[Outlook] Always behindIt’s hard to follow someone on a hike. Even when you feel tired, you can’t slow down. You can’t decide the pace, either. If the person ahead of you walks too slowly, you have to slow down and you might lose your balance. Although you might be having trouble on a steep slope, the person ahead of you may just keep going, making you have to hurry to catch up.
President Roh Moo-hyun, on his trip to Pyongyang, was like a beginner going on a hike. He is standing in a perilous position because his term is nearing its end.
Still, he is opening his arms, hoping to achieve the same amount of glory as former President Kim Dae-jung, who won the Nobel Peace Prize.
On the surface, President Roh received the same level of welcoming as the former president did when he visited Pyongyang. President Roh had a car parade, got welcomed by the people in Pyongyang and inspected the military honor guards. He toasted wine glasses with Kim Jong-il, North Korea’s leader. President Roh also watched the Arirang Festival, although his predecessor did not.
However, South Koreans did not give Roh loud applause. The president’s approval rating went up a little bit, but not enough to bring the governing party strong support. That result, however, was expected even before the summit meeting was held.
That is not only because this summit meeting lacked the creativity and adventurism needed to move the people. It is because the president is trying just to catch up to the person ahead of him. The agreements he made are full of promises and lists on issues that have all been mentioned before. Those issues don’t seem leave anything that would require the leaders of the two countries to have further discussions. The table is full of food, but nothing looks good.
The people did not feel a summit meeting was absolutely necessary, but the government had the talks anyway while breaking Kim Jong-il’s earlier promise to come to Seoul for a second meeting.
The three or four countries involved will meet to end the Korean War, but the United States has said it won’t agree to do anything before North Korea’s nuclear issue is resolved.
Regarding that issue, the agreement from the summit meeting was less productive than the one reached in the six-party talks. Seoul was desperate to sign agreements, either because it lacked trust in North Korea or wanted to boast of its accomplishments.
For the most part, the agreement is about economic cooperation. However, its goal is unclear. The Kim Dae-jung administration had a vision about economic cooperation, even though it was controversial. The former administration tried to give a persuasive explanation to the people and also tried to persuade Kim Jong-il. But the incumbent administration seems to have gotten lost while trying to catch up.
Kim Jong-il reportedly complained that South Korea is using economic cooperation between the two countries for its own political purposes. There is a suspicion that South Korea is attempting to tear down North Korea’s regime. His suspicions are understandable.
South Korea needs to persuade him, but instead it agreed not to use the phrase “opening North Korea’s doors” and “reforms in North Korea.” That seems to turn North Korea’s policy upside down. The key to the Sunshine Policy is that North Korea will follow a market economy while implementing economic cooperation with the South and that it will finally carry out reforms and open its doors. The Kim Dae-jung administration did not want the collapse of North Korea’s regime. Opening its doors and starting reforms are the only ways for North Korea to survive.
Kim Jong-il also complained that the Kaesong Industrial Complex has no high-tech industries. If the industry thought it would be profitable, it would definitely go to North Korea. Not only South Korean companies, but also U.S. and Japanese firms would go there. But the United States and the rest of international society has slapped trade sanctions on North Korea due to its nuclear program and missiles, so companies in the high-tech industry are not allowed to do business there. The North Korean leader’s complaint should not be directed outward.
During the Kim Dae-jung administration, the South promised to transfer the technology needed to produce tobacco to the North. The South had KT&G build tobacco companies in North Korea and send experts to teach workers the technology needed to process tobacco leaves.
But the North Korean authorities prohibited the experts from leaving Pyongyang. So, they had to teach the technology inside the Koryo Hotel. They taught the workers how to produce fire-cured tobacco over and over, but the North Koreans brought burnt tobacco. If North Korea wants to receive technology and survive, it inevitably must open its doors.
South Korea shares responsibility, to some extent. It taught North Korea a centrally controlled economy, not a market economy. President Roh promised to build shipping yards in Anbyon and Nampo. The government is deciding on private companies’ investment. There are reasons the government can do that. If a private company invests in North Korea, it has no risk of losing money. If North Korea breaks a contract or natural disasters cause investment losses, the losses are compensated with funds set aside for economic cooperation. The companies in the Kaesong Industrial Complex can get 90 percent of their losses back. Compensation for losses of South Korean companies amounted to 73.7 billion won ($75 million) and it will reach 100 billion won at the end of this year. That is taxpayers’ money, of course.
The first goal to teach North Korea is that its market economy has been lost. The South attempted to teach North Korea how to fish and now it is so desperate that it keeps offering the North fish. Can this type of an economy survive? The administration has probably lost sight of the person ahead of it and has gotten lost in the mountains.
*The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Kim Jin-kook