[Outlook] The North’s next move

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[Outlook] The North’s next move

The political situation on the Korean Peninsula will likely fluctuate. A joint declaration was produced at the summit meeting between South and North Korea, the Feb. 13 agreement was reached at the six-party talks in Beijing and another agreement was signed on Oct. 3. If North Korea starts to disable its nuclear facilities within the year, it will be removed from the U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism. On Dec. 19, South Korea will hold a presidential election, and who will lead the next administration will be decided.
As stated in the fourth point of the Oct. 4 joint declaration of South and North Korea, if the leaders of three or four countries are to declare the end the Korean War, talks about the issue must include China, making them include four parties.
Meanwhile, talks about a peace agreement will probably be attended by three countries, namely South Korea, North Korea and the United States, because both Seoul and Pyongyang are well aware of the importance of Washington’s role. In this case, if the final steps of disabling the North Korean nuclear facilities are implemented so denuclearization on the Korean Peninsula is completed before U.S. President George Bush’s term is over, North Korea-U.S. relations will have a breakthrough.
The question is how faithfully North Korea disables its nuclear facilities. South Korea’s engagement policy will likely continue into the following administration, regardless of which party assumes power. But the degree of the engagement policy will vary, according to North Korea’s disabling of its nuclear facilities. Economic cooperation with the North, such as building a special zone for peace and cooperation on the West Sea, will expand accordingly.
The incumbent South Korean government maintains that if it embarks on economic cooperation projects extensively and intensively to a point where North Korea cannot avoid disabling its nuclear facilities, the process will move ahead more quickly. So the government argues that we need to provide aid to create a virtuous circle. Meanwhile, others maintain that an environment in which the two Koreas can advance hand-in-hand must be prepared in order to create a virtuous circle of peace and economic cooperation. They stress that South Korea must not hurry economic cooperation with the North but adjust its speed in line with North Korea’s nuclear disablement.
There are two possibilities for North Korea’s changes. First, North Korea might open its doors and implement reforms as China or Vietnam did. Second, North Korea might try to change its political system. The extreme scenario would be something close to what happened in Iraq in the ousting of Saddam Hussein. However, as the Bush administration has one year or so left in its term, it will be very unlikely he would resort to this.
Thus, it is ideal if North Korea adopts the Chinese model and tries to improve its economy. But the leaders in North Korea still worry that economic development through opening its doors will lead to opening the doors of its political system. So North Korea still expects to receive aid from South Korea, which shares its nationality with the North. Such intentions are revealed in the recent joint declaration.
At this point, South Korea must look into North Korea’s willingness to open its doors, the possibilities for U.S.-North Korea relations to improve and the role of South Korean companies, which will take a leading role in economic cooperation with the North, and the function of international capital, before making any decision. The first test will be the meeting of prime ministers scheduled for November, another meeting between defense ministers and implementation of first-step measures for disabling North Korea’s nuclear facilities. We will watch how faithfully North Korea implements last-step measures for disabling its nuclear facilities between Dec. 19 and late February of next year, the period when the new South Korean administration is elected and assumes power.
The changes on the Korean Peninsula will be determined according to how South Korea and North Korea handle the ball that has been tossed to the North. Kim Jong-il, North Korea’s leader, will have to take a step closer to taking part in economic cooperation and opening the country’s doors to achieve prosperity. He can’t stand still when he greets a guest who traveled a long way, as he did when meeting President Roh Moo-hyun. He needs to make policies for the people, including the citizens in Pyongyang who chanted and youths who performed in the Arirang Festival. I hope that North Korea will implement measures to disable its nuclear facilities faithfully to improve inter-Korean relations and to achieve prosperity for its people.

*The writer is a professor of international relations at Chung-Ang University.

by Kim Hyung-kook
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