decision to return to the principles of the Joint Declaration of the Denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula as soon as possible. The best way to seek the utmost security for the 70 million Koreans living on the Korean Peninsula is for both the North and the South to abide by the agreement of 14 years ago not to allow the production or placement of nuclear weapons under any circumstances. If Pyongyang makes up its mind to keep that promise by all means, the South will render all necessary assistance.
Secondly, instead of considering the human rights issue, which international society emphasizes as a universal value of mankind, as a threat to the North Korean system, Pyongyang needs to display the flexibility to seek its own solution just as China has: by keeping in mind the international attention to human rights concerns, it has developed a more people-oriented socialism. Koreans have long professed the humanistic belief that there is nothing more precious than people. Pyongyang should have the wisdom to discuss the issue with Seoul and reach a solution together.
Thirdly, Pyongyang should know it is by no means beneficial to recklessly defy universal values widely accepted in an era when globalization is an undeniable historical trend. When Pyongyang shows respect for international standards as it deals with sensitive issues, including the counterfeiting of U.S. dollars, it can find a way to a resolution, and Seoul can more actively follow suit.
Perhaps, former President Kim is at the top of the list of South Korean leaders who has the authority and wisdom to earnestly convey the above series of concerns and advice to Pyongyang. As a senior politician who has retreated from the turbulent stage of politics and mastered the transience of political life, Mr. Kim is being given a great opportunity to personally show to the North Koreans the truth that a leader might come and go, but the people are forever. At any rate, neither Seoul nor Pyongyang have any reason to get overly excited by Mr. Kim’s North Korean visit.

* The writer, a former prime minister, is an advisor to the JoongAng Ilbo. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.

by Lee Hong-koo
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