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

Although there is general agreement that the signing of a peace treaty is high on the political agenda, the procedures to be followed are all from clear. Possibly, the Koreans will first come to an agreement on this crucial matter in their bilateral dealings, and triumphantly announce this at the end of the second summit meeting to be held in Seoul sometime in the first half of the new year.

This announcement could then be followed by an international agreement, signed by the participants of the Four-Party-Talks, that is the Chinese and the Americans together with the South and North Koreans. Another option would be to enlarge the group of signatories, and invite the Japanese and Russians to join the party. Seoul has favored this option, and clearly the Russians are pushing for a seat at the conference table. On the other hand, there are indications that Washington sees with suspicion Moscow's overtures in Northeast Asia, and may thus prefer the Four-Party-Framework. But then, all this remains open.

Eventually many high-level meetings will deal with the format of a Korean peace treaty.

At the same time we may expect that the Koreans "and first and foremost the government in Seoul" will keep up the pressure for a quick solution: This desire is lead mainly by the aim not to loose the favorable political momentum built up since the summit meeting in June 2000. One of the very big question marks at the beginning of the new year continues to be North Korea's position regarding the peace treaty. So far Pyongyang has insisted on establishing a permanent peace regime not between the two Korean governments, but between itself and Washington. Seoul has refused to accept this position. It should not come as too big a surprise should Pyongyang move away from its position, and agree to a treaty with the South.

Although for obvious reasons related to the ongoing diplomatic process there are no publicized indications of this shift in Pyongyang, Kim Dae-jung's at times extremely positive accounts of his North Korean negotiating partner almost provokes the conclusion that he has good reason to be hopeful: While many observers question the sincerity of the North Korean dictator's dealing with the South, President Kim seems convinced Pyongyang's intentions are earnest: North Korea the president said in an interview after receiving the Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo "is showing enthusiasm toward reducing tensions and promoting cooperation with the South!"

Expectations

The new year will not only bring diplomatic activities on the highest political level. Developments may also be expected regarding lower-level North-South relations in the political, the economic and the cultural fields. Much needs to be done in all areas and much can be done. Presumably the pattern of interactions will not change dramatically from what we have seen so far: the South will press for more people-to-people contacts in a bid to soften the harshness of the national divide. The North will ask for more economic aid, in an effort to revitalize its moribund economy, at the same time limiting to an absolute minimum all personal contacts.

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