The Trouble with Hyun's N.Korea Visit

      August 20, 2009 11:27

      Chun Sung-hoon

      Hyundai Group chairwoman Hyun Jeong-eun, during her recent visit to North Korea, won a five-point agreement from North Korean leader Kim Jong-il, promising to resume package tours to Mt. Kumgang and Kaesong and reunions of families separated by the Korean War, and put the Kaesong Industrial Complex back on track. But the visit creates more problems than it solves.  

      The biggest problem is that Hyun made the accord strictly in her private capacity without consulting the government. Package tours to Mt. Kumgang, Kaesong and Mt. Baekdu and the revitalization of the joint Kaesong industrial park all require government decisions and management. Investments are made by businesses, but it is the government that is responsible for the personal security of citizens taking part in the projects.

      It was irresponsible for the Hyundai Group to agree to the resumption of the package tours before the fatal shooting of a South Korean tourist in the Mt. Kumgang resort and the detention of a South Korean staffer at the Kaesong industrial park have been properly resolved. Tours of Mt. Kumgang should not resume until the government's demands -- a joint investigation of the shooting death, an apology from Pyongyang and a pledge that such an incident will not happen again -- are met.

      With regard to the Kaesong Industrial Complex, cast-iron official guarantees must be worked out to prevent future arbitrary arrest of South Koreans.  

      Hyun's North Korea visit compares to former U.S. president Jimmy Carter's meeting in Pyongyang with Kim Il-sung during the 1994 nuclear crisis. The Carter intervention amid the tightening of sanctions against the North by the Bill Clinton administration only sapped the strength of the pressure and failed to persuade the North to abandon its nuclear program. The Clinton administration was embarrassed and indignant by Carter's visit, with some officials slamming it as near-treason. Clinton was so upset that he told Carter on arrival in Seoul not to visit Washington or telephone him.

      During his own visit to the North, Clinton simply fulfilled his private humanitarian mission to win the release of two American journalists. He quietly brought them back without any written accord with the North. Although he briefed President Barack Obama on his meeting with Kim Jong-il, he evidently took care not to burden the Obama administration, probably because he remembered the Carter debacle.

      Hyun's visit seems only to result in helping North Korea, strapped for cash due to the sanctions, secure profitable business packages from the South Korean government. Thus, it must not set a precedent in inter-Korean dialogue. Due process is no less important than objectives in dialogue between the South and the North. It is because due process was thrown out of the window that the June 15, 2000 inter-Korean summit was criticized as being bought with money.

      Needless to say, a major achievement of Hyun's visit is that it proved that the North can no longer afford to boycott dialogue with Seoul. This shows that the South's consistent North Korea policy and firm UN sanctions are working.

      By Chun Sung-hoon, a senior researcher at the Korea Institute for National Unification

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