Summit in 2000 made history with big hopes

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Summit in 2000 made history with big hopes


President Kim Dae-jung, right, shakes hands with North Korean leader Kim Jong-il, who greeted the South Korean leader in person at Sunan Airport in Pyongyang ahead of kicking off a historic first inter-Korean summit on June 13, 2000. South Korean President Kim was greeted with a welcoming ceremony and honor guard at the airport. It was the first such visit in half a century since the division of the Korean Peninsula. [YONHAP]

A summit between South Korean President Moon Jae-in and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un will be held April 27 on the southern side of the truce village of Panmunjom. In a three-part series, the Korea JoongAng Daily will examine the landmark first and second inter-Korean summits, both held in Pyongyang, and the history of Panmunjom. The first part describes the first summit held between South Korean President Kim Dae-jung and North Korean leader Kim Jong-il in June 2000.

On June 13, 2000, 55 years after the division of the Korean Peninsula, President Kim Dae-jung made a historic first trip for a South Korean leader to Pyongyang to hold a summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong-il.

Kim Dae-jung (1925-2009), an antidictatorship dissident who was kidnapped, imprisoned and exiled, was elected to a five-year term as president that started in February 1997.

The nuclear crisis of the early 1990s had passed, and there were increased exchanges between the United States and North Korea.

Following the 1950-53 Korean War, which ended in a ceasefire, not by a formal peace treaty, and over half a century after division, the time was ripe to mend inter-Korean relations.

Through his so-called Berlin Declaration of March 2000, Kim Dae-jung described a vision of permanent peace, reconciliation and cooperation with North Korea. Three months later, the first inter-Korean summit, which took place over three days in Pyongyang, set a milestone in the development of relations between the two countries.

“That was the first summit, and there was a grand design, a bigger frame of dissolving the Cold War structure,” said Koh Yu-hwan, a professor of North Korean studies at Dongguk University. “There was also considerable cooperation between South Korea and the United States, backed by the ‘Perry process.’ So, we can see it in the larger framework as a period of change amid a paradigm shift, with President Kim Dae-jung’s ‘Sunshine Policy’ forming the basis.”

In 1999, William Perry, the former defense secretary for then-U.S. President Bill Clinton, produced the so-called Perry Process, a proposal to freeze North Korea’s missile development while paving the way to the normalization of relations between Pyongyang and Washington. This ended with the George W. Bush administration.

A central problem was that the improved relations from the inter-Korean summit were “not carried forward with consistency,” added Koh. “This could be attributed to factors such as the change in the U.S. administration, the war against terrorism, further dampened by theories about North Korea’s impending collapse. The denuclearization process through negotiations was halted, which inevitably was accompanied by strained inter-Korean relations.”

A second opportunity came with former South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun’s summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong-il in October 2007, also held in Pyongyang, but that meeting came late in the liberal administration of Roh, whose term ran from 2003 to February 2008.

The U.S. factor and South Korea’s own domestic political topography, such as an opposition majority in the National Assembly, “made it difficult to proceed on a North Korea policy with continuity and consistency, leading to a period of stagnancy in South-North relations,” said Koh.

Koh, a member of an advisory group to President Moon Jae-in formed last month in preparation for the inter-Korean summit comprised of 46 experts and former point men on North Korea, added, “This prevented the advancing of an irreversible inter-Korean relationship and rather a return to the beginning during the 10 years of conservative administrations. And North Korea neared the completion of its nuclear program.”

Now, another pivotal opportunity arrives 11 years later with the third inter-Korean summit between President Moon Jae-in and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un scheduled to take place at the Peace House on the southern side of the truce village of Panmunjom on Friday.

Following unprecedented tensions due to North Korea’s nuclear and ballistic missile tests in 2017, a detente was reached over the Winter Olympic period. In early January, Moon and U.S. President Donald Trump jointly announced a temporary suspension of annual joint military exercises to ensure a safe and peaceful PyeongChang Winter Olympics.

