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Paris, Saturday, June 10, 2000

Differing Goals for Korean Summit

By Philip Bowring International Herald Tribune.
HONG KONG - North and South Korea, China, the United States and Japan all have different hopes for the upcoming summit in Pyongyang of the two Kims. But the signs so far are encouraging that some progress can be made on enough issues to satisfy both participants and the key spectators. The concerns of all the other parties come together in the issue of the North's willingness to engage with the outside world.

Last week's rare and surprise visit to Beijing by North Korea's leader, Kim Jong Il, has very publicly associated China with progress at the meeting, which begins Monday. So Kim Jong Il is unlikely to act in a way that is contrary to the interests of his giant neighbor and major benefactor. He will at least give the impression of more flexible policies at home and abroad.

For the South, the issues of family reunion and economic cooperation are the top concerns. Security is a lesser consideration if only because the South feels secure enough in the combination of its own economic strength and the U.S. umbrella. South Korea's leader, Kim Dae Jung, has invested much political capital in his ''sunshine policy'' towards the North and needs to extract some political gain from his opposite number. Yet he is hemmed in by the South's democratic system and his lack of majority in the legislature. The South wants progress but is uncertain what price to pay and whether any trust is possible.

The family reunion issue is important for emotional reasons and as a test of the North's willingness to allow more direct contacts with the South, thus threatening to expose its failures to its own people. Economic links are similar. The South may be able to afford large scale aid, but that will be acceptable at home only if it is accompanied by a real opening of the North to capital and trade.

For the North, the summit may simply mean that it is taking a different tack in its efforts to develop international ties without significantly changing its domestic policies. Agreeing to the meeting may well have started as a way of extracting more money from the South.

Whether or not it is the precursor to economic liberalization, the North is clearly attempting to play on the South's heartstrings by ending old rhetoric about the South as U.S. ''puppet'' and implying that Korean problems be settled by Koreans. The meeting is being presented to the North as evidence of the Dear Leader's concern for the Korean people.

Washington should be happy with anything that reduces peninsula tensions and makes the North less keen to play international troublemaker. Kim Jong Il will have to understand, even if Kim Dae Jung does not say so directly, that strategic weapons issues cannot be ignored altogether if the North wants dialogue with (and money from) Japan and the United States.

Japan is eager to play a role in Korea, if only to keep China from being the main Asian arbiter on the peninsula. But no big checks will be forthcoming.

For China the ultimate goal must be to make the Korean peninsula a nuclear and U.S. troop-free zone. The two Koreas may dream of unification, and both Kims will play to this nationalist theme. But China has scant desire to see one Korea. A united Vietnam is trouble enough for Beijing. So China hopes that pragmatic policies would strengthen the state by increasing prosperity, reducing the threat of an eventual populist explosion creating disorder or sudden unification. At the same time, an end to North-South confrontation would eliminate the need for foreign forces in territory that China regards as its natural tributary.

The outcome will primarily be determined by the one man whose goals and motives are the most obscure, Kim Jong Il. Is he finally coming around to the wisdom of Beijing's policies of opening and economic reform? Or will he seek to provide a new legitimacy to his regime by replacing old ideology and militarist rhetoric with appeals to Korean brotherhood? Or is this summit just a tactical maneuver that is part of no strategy other than survival, just another bid to improve relations with the outside world and raise some cash without changing anything at home?