[Outlook]Opportunity knocks for the North

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[Outlook]Opportunity knocks for the North

Yesterday, South and North Korea agreed on a blanket agenda during the first preliminary contact leading up to summit meeting ― peace on the Korean Peninsula, prosperity for the two Koreas and reunification. During the contact, it was decided that South Korea’s delegation will use the Gyeongui expressway both ways, a decision that is drawing the most attention.
President Roh Moo-hyun’s visit to North Korea by road makes it possible to hope that inter-Korean summit meetings will become regular. But it is to bad that the Gyeongui railway will not be used instead. To use the railway, guarantees are needed from North Korea’s military. One can assume that the North’s military still doesn’t feel comfortable enough to allow this.
During the actual summit meeting, Kim Jong-il, North Korea’s leader, is expected to dominate the agenda and lead the talks, as that is how it usually is. But in reality, North Korea’s military will still have a strong influence when deciding agenda details and what stance the North will take.
Reconnecting railways that cross the border and inter-Korean economic cooperation, such as the Kaesong Industrial Complex, have been limited because of difficulty implementing safety measures required by North Korea’s military.
North Korea’s military may continue to insist that peace and economic cooperation will be guaranteed only after discussions to reset the northern limit line in the West Sea take place, as it did in the sixth round of senior-level meetings between the two Koreas.
Considering the trust that we have now between South and North Korea, the Roh administration can discuss the sea borderline, but it will be hard to decide to change it.
North Korea’s military must look at this issue from a broader prospective. It is good that it once took the stance that it would take military safety measures for exchange and cooperation if it benefits all Korean nationals.
This is interpreted as meaning that North wants to ease military tension and build a peaceful environment so that both South and North Korea will be better off. In order to ease military tension, the North should expand economic cooperation as much as possible. Such cooperation allows the exchange of people and goods.
In the upcoming summit meeting, President Roh will reveal blueprints to development of economic cooperation and exchanges between the two Koreas, in terms of both quantity and quality.
However, these plans can be tied to progress in denuclearization. The sooner North Korea disables its nuclear facilities, the more economic cooperation between South and North Korea will take place.
The South Korean government will make efforts to make sure North Korea receives aid and cooperation earlier.
The incumbent government has worked to produce comprehensive and concrete plans for the balanced development of South and North Korea’s economies. It has worked harder than former administrations have.
Thus, North Korea will likely get much more benefits from resolving the nuclear issue than it would have in the past. The three inter-Korean economic projects ― the Kaesong Industrial Complex, tourism to Mt. Kumgang and connecting inter-Korean railways ― will continue as main projects. At the same time, the two Koreas will expand economic cooperation in other areas, such as agriculture, forestry, fisheries, light industry and mining.
In the mid- and long-term, support for energy, logistics and communication infrastructure will be provided.
North Korea’s military must be aware that these projects will be pursued despite changes inside and outside the country, as long as denuclearization on the Korean Peninsula is also pursued.
It seems that North Korea agreed to hold a summit meeting after the Feb. 13 agreement was implemented and U.S.-North Korea relations have improved, which calms worries about security.
But it will be a mistake if North Korea believes that the South Korean government, which has a short time left in office, and the United States wish to hold a summit meeting or visit Pyongyang as a result of North Korea’s claim to have nuclear weapons.
North Korea’s military must take the incoming South Korean and U.S. administrations into account and make the right decision. It must not be obsessed with short-term interests. North Korea desperately needs a large-scale project to build social overhead capital. But even if an agreement is made for such a project, it takes a long time to implement it.
If North Korea insists that the nuclear issue can be resolved only through direct disarmament talks with the United States, that will have a negative effect on normalization of ties with Washington and North Korea will likely miss a crucial chance to restore its economy.

*The writer is a professor of the Kyungnam University Institute for Far Eastern Studies. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.

by Lim Eul-chul
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