Kim's Death Kills Lee's Hopes of Inter-Korean Summit

      December 23, 2011 13:32

      South Korean government officials believe there is now no chance of an inter-Korean summit topping off President Lee Myung-bak's presidency now that North Korean leader Kim Jong-il is dead. They believe the new leader Kim Jong-un is too young and untested to undertake any meaningful diplomacy before Lee's term ends next year.

      How old Kim junior is unclear. The North Korean regime claims he was born in 1982 and is now 29, but many are convinced he was born either in 1983 or 1984. Kim Jong-il made himself two years younger so the final digit of his official birth year, 1942, would match his father’s, 1912. It is highly likely that something similar was done for Kim Jong-un.

      A senior government official said, "Even if Kim is the official successor now, it looks wrong for the South Korean president to discuss future of the Korean Peninsula with a 29-year-old who just came into power." Lee in September last said on Russian television, "Being appointed heir to power doesn't necessarily make someone a real counterpart."

      More importantly, the government believes it will take some time for the new North Korean regime to stabilize. Kim Jong-il kept out of the limelight for three years after his father died in 1994, even though he had been groomed for the leadership for 20 years and had been de facto regent for his ailing father from some time. And there is only a year left before Lee’s term ends.

      When former President Roh Moo-hyun announced his own inter-Korean summit in 2007, Lee denounced the moves as a "blatant political move" ahead of the presidential election. At the time Lee said many people "question the purpose of the summit toward the end of the presidential term" and urged Roh to leave the job to the next government. And indeed none of the agreements from the summit came to fruition.

      Kim's age will affect his relationship with future South Korean presidents in a culture that still sets great store by seniority, experts say. "Considering how important age and experience are in Korean culture, future presidents may not be as enthusiastic about another inter-Korean summit."

      China invited Kim junior immediately after his father died, even though Chinese President Hu Jintao is 40 years older than the new leader. Even Vice President Xi Jinping, widely tipped as the next Chinese leader, is 30 years older than Kim. "Although China will treat him as a head of state, it will be difficult to have any meaningful conversation," one South Korean diplomat speculated.

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