Don’t swing for the fencePresident Roh Moo-hyun will visit Pyongyang for three days starting on Tuesday for a summit meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong-il. President Roh will cross the military demarcation line on foot en route to the North. Despite the historical significance and symbolism of his visit, our apprehension is equal to any expectations we have for his visit.
As was the case of West and East Germany in the past, the more summit meetings held, the better. However, this meeting comes with just three months left in President Roh’s term. The presidential election is around the corner. President Roh must remember that any sudden and surprising “big deals” could come as serious burdens to the country and the people.
At present, the United States is affirming its stance that it will normalize relations with Pyongyang and support the establishment of a peace system on the Korean Peninsula provided that the North completely abolishes its nuclear program. China is busy with its economic development and is focusing its foreign policies on the stabilization of the East Asian region. Japan has recently launched the Fukuda government, which is mostly interested in maintaining amicable relations with its neighbors. If the North’s nuclear issue is resolved, the two Koreas could lead the way for peace on the peninsula and ultimately in Northeast Asia.
Should President Roh put the establishment of a peace system ahead of the abolition of the North’s nuclear program, he would be making a serious mistake. A dramatic agreement was reached in the six-party talks in Beijing, but President Roh must get a clear and concrete reaffirmation from Kim Jong-il about the North’s nuclear program.
We would also like to ask the president not be obsessed with visible results. The summit is a big event, and the president might be tempted to go for his one last great achievement before stepping down, but the meeting must not result in bombshell announcements, such as an infrastructure project requiring massive funding, or touch on sensitive issues, such as the adjustment of the Northern Limit Line. Overreaching during the summit meeting would not only be ineffective, it could inadvertently bring the fury of the people upon the president.
The president should focus on substantial, if small, agreements.
Alleviating the suffering of families separated by the Korean War, negotiating the return of prisoners of war and kidnapped South Koreans and finding ways to substantially help North Korean people suffering from a food shortage are the what the president should focus on during his visit to Pyongyang.