02 October 2007

The two Koreas meet again

Photo courtesy of Reuters

The two Koreas are holding a summit, for the second time ever.

I've been looking at some footage coming in from Seoul, the DMZ, and Pyongyang, and it was bizarre to see President Roh Moo-hyun's Mercedes sedan, displaying South Korea's national and presidential flags, drive through the grand socialist monuments throughout Pyongyang, after a 3.5-hour drive from Seoul. (Roh rode in a North-provided Mercedes convertible, with the North's No. 2 man, for much of the Pyongyang tour, though.)

Reports say that the Pyongyang citizens gave an enthusiastic response to the visit, while Kim Jong Il himself was much more muted, especially compared to the first summit back in 2000 (which I didn't follow), when he was very enthusiastic upon then-President Kim Dae-Jung's arrival.

The scheduling of the summit is said to have political undertones, in part to dent the US Republican-backed opposition Grand National Party's lead in the South's presidential election, scheduled for December.

A short summit will not get much done - everyone knows that. What needs to happen is a persistent, consistent series of meetings between the two Koreas, at many different governmental levels, that will work out their differences and result in a peace treaty (which will also require the US and China to join in, as they are the armistice signatories). Also, Kim Jong Il needs to visit South Korea, even though it won't provide much material for his propaganda machine.

At least the first summit in 2000 provided the framework for some progress, including a new road that Roh used for this visit, the rail links that were tested back in May, and so much more. The goal is to peel away the secretiveness of the North Korean society, so that goods can flow freely across these new links, and so can people (especially families that have been separated for over 50 years). Letting South Koreans (who are hungry for trade, as evidenced by their secret US free trade pact earlier this year) use North Korean rails to trade with China, Russia, and Europe will be a boon to the North as well. However, I believe that this won't fully happen, until Kim Jong Il dies and leaves no heir to his personality cult, which requires a secretive society. Until then, patience and limited contacts, and a good mix of sticks and carrots, is the best way.

I'll see what comes out of this summit. I'm bummed that Roh chose to visit a Unification Church-owned car factory near Pyongyang, though.