Summit could have long-term effect on North, South Korea
SEOUL — When the two Koreas meet later this month, each likely will seek short-term concessions — for the North, a promise of more economic aid before upcoming South Korean presidential elections, and for the South, a decreased military threat from the North.
But experts say the second-ever summit between the two countries likely will have deep, long-lasting impacts, even without any formal agreements.
One of those effects could be the outcome of the South Korean presidential election in December.
Yoo Ho-yeol, professor of Korean politics and foreign policy at Korea University, said North Korean leader Kim Jong Il may view the Aug. 28-30 summit in Pyongyang, North Korea’s capital, as a way to “manage” South Korea’s presidential elections.
“(North Korea) thought the second summit might change the electoral mood in South Korea by pushing up inter-Korean relations as one of the big agendas,” Yoo said late last week. “They want to support the pro-North Korean political groups.”
Yoo also said Kim may be trying to gain favor among South Koreans before the next round of six-party talks about its nuclear program.
“They need to get South Korea at their side in preparation for the real negotiations with the United States,” Yoo said.
Experts say topics at the summit could include unifying the two Koreas, North Korea’s nuclear weapons program, a railway linking the two countries, South Korean prisoners of war, the return of South Koreans kidnapped by the North and military stability.
Kim Yong-hyun, a professor of North Korean studies at Dongguk University, said the two countries are unlikely to reach an agreement on North Korea’s nuclear program during the summit. Instead, discussions likely will focus on economics.
“This summit will be focused on creating ways of promoting other business issues rather than reaching a concrete agreement,” Kim said.
The real legacy of this summit, just as with the 2000 summit, could be the further opening of North Korea to the rest of the world, especially South Korea, Don Oberdorfer, an author and adjunct professor of international relations at Johns Hopkins University, said in an e-mail.
“The people of that country are less isolated and more knowledgeable about the world than before, although they are still much restricted compared to normal countries,” he said of North Korea. “This is very important for the sort of evolutionary change that can reduce the tensions in the Korean peninsula over the long term.”
Michael Breen, author of “The Koreans” and president of a public relations company in Seoul, said it’s too early for either side to talk about unification.
“I don’t see any significant, lasting changes between the two Koreas, as long as Kim Jong Il is in power, short of a change in the thinking on the part of North Korea,” he said.
The North is willing to hold the summit in part because of productive talks with the Unites States about its nuclear program, he said.
A spokeswoman for South Korean president Roh Moo-Hyun said Friday that Roh wants to discuss economic cooperation during the summit, but the two countries have not agreed on whether it will be a high-priority item.