Pyongyang’s breach of confidentiality

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Pyongyang’s breach of confidentiality


The term “summit” was first used in the 1950s at the height of the Cold War era. When the U.S. president met with Soviet and Chinese leaders, the American media called the events a “summit.” The meetings between the leaders of the Western and Eastern bloc during that fierce confrontation must have been like two high peaks sitting face to face.

Meetings between heads of state are now a common event, but they were very rare before the 1940s. A round-trip voyage between the United States and Europe took 10 days, making such meetings difficult. However, summit meetings became more frequent when passenger jets reduced the cross-Atlantic journey to a half day.

Among the countless summit meetings, the most impressive and significant one may be the U.S.-China summit between Richard Nixon and Mao Zedong in 1972. It marked an easing of Cold War tensions and signaled the era of detente. Just as all stories go, the great event had a humble beginning. In 1971, American table tennis player Glenn Cowan missed the team bus while in Nagoya during the World Table Tennis Championship. A Chinese player named Zhuang Zedong invited him to get on the Chinese bus, and the two athletes became close and took a picture together.

In China, contacting an American citizen was subject to punishment at the time. However, when Mao Zedong learned about the photograph and the circumstances, he invited the American table tennis team to China, signaling the beginning of “Ping Pong diplomacy.” Once the breakthrough in the Sino-American exchange occurred, more serious contacts were made behind the scene. President Nixon sent National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger as his secret messenger. Kissinger first went to Pakistan and excused himself from the official meetings by faking a headache. He shook off his guards and boarded a special plane to Beijing, arranging the historic U.S.-China summit.

Strict diplomatic confidentiality is especially crucial to make a summit possible and to ensure liberal discussion and negotiation. The two inter-Korean summit meetings were preceded by the dispatch of secret envoys.

The historic first inter-Korean summit was held eleven years ago. But Pyongyang is now threatening to disclose confidential conversations held in relation to an inter-Korean summit last month. Regardless of the content of the discussion, Pyongyang is crossing the line.

*The writer is a senior international affairs reporter of the JoongAng Ilbo.

By Nam Jeong-ho
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