[May 17, 2006]
Reflections on a Summit By Chung-in Moon
Chung-in Moon is Professor of Political Science, Yonsei University, and Editor-in-Chief of Global Asia. He attended the 2000 and 2007 Korean summits as a special delegate.
As a special delegate to both the 2000 and 2007 summits between North and South Korea, the first such meetings ever held on the divided peninsula, I was fortunate to witness the changes in North-South relations over those seven years as reflected in the differences in ambiance, protocol, and agreements reached at the two summits.
Broadly speaking, the 2007 summit represented an important step toward turning the agreements of 2000 into reality. The earlier summit was largely symbolic, an introductory and tension-reducing event, while the 2007 summit produced far more practical agreements on economic cooperation and other areas that will advance future inter-Korean relations.
Watching the script
In carefully scripted diplomatic events, the smallest details often tell the bigger story. This is true of the two summits, including the finer points of the reception ceremony, the program line-up and the farewell luncheon.
The 2000 summit was a rather uncertain event because it was the first visit ever made to North Korea by a South Korean head of state. The official schedule was unknown, and there weren’t even educated guesses on who would be welcoming us at the airport. On June 13, 2000, when the South Korean delegation arrived at Sunan Airport in Pyongyang, the supreme leader, Chairman Kim Jong-il, was there to receive President Kim Dae-jung in person. We were surprised, because South Koreans expected Kim Young-nam, the president of the presidium of the Supreme People’s Assembly and official head of state, to welcome President Kim. Although the welcoming ceremony was brief, Kim Dae-jung and Kim Jong-il rode in the same car to the Paekhwawon State Guest House, passing through downtown Pyongyang where over half a million North Koreans welcomed the motorcade with well-choreographed cheers.
In contrast, President Roh Moo-hyun’s visit to Pyongyang on Oct. 2, 2007 began with stage-managed drama. Instead of flying, Roh traveled by car to Pyongyang, the first time that a senior South Korean official had crossed into the North by land since the Korean War. On his way to Pyongyang, he got out of his car with the First Lady and walked across the Military Line of Demarcation that separates the two countries inside the demilitarized zone (DMZ), underscoring the artificial nature of the line.
The welcome in Pyongyang was quite impressive. Roh was greeted by head of state Kim Young-nam at the People’s Culture Palace and they paraded in an open car all the way to the April 25th Culture Center, where Kim Jong-il personally welcomed Roh amid enthusiastic cheers from several hundred thousand people.
To my knowledge, Roh is the first outsider to be formally welcomed in front of the April 25 Culture Center, which commemorates Kim Il-sung’s anti-Japanese resistance unit. Holding the reception at such a symbolic site in the heart of Pyongyang showed the North’s increasing acceptance of inter-Korean relations. Indeed, this was qualitatively different than the brief reception given to President Kim Dae-jung at Sunan Airport in 2000. Equally important was the fact that Kim Jong-il personally welcomed official and special delegates from the South in 2007, something that did not happen in 2000.
The overall schedule of the 2007 summit was similar to 2000. Roh and Kim Young-nam held a working meeting on the afternoon of Oct. 2, followed by a welcoming dinner hosted by Kim that evening. Roh reciprocated by hosting a dinner on Oct. 3 and Kim Jong-il hosted a farewell luncheon on Oct. 4. Nevertheless, there were some striking differences.
Whereas only one meeting was held between the two top leaders in 2000, two meetings took place in 2007, a morning and an afternoon session on Oct. 3. In 2000, Kim Jong-il attended the dinner hosted by President Kim, while in 2007 he did not attend the dinner hosted by Roh. Despite this, there seems to be a broad symmetry between 2000 and 2007 in terms of overall protocol, time allocation, and the encounters between the two leaders. Claims in the South Korean mass media that the 2007 summit was marred by negative protocol are unwarranted.
Another difference between the summits is seen in the seating arrangements of those North Korean leaders invited to the farewell luncheon hosted by Chairman Kim Jong-il at the Paekhwawon State Guest House on Oct. 4. In 2000, the North Koreans invited a number of symbolically important leaders to the luncheon who had no practical role in inter-Korean relations.
In contrast, the Kim Jong-il’s 2007 luncheon included North Korean participants who are directly involved in implementing the latest summit declaration. Most prominent among them were Prime Minister Kim Young-il and Deputy Prime Minister No Doo-chull. Since the 2007 summit declaration stipulated inter-Korean talks at the prime minister and deputy prime minister level, their presence is a positive sign. Kim Il-chol, North Korea’s Defense Minister, was also seated next to Kim Jang-soo, his counterpart in the South. North Korean generals Park Jae-kyung and Ri Myong-soo, both Vice Defense Ministers, were also present. Their attendance was interpreted as a sign of Kim Jong-il’s commitment to improved relations. It was also notable that Kang Seok-joo and Kim Gye-gwan, the North’s Vice Foreign Ministers in charge of the six-party talks, were seated at the head table. Given North Korea’s hierarchical leadership structure, this seating arrangement was extraordinary, and essentially represented a gesture of commitment on the part of Kim Jong-il toward the peaceful resolution of the nuclear problem. As in 2000, Kim’s brother-in-law Jang Sung-taik entertained business leaders, while Pak Nam-gi, the head of the Korea Worker’s Party’s planning and fiscal affairs department, entertained the presidents of South Korea’s leading state enterprises. Taken together, the functional composition of the North Korean participants at the 2007 summit and the nature of the seating arrangements suggest a genuine commitment to implementing the 2007 summit declaration.
