Wed, Jan 03, 2001 - Page 9 News List

The Koreas: What to expect in 2001

It would be reasonable to expect a consolidation and a furthering of the ties the two Koreas developed during 2000, if the South Korean president's optimism is a guide

By Ronald Meinardus

By Yu Sha

Some day the year 2000 may well be recorded in Korean history books as the year two leaders of the divided nation -- the Southerner Kim Dae-jung and his Northern counter-part Kim Jong-il -- kicked off a political process that eventually lead to the peaceful reunification of the divided peninsula.

The present situation in Korea is special: Here history is in the making.

What was hardly imaginable just 12 months ago, has almost become political routine: senior officials from South and North gathering around a negotiating table aiming at promoting the relations between the two countries. For the political observer it has become rather burdensome to keep track of all the meetings and contacts, the statements and communiques. Put together these exchanges document just how much "in a political-diplomatic sense" the Koreas have moved closer to what we may term normal bilateral relations.

In the many reviews published these days the June summit between Kim Dae-jung and Kim, Jong-il in Pyongyang has been termed the outstanding political event for Korea this past year. In the political process leading up to the summit the international actors usually very involved in the Korean question were degraded to mere diplomatic onlookers. In their Joint Declaration of June 15 Seoul and Pyongyang agreed to "resolve the question of unification independently and through the joint efforts of the Korean people".

This wording continues to sound like a diplomatic slap in the face for all those non-Koreans aspiring to play a major role in peninsular affairs. It is in this regard, that the most significant changes should be expected in the Korean developments in the coming year: I anticipate the Korean issue to be increasingly internationalized, with the international powers once more playing a more prominent role.

There are indications that we may witness extraordinary developments as soon as March. Why?

One explanation is, that by then President Kim Dae-jung hopes to have completed his domestic homework, that is the economic and administrative reforms and restructuring, freeing once more his hands to deal with the North Korea-file.

More diplomacy

Furthermore the political situation in the US should have cleared up by then, with the new Administration not only under control, but also determined on how to proceed regarding Korea. Presumably we will see even more summit diplomacy in and around the Koreas in 2001 than we saw in the year before. And most probably the South Korean President, decorated with the Nobel Peace Prize and respected throughout the world, will once more take up center stage: President Kim was one of the first foreign leaders to speak on the phone with President-elect George W. Bush. It seems the two leaders have already found common ground as to when to meet. "I am considering visiting the US in March," President Kim was quoted as telling Bush.

According to a Russian news agency which,due to old, friendly ties in Pyongyang is usually well informed on North Korea, March will also witness the historic return-visit of North Korean leader Kim Jong-il to Seoul.

According to that source, the two sides are already working out the text of the joint declaration to be signed at the second inter-Korean summit. Kim Dae-jung has lifted the expectations as to the importance of that document: "We are going to sign an agreement more far-reaching than the June 15th Declaration, if Chairman Kim, Jong-il comes to Seoul," the South Korean leader said recently. He then said, more specifically, that he intends to seek an improvement of epochal proportions in terms of peace on the Korean Peninsula, leaving little doubt that the signing of a peace treaty to replace the armistice agreement may well be the next historic achievement.

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