::: KNSI : Korea National Strategy Institute :::
::: KNSI : Korea National Strategy Institute :::
       February 27 2021
The Significance and Necessity of South-North Korea Summit Meetings: Focused around the North Korean by Phillip Wonhyuk Lim
- The Significance and Necessity of the South-North Korea Summit Meetings
- Composition of the North Korean Nuclear Issue
- The Role of the South Korean Government
This year marks the 5th anniversary of the first South-North Korea Summit Meeting held in Pyongyang. There have been immense changes in inter-Korean relations since the historic summit. Exchanges have been actively achieved on economic, social and cultural levels, so much so that South-North Korean exchanges are now accepted as the norm. In 2004 alone, 26,000 persons, according to the issuance approval of certificates that allow North Korean visitation, and over 53,000, according to the standards of total number of man-days, have visited North Korea. Operations to link the two rail systems and highways are under progress, and an industrial complex is being established in the city of Kaesong. Furthermore, the tension between South and North Korea has been lessening with the progress of interchange activities and cooperation. Although some south-south dissent is being expressed, the general consensus has been to support South-North Korean efforts through reconciliation and cooperation rather than confrontation. North Korea, accordingly has been opening its door and devising its economic development by accepting some forms of a market economy.

The Significance and Necessity of South-North Korea Summit Meetings

Further anticipating such positive results progressing from the first summit meeting, the need for a second South-North Korea summit meeting is presently being sought after. The hope is for the two leaders to meet to derive solutions for the manypending problems so that a breakthrough for improvements of a grander scale for South-North Korean relations can be achieved. Though persistent expansion of exchanges on a non-governmental level is important in placing South-North Korean relations on a higher level, it is essential that the two respective leaders of the South and the North find a framework of solutions and take hold of the problems that must be solved on a governmental level.

If we can hold a South-North Korea summit meeting through a resumption of dialogue between South and North Korean authorities, exchange of ambassadors, and accordance in advance with the US and neighboring countries, it will have crucial significance on two aspects. First, it will give prominence to South-North Korea summit meetings as a customary ground for dealing with pending problems between South and North Korea, rather than a one time event in the year 2000. By examining to what extent the mutual consent agreed upon at the previous summit meeting has been implemented, and by attaining mutual agreements to new pending problems, the next South-North Korea summit meeting will work to consolidate South-North Korean relations and, as a matter of fact, provide a basis for reunification. Second, the South-North Korea summit meeting will be an effective tool in extensively informing the world that South and North Korea will play an active role in dissolving the Cold War composition in northeast Asia. Though this efficacy has been accomplished to a certain degree at the 2000 Summit Meeting, as the North Korean nuclear issue has projected once again, and as South and North Korea are diplomatically taking passive stances, it has been considerably diluted. If a second South-North Korea summit meeting is held and we can find clues to a solution to the North Korean nuclear issue through this,South and North Korea will once again play an active role in putting an end to the Cold War like predicament in northeast Asia.

Composition of the North Korean Nuclear Issue

If we analyze the North Korean nuclear issue with the recognition that a solution to the North Korean nuclear issue is the start of the dismantlement of the Cold War composition in northeast Asia, we can identify that the composition is quite simple. A look at the fundamental framework of the 1994 US-North Korean mutual agreement to the settlement of the North Korean nuclear issue would give us a basis of understanding of the present on-going issue. The Geneva agreement assures North Korea light water reactors and alternate energy on condition that North Korea first freezes, then abandons their black smoke reduction route and related facilities, and that the US promises not to use or threaten to use nuclear weapons against North Korea in addition to the normalization of relations with North Korea.

When one side believes that the other party is reneging against the agreement, the only method of pressure is the resumption of its nuclear program for North Korea, and halting the supply of energy and inflicting threat on North Korea in the case of the US. However, there are limits to the threats that North Korea and the US can place on each other. For instances, while North Korea may expel IAEA inspectors and re-operate source materials, undertaking nuclear experiments or moving weapon-grade nuclear substances outside the state can be in a risk-bearing state for its own government as well. Conversely, the US may suspend its heavy oil supply and construction of light-water reactors for the North, but it would be difficult for the US to place economic sanctions or take military measures without the support of Korea, China, Japan and Russia.

