Two major events concerning the Korean peninsula hit the public in the last few days, the Second DPRK-ROK Summit and the latest installment of the Six Party talks in Beijing. As usual the ball is in Pyongyang’s end of the court, and even I won’t place bets, at least not on one prediction.
In Pyongyang, not even ROK President Roh Moo-hyun can get respect (and, who’s really complaining?). During the course of the media bomb, I was concerned about the inordinate attention on economic issues. Seeing Chung Mong-koo in Pyongyang on South Korean TV made me wonder if the entire reason the ROK Supreme Court exonerated him was, so he could grab his share of loot from the North Koreans.
Among the top three business topics expected for discussion – natural resource developments, roadway and railway distribution system expansions and dockyard construction – Hyundai-Kia Automotive Group is said to be interested in building railroad cars through its shipping affiliate Glovis, and also measure the feasibility of SOC businesses, while POSCO showed interest in forestation.
Although company officials said forestation is just a possibility, as the steel maker has shown its interest in securing carbon credit overseas, industry insiders say the opportunity will be advantageous for POSCO if cooperation comes through.
And as speculations rose that SK Group may be considering communication and energy projects in the North, company officials said plans are open for review if the right offer is made.
LG and Samsung, which are said to be mulling over their specialty areas of electronics, seem to be in the same scouting stages as others.
I think the first piece I wrote on Korea was about Samsung turning the DPRK into a giant industrial park. If Graph 5 of the “Declaration for Advancement of South-North Korean Relations, Peace and Prosperity” are any indication, it seems Chairman Chung’s time was wasted.
From what can be gleaned of their substance, talks between the two leaders on October 3rd only emphasised the distance still to travel. Mr Kim may be willing to squeeze the outside world for aid?but on his terms. So Mr Roh?s offer of what amounted to a Marshall Plan to transform North Korea?s economy in pursuit of Chinese-style liberalisation met with blank dismissal. Mr Kim does not even like a showcase industrial park at Kaesong, where South Korean manufacturers employ cheap North Korean labour, to be described as a model of successful ?reform?. Once again, Mr Kim showed how he puts his own survival over that of the North Koreans he brutalises.
Yet a joint agreement was announced on October 4th, something Mr Roh will be able to take home with relief. Gone were his hopes for great involvement in the North, but there was agreement to allow freight trains into Kaesong. There was a recommitment to help families divided by the civil war to meet (though a word from Mr Kim is all it would take to solve that sad problem). Talks will be sought with America and China to put a formal end to the civil war (though peace on the peninsula, these countries are likely to argue, can only come after its denuclearisation). Steps were promised (as, fruitlessly, they were at the 2000 summit) to reduce military tensions: defence ministers would meet, while a disputed western maritime area would see its fisheries jointly mined.
And, it’s even more disconcerting to read DPRK Vice Foreign Minister Choi Su-hon at the UN say, that “…there was no need for the UN as a go-between in inter-Korean affairs, as inter-Korean dialogue is ‘going well.'” I hope dialogue is much more multi-voiced, and includes as many “go-between’s” as possible.
Vice Minister Choi also called the latest agreement in Beijing, agreeing to the disablement of Yongbyon by the end of the year, a “courageous decision”. It remains for Pyongyang to manifest its courage. But, there are plenty of other ways the enthusiasm could get punctured.
At the request of the other five parties to the nuclear deal, the United States will lead disablement activities and provide initial funding. It will lead an expert group to North Korea, probably next week, to prepare for disablement.
North Korea also reaffirmed its commitment not to transfer nuclear materials, technology or know-how, the statement issued in Beijing added.
But the statement skirted the issue of when the country would be removed from the U.S. state sponsors of terrorism list, one of Pyongyang’s key demands, saying only Washington would fulfill its commitments to begin that process in parallel with action on the ground.
Last week, Bush authorized $25 million in aid for the North, which would cover the cost of up to 50,000 tons of heavy fuel oil.
China and South Korea have delivered initial fuel shipments and Russia is expected to do so too. But Japan has indicated it will not participate unless North Korea addresses the issue of Japanese citizens the North abducted in the 1970s and 1980s.
And, to be fair, there is substantive opposition to the entire process.
Nowhere, however, in the new agreement was what Reagan-era diplomats called a “third basket” ? a set of exchanges and commitments regarding how the communist regime treats its citizens, a feature of the Helsinki accords first signed in 1975 by 35 nations, including America and the Soviet Union.
A third-basket negotiation was the hope of a left-right coalition of human rights and religious leaders who on May 25 warned Secretary of State Rice that it “would oppose the provision of significant financial assistance to North Korea without progress on human rights issues.” The coalition included Human Rights Watch, the Southern Baptist Convention, the National Association of Evangelicals, Freedom House, and the George Soros-funded Open Society Institute.
One of the organizers of the coalition on North Korean Human Rights, Michael Horowitz, yesterday said the denuclearization agreement would lead to war. “This policy has increased the risk of war on the Korean peninsula. If we give Kim Jong Il money for his weapons programs, the future will bring more weapons not fewer weapons,” Mr. Horowitz said. “I fear that if this deal goes through, Kim Jong Il will seek to blackmail the world in less than two years with what may be the world’s large
st chemical and biological stockpile and missiles capable of delivering them.” Mr. Horowitz pointed out that when North Korea tested missiles last July, both Democrats and Republicans called for a military strike.
“It is sad and ironic that President Bush, the most forceful advocate of North Korean human rights, has signed off on a policy approach that seeks to legitimize and finance the Kim Jong Il regime in exchange for mere weapons promises on its part.”
Mr. Bush yesterday praised the agreement and said North Korea would provide a “complete and correct” accounting of “all its nuclear programs, nuclear weapons programs, materials, and any proliferation activity.” Mr. Bush also said the new agreement would “help secure the future peace and prosperity of the Northeast Asian region.”
Mr. Lefkowitz yesterday said human rights and national security are two complementary objectives in the administration’s North Korea policy. “It is a false choice to say the United States policy should focus either on nuclear security or human rights; indeed, the two go hand and hand. We have very serious imminent interests in North Korea disarming,” he said.
There is also this choice Roh quote:
The talks left Roh with an impression that progress remains hindered by Kim’s deep suspicions.
“North Korea still has some skepticism about the South and doesn’t trust it enough,” the South Korean president was quoted as saying at a Wednesday luncheon after his first two-hour session of talks with Kim. “We need greater effort to demolish a wall of mistrust.”
Roh said the North Korean leader was suspicious about terms such as “openness” and “reform,” suggesting that he sees any rapid move toward Chinese-style economic reforms as a threat to his autocratic rule.
Mistrust also was evident in observers’ reactions to the nuclear deal struck in Beijing. Many experts raised concerns over whether the deal would fully disable the North’s nuclear facilities, or merely leave them easy to reassemble.
One can learn a lot through a child’s eyes.
Alright, no Left Flank post would be complete without criticism of the Bush administration, even as it is praised. Ed Morrissey is refreshingly pragmatic, when he argues that “…A few million dollars to ensure security is a small price to pay, and besides, we can then ensure that the facilities really cannot be reused for a very long time.” Dilworth at KUS puts it a little more colorfully than I would, and Richardson is skeptical.
As my wife often says in these times, Korean events lurch two steps forward, and then one step back. Is this the progress, or the reaction? Let’s meet again on December, 31!