[OUTLOOK]Wrong premises for Kim’s trip

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[OUTLOOK]Wrong premises for Kim’s trip

South Korea’s former president Kim Dae-jung had a summit meeting with Kim Jong-il, the leader of North Korea, in June 2000. In December 2000, he won the Nobel Peace Prize.
In March 2001, President Kim had a summit meeting with the U.S. president, George W. Bush, in Washington, D.C.
A close aide to Mr. Kim who had been watching him closely during this period reflected that the former president had believed that he had become a world-class leader because he won the Nobel Prize.
Mr, Kim also seemed to feel that it was his duty to play a major role for promoting world peace, the source added. Those would seem to be the symptoms of the “Nobel Peace Prize syndrome.”
Mr. Kim went to meet with President Bush, who had then been in office for less then three months, despite opposition by Korean diplomats who argued it was too early for such a meeting.
The South Korean leader was convinced that, with his eloquence and status as a Nobel Prize laureate, he could persuade the U.S. president to continue the major elements of the North Korea policy of the Clinton administration.
The summit meeting failed to produce any meaningful outcome. The Nobel Prize effect did not work on Mr. Bush.
Mr. Kim’s Nobel Peace Prize syndrome seems to have recurred these days. While his plan to visit Pyongyang to meet with Kim Jong-il lacks valid justification, he even plans to discuss reunification. He seems to believe that no one other than himself can discuss such a serious historical matter as reunification.
This can be seen as either a sense of duty at best, or a delusion.
He has also said he wished to visit the North traveling on a cross-border train.
Although this demand seems to stem from his personal desire to become the first South Korean to do so, that sentiment can also be understood by thinking about his age and his health conditions.
The problem is, however, that the topic of the proposed meeting with Kim Jong-il will be the reunification.
A “commonwealth system” had been devised by the former president. He put that idea into the June 15 Joint Declaration, the statement issued at the end of his visit to the North in 2000, judging that his commonwealth system and the loose federation proposed by the North had similarities.
South Korea’s National Community Unification Formula, designed in 1994, is still the official policy of the South Korean government. The difference between Mr. Kim’s proposal and the government’s strategy is in the final phase of “one nation, two states.” On this matter, Mr. Kim’s proposal runs ahead of the government’s policy.
But this difference is not the most urgent problem here. This is not the right time for Mr. Kim to talk about reunification, which is the least urgent issues these days, when the United States has been pressing the North on its human rights abuses and production of counterfeit bills.
There are four reasons why the reunification should not be discussed now. First, Mr. Kim, who will visit the North not as a special envoy but as a citizen, cannot discuss reunification with the head of the North. And even if this visit is a personal trip to have some casual and nostalgic conversations, it is still a waste of taxpayers’ money.
Second, the difference between Mr. Kim’s reunification strategy and that of the government needs the consent of Korea’s citizens.
Third, the federation proposed by the North must be looked into carefully before having any such discussions.
Fourth, the former South Korean leader should receive answers from the North about its return to the six-party talks and the release of civilians kidnapped by the communist regime and South Korean prisoners of war still remaining in the North.
Both Mr. Kim, who plans to visit Pyongyang, and the South Korean government, which is sending him to the North for its political purposes, also need to know why the North cancelled the test runs of cross-border railways and what this decision means.
Citing opposition from the military as the reason for the cancellation is a childish explanation and a silly excuse to avoid responsibility.
Does this mean that the North Korean leaders agreed on the test runs without knowing its military’s stance? Does Kim Jong-il accept the military’s veto?
This is an excuse for the North to deceive the South, and for the South Korean government to deceive its citizens.
Even experts seemingly do not try to distinguish the differences between expectations and reality. North Korea has always cited the military as a reason whenever it broke agreements.
Pyongyang must have cancelled the agreement on the test runs of the railways because it thought that it was not provided with the gifts it deserved to be given.
If the North’s military can veto the decision by the head of North Korea, what agreements can we have with him, other than providing aid to the poor country?
At the meeting with Kim Dae-jung and Kim Jong-il, discussions on closing the gap between the commonwealth system and the federation will go smoothly. The North’s leader will be outgoing when discussing abstract issues. But this type of meeting will not lead to any substantive results.
We expect the former president to try to persuade the North Korean leader that his regime should return to the six-party talks, abandon its nuclear weapons program, normalize its ties with the United States and sign a peace agreement.
Kim Dae-jung is one of the nation’s most experienced senior politicians.
He should give up his illusions that he is the only person capable of having serious discussions with the North and should be wise enough to leave such serious issues to his juniors.

* The writer is a senior columnist of the JoongAng Ilbo.


by Kim Young-hie
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