This paved way to the first high-level talks between the two Koreas since late 2015, North Korea’s participation in the Winter Olympics and Paralympic Games over February and March, exchanges of art troupes and the decision to hold an inter-Korean summit, as well as President Trump announcing in March plans to hold a first-ever summit with the North as early as May, in response to Kim Jong-un’s invitation.

While Kim Dae-jung’s policy of engagement, or the Sunshine Policy toward North Korea, has been criticized by some detractors as having enabled Pyongyang’s nuclear and missiles program, other experts recognize the 2000 inter-Korean summit as the beginning of a longer process toward the establishment of a permanent peace and denuclearization of the peninsula.

“I told President Moon in a meeting of the advisory group [preparing for the summit] that, during the Cold War, there was a detente in the 1970s, but the Cold War regime didn’t actually collapse until the 1990s,” said Kim Joon-hyung, an international politics professor at Handong Global University, who is also a member of the presidential advisory group. He took part in the so-called Track 1.5 meeting of U.S. and South Korean former officials and academics with North Korean officials last month in Helsinki. “So the 2000 and 2007 summits can be seen as a detente, and 2018, in turn, could become the end of the Cold War regime on the Korean Peninsula.”


Left: North Korean leader Kim Jong-il, left, and President Kim Dae-jung, right, inspect the North Korean honor guard at Sunan International Airport in a welcoming ceremony after the arrival of the South Korean delegation to Pyongyang on June 13. Right: South Korean President Kim Dae-jung, left, and Kim Jong-il raise their hands to acknowledge applause after a state dinner hosted at the Mokran House on the second day of their summit, June 14. They later made final changes to the June 15 South-North Joint Declaration. [YONHAP]

How the talks were arranged

In March 9, 2000, President Kim Dae-jung gave a landmark declaration at the Free University of Berlin, covering a comprehensive range of issues such as the provision of economic aid, the termination of the Cold War situation on the peninsula and promotion of peaceful coexistence, resolution of issues related to separated families and resumption of inter-governmental dialogue.

“At the present stage, our immediate objective is to put an end to the Cold-War confrontation and settle peace rather than attempting to accomplish reunification,” Kim said in his so-called Berlin Declaration, adding that South Korea “intends to do its best to lend assistance to North Korea in the spirit of genuine reconciliation and cooperation.”

Kim further maintained that South Korea would not tolerate any armed provocation from the North, that the South would not try to absorb the North and that the two Koreas should cooperate and reconcile, which he described as the crux of his Sunshine Policy, aimed at dismantling the Cold War legacy.

Soon after, President Kim’s special envoy, South Korean Culture Minister Park Jie-won, met with Song Ho-kyong, vice chairman of North Korea’s Asia-Pacific Peace Committee, in Shanghai on March 17. They met two more times in Beijing. Seoul and Pyongyang simultaneously announced the holding of an inter-Korean summit on April 10.

Five rounds of preparatory meetings were held at Panmunjom ahead of the first leaders’ summit from April 22 to May 18, the first governmental inter-Korean dialogue to take place at the truce village since 1994.

The South’s four-person delegation was led by Vice Minister of Unification Yang Yong-shik, while Kim Song-ryong, a vice minister-level official from the Presidium of the Supreme People’s Assembly, headed the North Korean delegation, and the two sides came to consensus on major procedural issues for the summit during their fifth meeting on May 18.

According to a 2001 White Paper on Korean Unification, released by the South’s Ministry of Unification, the two Koreas discussed issues during these preparatory meetings in a “friendly and constructive mood.” The agenda for the summit, which had been the subject of most heated debate, would be “the question of reconciliation and unity of Korean people, expansion of exchanges and cooperation and accomplishment of peace and national unification.”

A 30-member South Korean advance team traveled to Pyongyang via Panmunjom on May 31 for on-site inspections to fine-tune details for the scheduled inter-Korean summit. The team also discussed with the North Korean side the handling of communications, press coverage, protocol and escorts.

