[Viewpoint]Some minor grumblingI watched TV programs about the summit meeting for three days until President Roh Moo-hyun crossed the yellow line marking the road and returned home Thursday. I watched in part because I am a journalist and in part because I was personally curious.
There was debate and controversy about the meeting before the talks even started. The summit meeting is still one of the nation’s biggest events, and many TV stations reported on it extensively.
It has been seven years since the last summit meeting so this was quite natural. North Korea offers colorful scenes, which makes very good material for television.
The scenery in Pyongyang has been reported many times before so I have become accustomed to it to some extent. Nevertheless there were some scenes that made me feel uncomfortable.
*The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Noh Jae-hyun
On the first day President Roh arrived in Pyongyang, he and Kim Yong-nam, the president of the Supreme People’s Assembly, did a car parade together. Tens of thousands of people in Pyongyang came out and waved flowers. They shouted slogans like “Long live!” or “Reunification of the fatherland!” Some women stomped their feet or even cried.
They must have been trained to behave this way since they were little. It was hard to get accustomed to their behavior. Words like regime, human rights and brainwashing came to mind.
When President Roh visited the Mansudae Assembly Hall, he wrote in the guestbook, “The hall of the people’s sovereignty where the people’s happiness comes from.” What he wrote also makes me uncomfortable. “The people, or inmin” conveys political ideologies that soaked Korea’s modern history in blood.
And what about, “where the people’s happiness comes from”? Does President Roh truly believe that the North Korean people’s happiness comes from the Mansudae Assembly Hall? If he does, he isn’t reasonable. If he wrote it only to be polite, he lied. The word “sovereignty” is the same. He knew that South Korean people would also look at the guestbook. He should have been more careful with his words.
There is a Japanese book about insensitivity. The author, Junichi Watanabe, was a doctor and wrote “A Lost Paradise.” His book about insensitivity was a best seller in the first half of this year. The book says a person with an insensitive heart, senses and intestines has fewer chances of disease, is good in relationships and becomes successful at work. This is contrary to what people usually think, so the book became popular. For instance, normal vision is between 1.0 and 1.2, but a person with 1.5 or 2.0 vision sees things so clearly that he easily becomes mentally and physically tired, the author says.
I should probably be insensitive to “minor” things that happened during the summit meeting and accept the president was showing good manners as a visitor.
However, I became even more sensitive to the scenes that I saw on TV. On the second day of his visit, President Roh gave presents to Kim. One of the gifts was a eight-piece folding screen. The work was done by a master of lacquerware inlaid with mother-of-pearl and its production cost was more than 100 million won ($110,000), according to a TV program. The reporter added that the feathers of a crane were made of ivory, and the tortoise was made of an actual tortoise shell. I felt something was wrong.
Trade in ivory and tortoise shells is strictly prohibited according to the Convention of International Trade of Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora. Did the president give a screen made of prohibited items to North Korea’s leader as a present? The staff at the Blue House was very imprudent.
I called master Kim Kyu-jang, 52, who made the screen. He said the ivory and the tortoise shell were acquired before South Korea joined CITES in 1993. I felt relieved.
I want to give 50 out of 100 points to this summit meeting. I gave 50 because the meeting between the two leaders means something. I cared about women crying and waving flowers, the words “the people,” and materials used for the screen because I am probably overly sensitive. But there are other things that we need to be sensitive to ― such as North Korea’s nuclear weapons and human rights. At this summit meeting, these issues were not talked properly. This is a serious problem. There is a time to be insensitive and a time to be sensitive. But they were too insensitive.