The two Koreas have so far had two summits, first in 2000 and second in 2007. Those reading the “declarations” from what were hailed as historic meetings would be dismayed at the little effect they have had on the relations between the two parts of the Korean Peninsula.
In the two documents, the South and the North agreed to build mutual trust through economic cooperation and exchanges in all fields, put an end to military hostilities and pursue peaceful reunification. The Oct. 4, 2007 Declaration provided the creation of a “special peace and cooperation zone” in the West Sea. Only three years later, we witnessed the sinking of the patrol craft Cheonan and the artillery shelling of Yeonpyeong Island in the projected peace zone.
Still, the leaderships of Seoul and Pyongyang share a penchant for inter-Korean summits as a shortcut to resolving problems between them. Even at this time when the bilateral relations are at their lowest ebb, emissaries met in a third country to discuss conditions for a summit. If there is any difference now, it is that the other side does not hesitate to divulge the secret contact on purpose.
The disclosure came as part of the North’s angry reactions to South Korean news reports late last month that some Army units were using pictures of Kim Il-sung, Kim Jong-il and Kim Jong-un as targets for firing practice. North Korea picked up this seeming act of sacrilege in the South to unleash extremely harsh verbal attacks on Seoul’s government and military leaderships.
A spokesman for the North’s powerful National Defense Commission, chaired by Kim Jong-il, alleged that Seoul’s emissaries “begged” the Northerners to arrange three rounds of inter-Korean summit by March next year. The Southern delegates produced a “cash envelope” to entice the Northerners, he claimed.
For North Korean loyalists, shooting at pictures of the Kim trinity may be comparable to the burning of Koran in the Islamic world ― or be even more unbearable. But, we can conjecture that Pyongyag’s sudden shift to an offensive mode from a defensive one brought upon them by the South’s resolute responses to the Cheonan and Yeonpyeong attacks could be a gesture of independence by Kim Jong-il after an unproductive visit to China last month.
Kim promised efforts to reduce tension on the Korean Peninsula and reopen the six-party denuclearization talks during his meetings with Chinese leaders, but he might have chosen to act conversely back home. On his week-long tour stretching 5,000 kilometers, Kim was preached at by his hosts on the need for economic reform and openness and given scant commitment on providing the food and energy assistance he requested.
The crucial year of 2012 is approaching and Kim Jong-il is increasingly anxious to show his 20 million people some evidence of the promised “powerful, prosperous nation” on the centennial of his father. His all out campaign since the beginning of this year for direct dialogue with the South met Seoul’s unrelenting demand for Pyongyang’s apology for the Cheonan and Yeonpyeong attacks, which he could not accept.
By now, Pyongyang’s leaders must have given up holding any form of dialogue with the conservative government in Seoul until elections next year. If we give any credence to the North’s allegation of a “cash envelope” and the claim by an opposition lawmaker of the delivery of $10,000 during the Beijing secret contact, the Pyongyang emissaries might have been disappointed by the stinginess of President Lee Myung-bak compared to the generosity of the previous Kim Dae-jung and Roh Moo-hyun administrations.
Lee said Monday his government would carry on its North Korea policies with patience and consistency, whatever surprises Pyongyang has in store for the future. He did not clarifying whether or not he would pursue a summit with Kim Jong-il.
The North’s disclosure, despite Blue House explanations ex post facto, did cause some doubts about Lee’s avowed patience and consistency, even among his conservative supporters. We would like to emphasize here that the president needs to keep himself from the temptation of an inter-Korean summit at a time when he is about to wrap up his administration.