Thus, the stage was set for a historic first summit.


South Korean President Kim Dae-jung, front left, and North Korean leader Kim Jong-il, front center, raise their glasses at a farewell luncheon at the Baekhwawon State Guesthouse in Pyongyang on June 15, concluding the three-day inter-Korean summit in 2000. Earlier that day, around midnight, the two leaders signed the landmark June 15 South-North Joint Declaration. [YONHAP]

First inter-Korean summit

Late on June 10, North Korea made an emergency phone call to the South. Pyongyang requested that President Kim Dae-jung’s three-day visit, originally scheduled to kick off on June 12, be postponed by one day. They cited delays in preparation for the summit, and Seoul agreed.

After the one-day delay, Kim departed Seoul to great fanfare in South Korea, pledging he would “provide a new turning point in Korean history” and pave the road to peace and unification of the Korean Peninsula.

The South Korean delegation for the president’s visit to Pyongyang consisted of 130 members, including 30 members of an advance team and 50 reporters.

They flew to Pyongyang on a civilian airliner accompanying the presidential plane for the first time since the division of the two countries, over the West Sea route. Other members of the delegation included 11 official attendants, 24 special attendants and 95 general staff, according to the Unification Ministry White Papers.

Around 10:30 a.m. President Kim and First Lady Lee Hee-ho arrived at Sunan Airport in Pyongyang and were greeted in person by Kim Jong-il, chairman of the National Defense Commission, as they walked down the steps from the plane.

President Kim heartily shook hands with Chairman Kim Jong-il in a warm greeting and told the North Korean leader, “It is a pleasure. I have been looking forward to meeting you.” An official welcome ceremony was held at the airport, and they inspected a North Korean honor guard. The two leaders rode in the same limousine and engaged in a “pleasant chat,” according to records in the white papers.

Some 600,000 North Koreans lined the streets of Pyongyang to welcome the South Korean president as the limousine carried the two leaders to Baekhwawon State Guesthouse, where President Kim stayed during his visit.

The two leaders held three rounds of talks at the guesthouse, first immediately after arrival and two more on June 14 in the afternoon and evening.

Kim Dae-jung hosted a dinner banquet on June 14, and the leaders held another round of talks at 11:20 p.m. to review a final draft of the inter-Korean Joint Declaration and sign the agreement. Then the two Kims announced a five-point joint declaration a little past midnight, setting the tone for the inter-Korean cooperation that followed.

Kim Jong-il hosted a final luncheon on June 15, and the two leaders embraced like old friends before President Kim departed for Seoul with the South Korean delegation later that day.

“The first summit was a historic meeting, so the ground rules for inter-Korean relations and the principles and methods for unification had to be agreed upon, as were the easing of tensions,” said Koh, pointing to the number of agreements that were signed, describing them as being “almost too overambitious.”

“Denuclearization wasn’t the key issue then, and the most problematic and controversial issue was a method of unification,” said Professor Koh. “We had already confirmed that the Korean people themselves would lead unification in the July 4 South-North Joint Statement.”

The joint statement signed on July 4, 1972, under the governments of South Korean President Park Chung Hee and North Korean founder Kim Il Sung, established three principles for reunification, that it would be achieved internally, without reliance on outside forces, peacefully, without the use of military force, and with national unity. But the actual methodology was contested.

Koh pointed out that the negotiations in the 2018 summit will be more streamlined. “This time around, we are at the beginning of a long denuclearization and peace process, so in the larger framework, the two sides just have to set the general direction. More detailed agreements can be made in follow-up negotiations.”

The June 15 Declaration

“I believe that a new day has dawned for us,” said President Kim on June 15, in his message to the public on his return from Pyongyang. “I came back with the conviction that we can put an end to the division and hostility of the last 55 years and achieve reconciliation, cooperation, and unification.”

