[SERI FOCUS]Seize the momentThe first inter-Korean summit in seven years raised international and domestic doubts, especially considering the short lead time before the Oct. 2-4 meeting. But President Roh Moo-hyun and Chairman Kim Jong-il reached an agreement that paves the way for Roh’s successor to work on closer relations.
They called their declaration the Advancement of South-North Korean Relations, Peace and Prosperity. It painted, in both broad and detailed strokes, steps to address economic cooperation and humanitarian concerns that are necessary to establish a peace regime on the Korean Peninsula.
Although the North Korean nuclear weapons program was omitted, the six-party talks in Beijing on the dismantlement of the North’s nuclear facilities provided a positive backdrop. In those talks, North Korea agreed to disable its main nuclear reactor and give a full account of its nuclear activities by the end of the year. The agreement, supported by the leaders of the two Koreas, China, Russia, Japan and the United States, was announced during the Roh-Kim summit.
The new North-South declaration contains three significant features regarding inter-Korean economic cooperation. First, it focuses on the reorganization and upgrade of inter-Korean meetings for economic cooperation. It envisages a progression from summits to meetings involving prime ministers, deputy prime ministers, ministers and finally, working groups. The agreement also stresses the importance of easing military tensions by suggesting, as a first step, that a defense ministers’ meeting be held in November.
This structure provides the framework for the next South Korean administration to expand economic relations with the North.
Second, the declaration focuses on garnering the practical consent needed to expand economic cooperation. Significantly, both sides agreed to open freight rail services between Munsan and Bongdong and to embark on the second-stage development of the Kaesong Industrial Complex in North Korea, which is financed by South Korean businesses.
Another accomplishment is that they reaffirmed a commitment to solve problems related to passage, communications and customs clearance procedures.
Additionally, both sides consented to talk about the job of repairing the Kaesong-Sinuiju railroad and the Kaesong-Pyongyang expressway so they can be used by the two Koreas.
It has apparently been settled that the work will be financed mostly by the South. Moreover, the work should start as soon as possible in order to be ready for a joint Olympic cheering team from both Koreas, which will use the railway through North Korea to reach Beijing for the 2008 Olympic Games. The two sides also agreed to open nonstop air services between Seoul and Mount Baekdu for tours to the mountain.
Third, the two nations have agreed to create a “special peace and cooperation zone in the Yellow Sea” to help establish a peace regime on the peninsula. This is meant to push ahead with the utilization of the North’s harbor in Haeju, the establishment of a special economic zone and the joint use of the Han River estuary. This project combines issues regarding the Northern Limit Line (NLL), the development of a new special economic zone and the effort to relieve military tensions.
In particular, the NLL issue has been the most sensitive between the two Koreas, with the North insisting on redrawing the NLL further south. The project requires additional consultation. Yet, if promoted along with the resolution of the North Korean nuclear issue and inter-Korean military tensions, it can have a successful resolution.
While some items in the agreement can be implemented in the near future, most will be discussed in the November talks by prime ministers and defense ministers who will seek to reach consensus on details. Of course, when it comes to issues that may put a financial burden on the South, the administration will need to get the National Assembly’s approval.
Overall, the good news is that the six-party talks and other external conditions around the Korean Peninsula are getting better than they’ve been at any point in the past. Now, the two Koreas must take the opportunity to explore ways to improve on this environment. To this end, each of the two Koreas must put itself in the other’s shoes and make active efforts toward a new, future-oriented direction.
*The writer is a research fellow at the Global Studies Department, Samsung Economic Research Institute.
by Dong Yong-sueng