If the crisis were to reach a boiling point, it would signal the brink of war on the Korean peninsula, as experienced in 1994. Will the two countries reach a dramatic compromise at the brink of war as experienced in 1994? If North Korea transfers its weapon-grade nuclear materials outside its borders and creates a situation directly threatening the US, having experienced 9/11, it is highly possible that the US, despitereacting unilaterally, will take military measures to eliminate the North Korean leadership.

If North Korea does not carry out its nuclear weapons but executes experiments in order to prove its possession of nuclear weapons,the US will probably take the course of convincing South Korea and China to take measures to place restraints on North Korea. Even if North Korea continues to increase its quantity of weapon-grade nuclear materials, it is highlypossible that the US will remain to continue inciting the demise of the North Korean regime with the view that 'North Korea cannot eat plutonium no matter how hungry they are.' Thus, North Korea will not be able to break this state of the stalemate merely by declaring its possession of nuclear weapons or resuming missile launch experiments. Taking these points into consideration, it is questionable whether it is in fact wise to allow the crisis to escalate to the boiling point.

The Role of the South Korean Government

In order to solve the North Korean nuclear issue, the US needs to reconcile North Korea's apprehension towards the US's hostile policy towards the North and North Korea must resolve the US's concerns towards North Korea's nuclear program.

With concerns to the US, it is advisable to establish the fact that the US has much to gain from a South-North Korean reconciliation and a northeast Asian coordination of it. It must especially be indicated that the US's active role in constructing a multilateral cooperation organization in northeast Asia will minimize its chance of being eliminated from the region thereafter. It must be stressed that supporting China's gradual transition and thus creating a composition of peace and prosperity in the northeast Asia region, rather than forming a new Cold War-like climate, corresponds to the US's national interest as well. China is different from the past Soviet Union regime in that China has accepted the value of globalization, opened its doors to multinational corporations, and is achieving political and economic developments. Though the conception of a portion of hard-liners in the US stating that the US will hold hands with Japan, Taiwan and India and restrain China may seem plausible, as long as China maintains an open and embracing posture, it is rather likely that this will weaken the US's influence.

Granted that it is the US's East Asian strategy to restrain China, it must be pointed out that it is damaging to increase China's influence in North Korea due to the 'extension of tension' and delay of settlement of the North Korean nuclear issue. From a US standpoint, prolonging settlements to the North Korean nuclear issue has the advantage of easily justifying weapons programs such as MD, and restraining China by binding South Korea and Japan under the framework of its existing alliance. Nevertheless it has greater setbacks such as enlarging China's influence on North Korea and elevating the possibility of a "Korea shift" due to the perception of the US's hard line policy as a stumbling block to a South-North Korean reconciliation and peace in northeast Asia. Hence, it must be emphasized that the US's improvement in its relations with North Korea in fact coincides with its strategic target in this case.

As for North Korea, with fertilizer support as the crucial point of discussion, it is desirable to resume contacts between inter-authorities and normalize a direct channel between South and North Korea. Henceforth, through dispatch of special envoys to North Korea, it is necessary that we explain that the six-way talks is not a composition that works against North Korea in a manner of a 5 to 1 people's court. Further, we must stress the point that, since 9/11, tactics to escalate the crisis to the brink againstthe US, has the potential to lead to a hard line confrontation. In order for the six-way talks to achieve results hereafter, it must operate in a manner in which the rest of the participating countries urge North Korea and the US to work on reaching substantial negotiations. South Korea needs to let North Korea know that it will make diplomatic efforts to accomplish substantial results in the six-way talks, as we have already seen in the 3rd six-way talks. Once six-way talks develop to a certain degree, it will prepare international conditions ready to actively promote South-North Korea summit meetings. In the same manner, as we simultaneously execute six-way talks and the South-North dialogue, the South Korean government can play a major role in settling the North Korean nuclear issue and ending the Cold-War like situation in northeast Asia.
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