June 30, 2000 VOL. 29 NO. 25 | SEARCH ASIAWEEK
INow it Gets Harder
They met, they hugged, they planned for a unified future. Now the two Koreas must deal with other interested parties -- and other agendas
By PENNY CRISP and LAXMI NAKARMI Seoul
Plus: The Washington-Pyongyang Divide
For about 45 years the propaganda broadcasts from both sides of the DMZ spat out every rude word to be found in a Korean dictionary -- until the breakthrough summit on June 13-15. Then North Korea's Kim Jong Il shut down the insults from his side and South Korea's Kim Dae Jung agreed to do the same. Just like that. Now the U.S. has eased 50-year-old sanctions against North Korea and decided it is no longer a "rogue state." The ASEAN security forum has kicked in to confirm Northern membership. Erring on the side of caution apparently will not be a feature of the unification express.
Or will it? China, Russia, Japan and the U.S. have been officially upbeat since the Kims came together in Pyongyang. But rapprochement is causing some alarm as various parties examine the possible consequences. No one wants to put the lid back on the initiative -- supposing, anyway, that it could be stoppered -- yet unease has replaced the initial elation. Russia's sudden interest in the area, confirmed by Vladimir Putin's planned visit to Pyongyang next month, has triggered fears of a new arms build-up. China, also wary of Russia, is now being pressured by Taiwan to stage a similar reunification summit. Japan frets about becoming a target if it ends up as the only "home" to U.S. troops in the area. And an outward-looking North Korea removes a large plank in U.S. justification for a $60- billion missile defense system. With all that in mind, both Koreas' hopes of plotting their mutual agenda free of foreign manipulation appear increasingly unrealistic.
So what has been decided so far? The five points agreed upon by North and South are: That the question of unification will be decided "through the joint efforts of the Korean people, who are the masters of the country." That there is a common element in the South's concept of a confederation and the North's formula for a loose form of federation. That humanitarian issues should be resolved promptly -- including exchange visits by separated families (the first set down for August 15). That mutual trust should be pursued through economic cooperation and social exchanges. And that dialogue should continue -- with speculation that Kim Jong Il will visit Seoul, also on August 15. Of course, those basic moves already had been settled by the North-South agreements of 1972 and 1992. Implementation, however, was not forthcoming.
Much of the wariness this time around stems from that lack of concrete progress. True, no leaders had met before, and the two Kims obviously managed some personal bonding during their talks. But issues have not lost their thorny intractability, and both Kims still have to face down hardliners at home. When Seoul canceled a June 25 military parade to mark the 50th anniversary of the Korean War, Pyongyang said it would do the same. But Southern officials would not elaborate on any summit agreement that may have been reached on nuclear and long-range missile defense systems, or the presence of 37,500 U.S. in the country. Kim Dae Jung's envoy reassured Japan and the U.S. that the issues had been spoken of and that implicit in the five-point agreement was the notion that North-South hostilities had ended. But North-U.S. and North-Japan emnities may well remain in the too-hard basket for some time to come.
The U.S. moved quickly to express approval for any reduction in intra-Korean tensions, while adopting a largely wait-and-see approach on the military front. Washington is particularly wary of anti-U.S. sentiment blossoming in the South. By lifting sanctions against Pyongyang on June 19 it is following the "carrot and stick" strategy formulated by former defense secretary William Perry. This means U.S. firms will be able to trade and invest in agriculture, consumer goods, financial services and raw materials, and begin direct air and shipping links. Commercial access to roads, ports, mining and tourism is expected to follow. But bans will remain on sales of military materials and some high-technology goods. The State Department's downgrading of the North from a rogue state appears part of a wider gambit, since all "rogues" have been reclassified as "concerns." Still in force, however, is the terrorist-state tag, allowing the Americans to oppose loans or aid from the International Monetary Fund and World Bank. And in the wings of Congress, the hawks are hovering. "[Pyongyang] is on a donor diversification campaign," snorts Douglas Paal, an Asian adviser in the Bush administration. Missile talks, in any case, are expected to resume within weeks.
For Japan, some sticky problems lie ahead. Prime Minister Mori Yoshiro has promised to "take the initiatives in discussions at the July summit meeting of G8 nations for building full support to the positive move of the Korean summit." But normalizing relations could mean a Pyongyang claim for up to $10 billion in war reparations. As well, the Korean "comfort women" -- forced into sexual slavery for Japanese troops during World War II -- reportedly have agreed to act jointly in seeking compensation. Sneered China's People's Daily newspaper: "If [North-South] relations improve, Japan's talks with North Korea will be of diminished importance."
China, meanwhile, has resisted gloating too much about what seems to be its win-win situation. An influx of economic aid to North Korea will relieve it of having to be chief donor, and of setting up resettlement camps to cope with waves of economic refugees. If U.S. troops remain in the South, they provide a handy check against Japanese ambitions. If they go, China can reassert its historical dominance in the area. Relations with the South, meanwhile, remain strong.
Russia's ambitions seem clear. A Foreign Ministry official said he hoped both Koreas would begin building a new relationship "which fully answers Russia's interests." Its main interest is in ensuring that the U.S. missile defense shield does not happen.
Military machinations aside, the prospect of commercial gain is occupying most foreign players. For the Koreans, however, there is a more important subject. In Seoul last week, Lee In Kyu, 78, his hands trembling, filled out a form applying for a reunion. "I believe that my wife and my two sons are still alive and well," Lee said. At the end of the war, his wife advised him to go to Seoul for a few days to avoid the communists. "I crossed the Imjin river with the help of moonlight," he said. "It was the worst mistake I made in my life." Indeed, avoiding tricky "advice" may well be the new name of the game.
With reporting by MURAKAMI MUTSUKO Tokyo, PAUL MOONEY Beijing and SAMUEL GILSTON Washington
The Washington-Pyongyang Divide
While the allies of both Koreas hailed the summit, each of them has some gripes. The sharpest remain between the U.S. and North Korea. Key differences:
Full transparency of all activities, including inspection by the International Atomic Energy Agency.
Limited compliance as well as inspection.
Washington: Complete halt of development, exports and testing.
Pyongyang: A moratorium on testing.
U.S. Troops In South Korea
Washington: They will stay even after reunification.
Pyongyang: They will withdraw after the signing of a Korea peace treaty.
Washington: None for the time being.
Pyongyang: Permit borrowing from the World Bank, the Asian Development Bank and others. Access to the IMF if needed.
Washington: Stop them.
Pyongyang: Don't interfere in what is an internal matter.
Write to Asiaweek at email@example.com
Quick Scroll: More stories from Asiaweek, TIME and CNN