Korea meet: Wrong place, wrong time

If you try to please your host too much you risk being snubbed. This could be the advice that South Korean President Roh Moo-Hyun gets from his mentor and predecessor in office, Kim Dae-Jung, as he prepares to fly to Pyongyang a summit this month. It is now seven years since the mentor met North Korean strongman Kim Jong Il in Pyongyang under circumstances vastly different than this second summit set for Aug. 28-30.

South Koreans almost uniformly welcomed the 2000 summit. Every smile, gesture and humourous aside between the leaders of the two Koreas — technically at war since the 1950-53 armed hostilities — was lapped up and discussed by the public here. This time, South Koreans are more circumspect. While many welcome it as a chance to secure peace, others shrug it off as nothing more than a political ploy to back up an unpopular president.

“Yes, it is pretty useful and necessary for the leaders to hold a summit again,” said Song Young-Dae, a former unification assistant minister and now professor at Sookmyung University. “However the summit is inappropriate for timing and place,” he said.

Seven years ago Kim had promised to visit Seoul for the second summit. North Korea experts in Seoul say it is hard for the South to give the leader of the North a “unified welcome” and that such a visit was bound to draw protests and demonstrations that Kim would find hard to swallow.

South Korean business generally welcomes the second summit in the hope of taking their business in North Korea to a higher level. “We want the summit to help us to get rid of the ‘three headaches’ in doing business with North Korea — costly freightage (across the border), poor telecommunications and time-consuming customs clearance,” said Kim Ki-Mon, chief executive of the Romanson watch company, who employs 400 North Koreans workers at his factory in the eastern border city of Kaeseong in North Korea.

The first summit was a milestone for the two Koreas to engage in business. In North Korea, workers were inspired to seek better wa-ges and finally got a five per cent wage hike as demanded, recently. Also, hundreds of South Koreans are riding across the border every day to camp within view of the sacred Mt. Kumgang.

On the other hand, the first summit fell short of expectations. Hopes for a nuclear-free Korean peninsula turned out to be false as also the release of hundreds of South Korean POWs still believed to be held by North Korea. North Korea also refused to recognise the Nort-hern Limit Line (NLL)) off the West Sea. During the crab-fishing season, the na-vies of the two Koreas clas-hed near the NLL in 1999 and 2002, leaving dozens dead and injured on both sides. Now North Korea is demands cancellation of jo-int military exercises betw-een the US and South Korea.

Like the first summit, Seoul appears to be clear about what to offer North Korea — cash, food and energy. North Korea sees Roh as its last chance to obtain as much aid as possible before a possible victory by the conservative opposition party in the presidential elections this December. If North Korea disappoints the South Korean people by sending the President back empty-handed it would only put North Korea at a greater risk of further stre-ngthening the opposition Grand National Party, which favours a harder line. — IPS