December 27, 2011 13:07
New North Korean leader Kim Jong-un on Monday spent less than 10 minutes with a South Korean delegation led by Lee Hee-ho, the widow of former president Kim Dae-jung, and Hyundai Group chairwoman Hyun Jeong-eun. But experts have been busy speculating what kind of message their meeting sends.
The two women went to North Korea to offer their condolences on the death of former leader Kim Jong-il.
It was Kim Jong-un's first meeting with prominent South Koreans. Lee met his father when she was South Korea's first lady during the first inter-Korean summit in 2000. Hyun met Kim Jong-il three times to discuss Hyundai's business interests in North Korea, including package tours to Mt. Kumgang. Both women are symbols of inter-Korean cooperation.
By according them due protocol, experts say Kim Jong-un is sending an indirect message for more engagement with North Korea, which would primarily mean food aid as well as hard currency if the Mt. Kumgang tours, which were suspended in 2008, are to resume. North Korean urgently needs food and money for planned celebrations of regime founder Kim Il-sung's centenary next year.
Prof. Kim Sung-han of Korea University said, "Kim was sending a hopeful message that the South will revert to the sunshine policy" of engagement with the North, which was instituted by Lee's late husband. And Prof. Yang Moo-jin of the University of North Korean Studies in Seoul said the welcome "sends out an indirect message that he will carry on his father's legacy" of the June 15 Joint Declaration that emerged from the fist inter-Korean summit, and other inter-Korean cooperation projects.
But other pundits say the meeting could have unwelcome consequences. Prof. Kim Heung-kyu of Sungshin Women's University said, "Kim probably thought that meeting two respected political and business figures from the South over his father's body would strengthen his legitimacy, but Monday's meeting also has the potential to deepen conflict within South Korea."
The North has been trying to stoke up controversy over whether South Koreans should be allowed to visit the North to pay their respects after the government in principle banned such trips.
Some feel Kim took the opportunity to boost his position in the North. Prof. Kim Yong-hyun of Dongguk University said, "Meeting a delegation from South Korea is a very effective way to show that Kim Jong-un's regime is functioning well. It was a great chance for him to dispel doubts over his leadership because of his young age and show both his people and the world that he is in charge."
The North's state media did not report Monday's meeting in great detail, except to say that Kim Jong-un expressed "deep gratitude" to Lee and Hyun. Whether Kim gave the two women any verbal message to carry back to the South is not known.
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