The unprecedented inter-Korean summit made front-page headlines across the globe. It also yielded the landmark June 15 South-North Joint Declaration and laid a foundation for expanding exchanges and cooperation in various areas, including social, cultural, sports, health and environmental areas, as well as economic cooperation.

Under the five-point joint declaration, signed by the two leaders, the South and North agreed to resolve the reunification issue by Koreans themselves and stated that there was a common element in the South’s concept of a confederation and the North’s formula for a loose form of federation. They agreed to promptly resolve humanitarian issues such as reunions of families separated during the Korean War and to promote economic cooperation and exchanges in all fields. They also agreed to hold dialogues between relevant authorities in the near future to implement the agreements expeditiously.

A series of ministerial-level talks followed that year to implement the joint declaration. Two rounds of reunions of family separated by the Korean War took place in 2000, first between Aug. 15 to 18 in Seoul and the second from Nov. 20 to Dec. 2 in Pyongyang. In each round, 100 families from each side visited Seoul and Pyongyang. A total of 1,020 people were able to meet their relatives during these two reunions, arranged through inter-Korean Red Cross talks.

The last family reunion had taken place in 1985.

In the 2000 Sydney Summer Olympics, the South and North Korean delegations marched into the stadium together under a unification flag featuring the blue silhouette of the Korean Peninsula during the opening ceremony in September, a gesture that was repeated earlier this year in the PyeongChang Winter Games.

Kim was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in October 2000 for his contribution to democracy and human rights and in East Asia in general, and for peace and reconciliation with North Korea.

Major economic cooperation projects took off after the summit, namely the reconnection of railways and highways, construction of the Kaesong Industrial Complex and expansion of the Mount Kumgang tourism project. The two sides also signed four economic agreements to facilitate inter-Korean cooperation.

The two Koreas started working on connecting a railway between Seoul and Sinuiju, near the North Korean border with China in North Pyongan Province, and a highway between the South’s Munsan in Gyeonggi and the North’s Kaesong in North Hwanghae Province, shortly after the summit.

Perhaps the most visible result of the summit was the Kaesong Industrial Complex, located just north of the demilitarized zone, a joint venture which began construction in the early 2000s and launched in 2004.

The Mount Kumgang tourism project had already been underway since 1998, but the summit gave it further momentum. Chung Ju-yung, founder and chairman of Hyundai Group, visited Pyongyang in October 2000 to discuss tourism and other investment projects with Kim Jong-il.

But there were various factors impeding President Roh Moo-hyun from fully taking over Kim’s Sunshine Policy after he took office in early 2003.

On June 29, 2002, two North Korean Navy vessels crossed the Northern Limit Line, the de facto maritime border off the west coast, near Yeonpyeong Island in the Yellow Sea, resulting in a skirmish that killed six South Korean sailors and wounded 18.

In June 2003, Chung Mong-hun, the chairman of Hyundai Asan - which spearheaded the Mount Kumgang tour program - was implicated in a cash-for-summit scandal amid a prosecution investigation into alleged the secret transfer of some $500 million to the North ahead of the 2000 summit. Chung committed suicide in August 2003.

The scandal provoked fierce criticism from right-wingers and proved an impediment to the Hyundai-led North Korean investment projects and to President Roh’s overtures to the North. Accusations were made that President Kim’s Nobel Peace Prize had been bought with the $500 million.

In July 2008, a South Korean tourist at the Mount Kumgang resort was fatally shot by a North Korean soldier, bringing a complete halt to South Koreans visiting the North.

Inter-Korean relations deteriorated sharply after the sinking of the South Korean Cheonan warship off the west coast, killing 46 seamen, on March 26, 2010. A South Korean investigation later revealed that the ship was sunk by a North Korean torpedo, although Pyongyang denied it. Conservative President Lee Myung-bak, who was in office from February 2008 to 2013, imposed the so-called May 24 measures later that year, prohibiting all South Koreans from visiting the North and halting inter-Korean trade and new investments in the North, with the exception of the Kaesong complex. On Nov. 23, 2010, four South Koreans were killed during the Yeonpyeong Island shelling by North Korea.

