Mon, 22 May 2000

Seoul must keep lid on June talks with N. Korea

By Kim Jong-han

SEOUL: In recent days, the South Korean media has been widely reporting that in the upcoming June summit meeting in Pyongyang between President Kim Dae-jung and North Korean supreme leader Kim Jong-il, Seoul will seek a visit to Seoul by the North Korean leader.

In fact, Unification Minister Park Jae-kyu announced Seoul's intention in a public forum, raising expectations among the South Korean people that North Korea's omnipotent leader will actually visit Seoul and see its economic glory himself.

South Korean media are even speculating that, through such a return visit, summit meetings between the two leaders of our country could become regular events.

At first glance, Seoul's plan of extending an invitation to Kim Jong-il to visit the South Korean capital appears to be reasonable.

It is a matter of courtesy and certainly conforms with diplomatic protocol However, there is a logical flaw. When was the last time North Korea observed diplomatic protocol, especially in its relations with South Korea? Shrewd political calculations may dictate that Kim Jong-il's visit to Seoul is not necessarily in the best interest of the North Korean government at this time.

The entire world views the June summit between the two Korean leaders as the fruit of South Korean economic assistance to Pyongyang.

No doubt, Pyongyang agreed to the summit because it wants to receive more economic aid from Seoul and its Western allies.

However, the Pyongyang government is very sensitive about its beggar image. It is trying to avoid having the summit portrayed as an instance North Korea begging and Seoul giving.

In fact, the North Korean government lashed out at the South Korean government, claiming that the bilateral relationship is one of mutual economic benefit and not simply a case of charitable giving by the South.

In light of such background, imagine Kim Jong-il coming to Seoul and becoming overwhelmed by Seoul's economic development. Imagine Kim's motorcade passing through Kwanghwamun or better yet, the skyscraper-lined Tehran-no and have that image televised back to the citizens of North Korea.

Imagine Kim walking through (and awed by) the glitzy lobby of Grand Hyatt Seoul or its grand ballroom surrounded by South Korea's millionaire businessmen. Imagine Kim walking through Samsung Electronics' semiconductor plant, Hyundai Motor's automobile plant or POSCO's ultra-modern steel plant and being intimidated by South Korea's industrial might. Imagine the people of North Korea viewing on television an overwhelmed expression on the face of their supreme leader.

Such a sight will surely raise comparisons of the two countries and of their respective leaderships in the minds of the North Korean people.

Under these circumstances, why would Kim Jong-il risk the stability of his leadership and regime by visiting Seoul? What would he gain by visiting Seoul, except to satisfy his own personal curiosity?

If he were a shrewd Machiavellian, he would delay his trip to South Korea as long as possible, while extracting maximum concessions. When his excuses run out so that he can no longer postpone his visit, he would most likely propose a summit meeting in Kyongju, Cheju Island -- some location far from Seoul or any other place that might display South Korea's industrial might.

In fact, Kyongju and Cheju each have hosted summit meetings before and carry certain themes. President Kim Young-sam hosted a summit meeting with Prime Minister Morihiro Hosokawa of Japan in Kyongju, an ancient capital of Silla Dynasty.

Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev and U.S. President Bill Clinton both held summit meetings with their Korean counterparts on Cheju, Korea's famous tropical resort island.

Kim Jong-il's summit meeting with President Kim Dae-jung at such a location would be less intimidating and much more acceptable than Seoul.

Given such a background, it is incomprehensible that the leaders of South Korea would publicly float the idea of a second summit meeting in Seoul. It is imprudent since it unnecessarily raises public expectation, which the Seoul government may not be able to meet.

Even if Kim Jong-il's visit to Seoul is a good idea and actually occurs, would it not be better to remain silent on this subject and then, if it is able to secure such a commitment from Kim Jong-il, announce it through a joint communique between the two leaders during the June summit in Pyongyang, thereby creating further excitement?

The Seoul government is well advised to keep a lid on this topic for now. It should direct all of its energy in making the first summit a successful one, rather than creating distractions with a possible second summit, which may or may not happen.

The writer is an attorney with an international law firm in California. He is a graduate of both Georgetown University's School of Foreign Service and of its law school.

-- Korea Herald

/Asia News Network