[Viewpoint]Honoring Oct. 4

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[Viewpoint]Honoring Oct. 4

Former President Roh Moo-hyun will visit Seoul for the first time since retiring to his hometown. He will attend the anniversary event for the Oct. 4 declaration at the inter-Korean summit, which will take place at the Millennium Hilton Hotel in Seoul on Oct. 1.

The event organizer has already sent invitations to 350 people. The guests include dignitaries who accompanied Roh to Pyongyang in October last year and former Roh administration officials, politicians, scholars and some Lee Myung-bak administration officials.

Public attention has been focused on whether governing party politicians and Lee administration officials will attend or not. If the governing party and administration officials are no-shows, the celebration will become “a party of Roh’s aides.”

The Unification Ministry is mulling over what it should do with the invitation. The minister and the vice minister were invited, but no decision has been made. The ministry said the officials are extremely busy with the National Assembly hearings. The chance of their attending the event is 50-50, it said.

While the ministry needs to discuss the matter internally, it appears that a negotiation with “the other side” is necessary. It also sounds like the officials cannot go unless the Blue House gives its O.K.

In June, Unification Minister Kim Ha-joong attended the eighth anniversary of the June 15 joint declaration. Kim prepared an address, believing that his participation would contribute to thawing frozen inter-Korean relations. However, his plan went through some hardships because the Blue House was unhappy about it. The prepared speech was largely revised when the presidential office reviewed it.

Roh probably signed the Oct. 4 declaration with an intention to firmly secure inter-Korean relations, but he was mistaken. From the perspective of the Lee administration, the Oct. 4 declaration is nothing more than a headache.

While the Lee administration says it respects the declaration, it is simply one of many agreements signed between the North and the South.

According to the Unification Ministry’s assessment, implementation of the Oct. 4 declaration will require some 14.3 trillion won ($12.4 billion). The Lee administration has made a pledge that it will not give “unconditional” assistance to the North, so it cannot implement the declaration as agreed.

The Lee administration, therefore, came up with four principles. Progress in the nuclear crisis, economic validity, Seoul’s financial ability and the nation’s consensus are guidelines for implementing the accord. The Lee administration said it will negotiate with the North while respecting those principles.

In the aftermath of the unresolved shooting death of a South Korean tourist at the Mount Kumgang resort, the North is taking a step backward in the nuclear crisis. It appears impossible that the issue will be resolved through six-nation talks before U.S. President George W. Bush ends his term.

With speculations about Kim Jong-il’s health, the uncertainty surrounding the North Korean regime has grown. Amid such instability, the North began reactivating the Yongbyon nuclear facility in defiance of the nuclear dismantlement verification process.

The United States also took a hard line. In his UN General Assembly speech, Bush urged the international community to sanction the North.

Seoul has said the precondition for a massive aid project for the North is Pyongyang’s completion of a nuclear declaration and agreement to abolish nuclear programs. And yet, the nuclear crisis has not taken a step forward since the North submitted its list of nuclear inventories. Not to mention the other three principles, the first principle about the progress in the nuclear crisis makes it impossible to implement the Oct. 4 declaration at this point. It is unavoidable for inter-Korean relations to be deadlocked for a long time.

With much agonizing thoughts, Seoul presented coexistence and mutual prosperity as the visions for its North Korea policy and kept Lee’s election pledge of economic assistance to the North to increase the country’s national per capita income to $3,000 in return for Pyongyang’s denuclearization and efforts to open the country.

South Korea will not move first, unless there is progress in the nuclear crisis. It will wait and see if the other side can change. But such a strategy cannot be called a policy. A policy must focus on how to induce changes from the other side.

To this end, the unification minister’s attendance at the Oct. 4 anniversary event can send a strategic signal to the North. Shouting the slogan of coexistence and mutual prosperity only in words will have no impact. It may appear small, but a meaningful action is crucial.

Kim must attend the anniversary event. If he is a minister who cannot make such a decision based on his convictions because of the possible Blue House reaction, he should step down from the post.


*The writer is an editorial writer and traveling correspondent of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Bae Myung-bok
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