Even the Kaesong Industrial Complex, which became the last remaining example of inter-Korean cooperation started under the Sunshine Policy, was completely shuttered in February 2016 under the Park Geun-hye administration in retaliation for the North’s fourth nuclear test and launch of a long-range missile launch earlier that year.

“A stepping stone was made through the second inter-Korean summit in 2007, but that also went down the drain after the Lee Myung-bak administration came into place,” said Dongguk University’s Koh. “It is regretful that the Roh Moo-hyun government was not able to be more assertive and concentrate on the issue from the beginning of its administration.”

Koh pointed out that joint economic cooperation such as the resumption of the Mount Kumgang tours or the Kaesong complex will continue to be difficult for the time being. “North Korea itself should be aware that it will be in violation of United Nations Security Council resolutions,” he said. “Even if South and North Korea come to an agreement between themselves, it cannot be implemented. And I don’t think our government at the moment is thinking of easing the maximum pressure campaign, which would be dependent on progress toward denuclearization.”

He added, “If we had been able to continue the policy on the North, despite domestic strife, many things could have been different. But now, we have to take an approach of going backwards under a situation where North Korea has completed its nuclear weapons program and can take our lessons from the past.”

“Many critics would say this is a deja vu and point out that we will get tricked again, asking what’s the point of comprehensive negotiations when there’s problems with implementation,” said Handong Global University’s Professor Kim. “While this is not completely wrong, there are many different aspects to the summit this time around. We are now discussing things at the highest level, and North Korea has completed its nuclear weapons program, so this is a totally different game. Because North Korea possesses nuclear weapons, things can be more difficult, but conversely, because North Korea possesses them, the negotiation table is now more even.”

Ending Cold War legacy

In July 2017, President Moon Jae-in gave his own version of a “Berlin Declaration” during a visit to Germany, paying homage to the achievements in inter-Korean relations of the two former liberal presidents and underscoring his vision of “dissolving the Cold War structure and establishing lasting peace on the Korean Peninsula.”

Moon said that former President Kim’s Berlin Declaration “led to the first inter-Korean summit in 2000 and brought about the great transformation which enabled the South and the North, that had been in confrontation and conflict after the division and war, to enter a path of reconciliation and cooperation.”

“Everything is interlinked,” said Professor Koh. “The success of the inter-Korean summit can lead to the success of the upcoming North-U.S. summit. This upcoming inter-Korean summit cannot be looked at alone.

“At that time, inter-Korean relations were the key agenda item,” said Koh on the 2000 summit. “Back then, ahead of the summit, the process toward denuclearization had already begun, while right now, as the denuclearization process is not functioning, the inter-Korean and North-U.S. summits are making the process toward denuclearization, going backwards. Right now, the two presidents started their terms at a similar time, so it can be a good opportunity for the summits to be carried out in an organized manner.”

Then-U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright flew to Pyongyang in October 2000 to meet with the late North Korean leader Kim Jong-il, father of Kim Jong-un, to pave the way for a visit by President Bill Clinton, but the meeting never happened. Clinton left office in January 2001.

Koh said, “This is not going to end in one go, so keeping up the momentum is what will make the summit a success.”

“We already had a preparation process [through the 2000 and 2007 summits] and have gained experience, so we can expect more results this time around,” said Handong Global University’s Kim. “A period of detente eventually led to the collapse of the Cold War regime, so similarly, the previous two inter-Korean summits can be seen as a similar detente that provides the foundation for the success of this upcoming summit.”

Kim called the upcoming summits, “all or nothing,” adding, “If you miss this opportunity, there is no alternative. President Trump and the North Korean leadership have a strong willingness to make a big deal and resolve the issue quickly and are outcome-oriented, so I think things are looking positive so far.”

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