Wed, 25 Sep 2002

Pyongyang's gesture

Signs Pyongyang is opening its door to industrialized Western countries has attracted the international community as evidenced by the fact the North Korea issue was one of the key topics discussed at the two-day Asia-Europe Summit (ASEM) in Copenhagen, which ended on Tuesday.

Gradual but substantial reform currently taking place in North Korea has been confirmed by foreign leaders and observers visiting that country, including the latest by Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi who held a landmark summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong-il in Pyongyang last week, although the two neighboring countries have no diplomatic ties.

During the summit, Kim offered an olive branch to Koizumi by admitting the abduction of Japanese nationals to be trained as spies by Pyongyang agents many years ago, and assured the latter of a safe return of the kidnap victims to Japan -- the ones left alive that is.

The confession, the first ever made by Pyongyang, stunned not only the Japanese government but also the world at large. It is another strong indication of North Korea's commitment to build friendly ties with its long-time foes and adopt an open door policy.

Impressed by Kim's frankness, Koizumi, reportedly, telephoned U.S. President George W. Bush, asking the United States to drop North Korea from the "axis of evil" list and resume dialog with Pyongyang.

This explains why, on the sidelines of ASEM, Koizumi, along with South Korean President Kim Dae-jung -- who championed his "Sunshine Policy" of engaging North Korea peacefully towards reunification -- called on the international community to help the Pyongyang communist government end its isolation.

The gestures demonstrated by the North Korean leadership, in our opinion, should be warmly welcomed and supported by countries in the Asia-Pacific region if they want to ease, if not to eliminate, the on-and-off tension on the Korean peninsula, which, if inflamed, could disrupt regional stability.

Now that Pyongyang has started to depart from the Orwellian system of society, neighboring countries in Asia -- for example Indonesia, which has a long history of friendly ties with both the North Korea and South Korea governments -- could expand their roles to expedite the reunification of the divided countries and peoples, besides strengthening political and economic ties with Pyongyang and Seoul.

We also believe that other international organizations and institutions, such as the United Nations, the European Union and the World Bank, should give greater assistance to North Korea in its effort to become a more liberalized country. Using German reunification in the 1990s as an example, reunification will only be possible when the welfare of the people in the North is improved to match that of their kinsfolk in the South. Currently, South Korea has an economy 27 times larger than the North.

A unified Korea will benefit not only the Korean people, but the world community as well. And only through peaceful unification can the people of Choson, an early and poetic name for Korea which means the "land of morning calm", live together to help shape, with the other world community, a better future for humankind.