[Outlook] It will take timeEvents that incite hope that a peace regime could be established on the Korean Peninsula have finally taken place simultaneously in Pyongyang and Beijing.
In Beijing, an announcement was made on Wednesday that North Korea will provide a complete list of its nuclear programs and disable its main reactor complex by Dec. 31, while Washington will begin discussions to remove North Korea from its list of state sponsors of terrorism and exempt the North from the provisions of the U.S. Trading with the Enemy Act.
In Pyongyang, the leaders of South and North Korea have agreed on a plan that will contribute to the development of inter-Korean relations and the establishment of a peace regime on the peninsula.
The achievements of the six-party talks on North Korea’s nuclear program, including the agreements signed on Sept. 19, 2005, Feb. 13, 2007 and on Wednesday, have facilitated the signing of a “Declaration on the Advancement of South-North Korean Relations, Peace and Prosperity” by President Roh Moo-hyun and North Korean leader Kim Jong-il. And, in its turn, the improvement in inter-Korean relations promised by the declaration is expected to give an impetus to the progress of the six-party talks.
Indeed, it was the aggressive policy of the United States that helped trigger the North Korean nuclear crisis.
North Korea saw the measures taken by the United States, such as placing it on the list of state sponsors of terrorism and applying the Trading with the Enemy Act, as a policy aimed at crushing it out of existence. Therefore, from the North Korea perspective, the U.S. decision to de-list them is an achievement attained through the nuclear gambit.
Of course, Wednesday’s agreement within the six-party talks is not a perfect solution to the North Korean nuclear problem. Since the details of the disablement procedure are not specified in the agreement, it is anticipated that unexpected difficulties will emerge as the North’s nuclear facilities are dismantled. But it will be difficult for North Korea to delay the process indefinitely, because Washington has not set a specific timetable for the removal of Pyongyang from the list of state sponsors of terrorism.
Although the Declaration on the Advancement of South-North Korean Relations, Peace and Prosperity is the product of a rich imagination, it did not satisfy the expectations of the Korean people.
Peace is a precondition for prosperity and prosperity is a precondition for peace. The precondition for peace and prosperity on the Korean Peninsula is its denuclearization through complete dismantlement of the North Korean nuclear program. It was for this reason that the international community, as well as Koreans, hoped to see that Kim Jong-il’s commitment on nuclear dismantlement would be included in the declaration.
But it only included the plain expression that the North and South would work for the implementation of previous accords ― the agreements signed on Sept. 19, 2005 and Feb.13, 2007.
Even before the declaration, North Korea had already expressed a willingness to abandon its nuclear programs several times. Despite its pledge to give up the nuclear program, however, it has resorted to stalling tactics in the past. This is the reason why a direct commitment from Kim Jong-il on nuclear disarmament was so important.
It is encouraging that an agreement on easing military tension and ensuring peace on the peninsula is included in the declaration.
It is meaningful that both sides agreed to establish “a special peace and cooperation zone” in the Yellow Sea, where the possibility of accidental armed conflict is highest, and to hold a defense ministers’ meeting as soon as possible in order to discuss how to build confidence in each other.
The decision to hold an inter-Korean prime ministers’ meeting is also meaningful, in that it will give more weight to the inter-Korean dialogue for peace and prosperity by upgrading the level of inter-governmental talks. Although the idea was presented by President George W. Bush, the agreement to promote a summit of the countries that signed the 1953 armistice in order to declare an end to the Korean War is meaningful in the sense that both Koreas are now involved in the initiative.
Without finding a solution, the Northern Limit Line is an obstacle on the road to the peace and prosperity of both Koreas. If the plan to jointly develop the Han River estuary and develop the area between the Kaesong Industrial Complex and Haeju into a “Peace Belt” is realized, it could provide the basis for a more effective solution to the issue of the Northern Limit Line.
The problem is the implementation of the plans included in the declaration. Although the two Koreas agreed multilaterally on the July 4 Joint Declaration in 1972, the South-North Basic Agreement in 1992 and the historic South-North Joint Declaration on June 15, 2000, they were not implemented and North Korea went on to unilaterally test nuclear weapons. The weak point of the inter-Korean declaration this time is that it came at the end of President Roh’s term of office.
It is important to get synergy effects from the agreements made at the six-party talks on North Korea’s nuclear program and the Roh-Kim joint declaration. We also need the people’s support. It is time for us to put aside ideological differences and examine the content of the declaration with a cool-head, while keeping a balance between the prosperity we can give to the North and the peace Pyongyang can give to us, taking into account the enormous expense involved. We must have the wisdom to see which plans should be discarded by the next government and which should be retained.
We could be entering a new era of peace and prosperity, but we must avoid seeing the North through the roseate eyes of a neophyte. Experienced men are cautious when the celebrations are raucous.
*The writer is a senior columnist of the JoongAng Ilbo.
More in Columns
China’s thin skin
The Korean War from China’s view
Who’s laughing now?
Fighting Chinese patriotism
The curse of the presidency