January 11, 2010 12:25
Expectations are rising of an inter-Korean summit this year. They receded in the wake of Labor Minister Yim Tae-hee's meeting with Kim Yang-gon, the director of North Korea's United Front Department, in Singapore in October last year, but now they are on the rise again. To begin with, Pyongyang's attitude is positive. In a New Year's message, the North said its will to improve inter-Korean relations is "firm and consistent." The Choson Sinbo, a North Korean mouthpiece in Japan, said the message is a precursor to "radical changes" this year.
The North often raised the need of an inter-Korean summit last year, too, and Seoul also seems to be considering it seriously. President Lee Myung-bak has often said there is no reason to oppose a summit if it helps resolve inter-Korean ties. Unification Minister Hyun In-taek said late last year, "I think the possibility is open." Speculation that the summit will be held in the first half of this year seems to be growing in political circles. One theory has it that the North, now that it is in dire straits, will accept a summit even if the South does not offer much in the way of economic aid.
Many experts, however, feel there is no reason for the North to push ahead with a summit for the sake of food or economic aid. They feel that the North is considering it in terms of improving relations with Washington and the six-party denuclearization talks. The same is true for the South. Without meaningful progress in the nuclear issue, a summit would just be for show even if some minor accords are reached.
A summit may not bring any advantages for the South. The 1986 summit between Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev is cited as one meeting where the U.S. was caught off its guard. The two heads of state, having gauged their counterparts at their first meeting in Geneva, held a second meeting in Reykjavik where Gorbachev was determined to halt the U.S.'s so-called "star wars" project at any cost. The White House at the time did not anticipate Gorbachev's plan. The White House meant to discuss a variety of issues including human rights, but Gorbachev presented a bold disarmament plan, which the White House had not expected, and the summit ended in failure as Reagan rejected Gorbachev's demand that the project be confined to research purposes.
It was British prime minister Winston Churchill who coined the term "summit." A meeting at the summit is a difficult task because unexpected hurdles await. There are other "peaks" in the form of domestic politics. Many leaders rush to parliament or hold press conferences in the wake of summits because they want to put their own gloss on the meaning of the talks.
Productive summits are difficult to achieve because dramatic effects are not as easy to come by as they were during the Cold War. Summits have become routine as many heads of state meet regularly at G8, G20 and APEC summits, and the rarity value has disappeared. A summit without thorough preparation and substantive results can no longer be regarded as much of an event.
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