Progress on substance
Beyond the important signals contained in the protocol arrangements, there has also been remarkable progress in the substance of the meetings. This is evident when we compare the respective summit declarations – that of June 15, 2000 and that of Oct. 4, 2007. To be sure, the June 15 Declaration is of paramount importance precisely because without it, the Oct. 4 Declaration would not have been possible. However, the June 15 Declaration is largely symbolic and general, whereas the 2007 document is concrete and specific.
What is most remarkable is that the two leaders reached agreement on 45 items across five broad areas in just two rounds of summit talks that lasted a combined four hours. During the 2000 summit, it took more than nine hours to reach agreement on six items, and President Kim Dae-jung and Chairman Kim Jong-il had to spend considerable time settling procedural issues such as who should sign the declaration and whether to include in the declaration a return visit by Chairman Kim to Seoul.
Compared with the June 15, 2000 declaration, which stipulated in very general terms the need for balanced development of the national economy through economic cooperation, the 2007 declaration contained a broad range of concrete agreements. In particular, Article 5 of the declaration sets forth two principles of inter-Korean economic cooperation: “joint management for joint benefits and sharing abundance and needs with each other” and “preferential treatment in inter-Korean economic cooperation.”
From the creation of a special zone of peace and cooperation in the West Sea to symbolic cooperation to cheer for Korean athletes at next year’s Beijing Olympic games, the summit produced a framework for real cooperation. Against the backdrop of continued progress on the denuclearization of North Korea through the six-party talks process, I came away from the 2007 summit convinced that the meeting yielded substantial results.
Despite the overall success of the 2007 summit in institutionalizing inter-Korea relations, several daunting challenges lie ahead.
The first could arise from excessive optimism regarding the mutually beneficial relationship between the six-party talks and the inter-Korean summit, and between economic cooperation and peace. Although significant progress has been made, failure to resolve the North Korean nuclear issue through the six-party talks could have a devastating impact on inter-Korean relations.
The second challenge involves deep-rooted suspicion and distrust between the two Koreas. Pyongyang still seems suspicious of Seoul’s intentions. The issue actually became somewhat pronounced when Roh proposed the creation of several special economic zones in the North for mutual cooperation. Kim’s response was quite negative. Commenting on the existing Kaeseong industrial zone, he said, “Thank you for your proposal, but we have not received any benefits from the Kaeseong project. The project was launched four years ago, but it is still in the pilot stage. You have not even arrived at the first stage. More importantly, the South has been staging a political propaganda campaign as if the Kaeseong project is a successful example of opening and reform in the North.”
In other words, Kim made it clear that he viewed Seoul’s proposal on special economic zones as an attempt to undermine the North Korean regime through “opening and reform.” Confronted with this response, Roh decided not to use terms such as “opening and reform” in the context of such zones – something that has triggered fierce opposition from conservative forces in the South. In order to further enhance inter-Korean cooperation, mutual suspicions regarding such economic zones will have to be overcome.
The third challenge emanates from inherent contradictions between inter-Korean cooperation and international cooperation. From the moment President Roh arrived in Pyongyang on Oct. 2, he was bombarded with North Korean sermonizing on the primacy of self-reliance and Korean national solidarity over international, especially US-South Korea, cooperation. However, Roh was firm. He argued that no country could live and prosper in complete self-reliance in a world of globalization and economic interdependence. Furthermore, he added that inter-Korean cooperation devoid of international cooperation, especially with the US, is virtually inconceivable and that there is no such a thing as absolute self-reliance. While Kim seemed to agree with the argument, this issue will nevertheless continue to haunt inter-Korean relations.
Finally, the specter of domestic confrontation over the South’s relationship to the North also clouds the future of inter-Korean relations. I do not see any reason why the next South Korean government would not honor the agreements in the 2007 declaration, provided that progress is made on nuclear issues. Even Lee Myung-bak, the conservative Grand National Party (GNP) presidential candidate and the current favorite to win the election, is likely to implement these agreements. The problem is whether the North is willing to cooperate. The GNP is the traditional party of hard-line anti-communism and Lee has been extremely critical of the North, describing the coming presidential election as “a fight between pro-North Korean leftists and pro-American conservatives.”
In the South, polarization between liberal proponents of engagement and conservative hardliners could undercut the prospects for improved inter-Korean relations. Overcoming the black-and-white mentality of South Korean politics is essential before a lasting and peaceful settlement with the North can be reached.
The 2007 Korean summit also reaffirmed the importance of the United States. It is generally believed that Kim proposed the summit because of the North’s desperate need for economic revitalization. But economic needs simply serve as a necessary condition. What prompted him to venture into a second summit is his perception of a genuine change in White House policy on the North. Kim seems to have high hopes that denuclearization can be exchanged for an end to hostile relations and eventual diplomatic normalization with the United States. Likewise, his perceptions of American policy and the overall nature of US-North Korea relations appear to be the most important factor in inter-Korean relations. In view of this, much still depends on American policy, which is why it demands our closest attention.