Two Koreas in win-win deal

Surpassing all expectations, historic talks between the leaders of North and South Korea in Pyongyang have produced a joint declaration that seeks a formal end to the 1950-53 Korean war and bridge distrust, a vestige of the Cold War years. The document signed last Thursday between South Korean President Roh Moo Hyun and North Korean leader Kim Jong Il — only the second such meeting held between the two countries — also invites the US and China, participants in the Korean war, to help draft a peace treaty to replace the 54-year-old armistice and establish a permanent peace.

The two Koreas are still technically at war and the Demilitarised Zone — a remnant of the war, which Roh called the “forbidden wall” — divides the peninsula. The US military continues to maintain about 28,000 troops in South Korea. Added significance is being given to the deal since it comes during a week when the North Korean government made its firmest commitment yet to dismantle its nuclear programme through a pledge to disable the main reactor complex at Yongbyon and fully disclose all of its nuclear operations by the end of the year.

China, which has played host to the six-party talks involving the two Koreas, the US, Russia and Japan, welcomed both developments, saying they would lay the foundations for the establishment of a permanent peace on the peninsula. “China consistently supports efforts by the North and South to improve bilateral relations and realise reconciliation and cooperation through dialogue,” said the foreign ministry in a statement posted on its official website. “We welcome the positive results of the summit and believe it will be conducive to the peaceful progress of the Korean peninsula and the stability of the region”.

For North Korean leader Kim Jong Il, agreeing to summit talks — seven years after his first meeting with former South Korean president Kim Dae Jung, was seen as a last chance for his regime to obtain economic concessions from Roh ‘s liberal government before the December presidential elections. South Korean public has grown more and more sceptical of Roh’s “peace and prosperity” policy toward the North since Pyongyang tested a nuclear weapon last year.

“By agreeing to the summit, Kim could be seen as rewarding Roh’s policy of ‘peace and prosperity’,” said Zhu Feng of Beijing University. “But he could also use the summit with the South to make a statement to the US and Japan that his regime is no longer ostracised by everybody.”

Finalising a peace treaty with the South could open the doors to foreign investment and technology entering the North and rebuilding its struggling economy, say experts. “Creating a ‘joint economic community’, which is Roh’s wish, could prove to be a win-win strategy for both sides,” says Li Dunqiu. “The gradual merging of both economies could serve as a foundation for eventual reunification of the two countries.” In the joint declaration, the North and South “agreed to closely cooperate to end military hostility, ease tension and ensure peace on the peninsula”.

The two sides also agreed to work towards the establishment of special economic zones in the North, which would use North Korean labour and serve to improve people’s living standards as well as help bind the two economies. — IPS