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After summit, Koreas get down to work

By Felix Soh, The Straits Times, 17 July 2000

Since the event, there have been several high-level meetings in the South, with one major task: Fix the date for Kim Jong Il’s visit to Seoul

AFTER the burst of euphoria, North and South Korea have buckled down to hard work to implement follow-up action to the historic summit last month between their two leaders.

We are kept very, very busy, Ambassador Park Kim Woo, a special envoy of South Korean President Kim Dae Jung’s, told The Straits Times.

He was on a swing through Canada, Malaysia and Singapore to brief the governments of these countries on the meeting of the Two Kims’President Kim and North Korean Chairman Kim Jong Il’as well as to thank them for supporting the mid-June summit.

Since the event, President Kim has presided over several high-level meetings to get officials to translate what was agreed on into action.

One major task: Fix the date for Chairman Kim’s visit to Seoul. President Kim had travelled to Pyongyang for the first-ever North-South summit.

Chairman Kim had accepted the invitation to visit South Korea at an appropriate time.

The timing would probably be chosen after the review of progress at a high-level meeting this month, said Mr Park, who was the dean of the graduate school of NGO (non-governmental organisations) Studies at Kyung Hee University.

Seoul’s Ambassador to the US from 1995-98, he led the country’s delegation at the four-party talks last month between the two Koreas, China and the US.

He pointed out: It shouldn’t be a one-shot event. We have to implement what has been agreed on. The high-level meeting this month will give clear directions.

Several projects are in the pipeline. One is the reunion of separated families on Aug 15, the 55th anniversary of the end of World War II which saw Korea’s liberation from Japanese rule and its subsequent division.

A survey team would be travelling to the North to examine how the private sector could invest there. There would also be social and infrastructural projects, such as the linking of railways.

What about efforts at reunification?

He answered: Reunification may take decades. Moves towards this should be step-by-step. We can’t jump immediately into difficult areas but tackle the easier ones first.

He also revealed President Kim’s impressions of his North Korean counterpart.

His observation was that Kim Jong Il was know- ledgeable, the ambassador said.

He had substantial understanding of issues, including that concerning the presence of US troops in South Korea.

Also, the North Korean leader could make accommodations, as reflected in his on-the-spot agreement to stop the almost-daily renunciation of the South by Pyongyang’s propaganda machinery at the demilitarised zone.

He has kept his word, noted Ambassador Park.

Another example was when high-ranking North Korean generals changed from military uniforms to Western-style suits to attend the official dinner in honour of President Kim.

Asked about criticism by some South Koreans that President Kim had made too many concessions to the North, he said: In a democratic society, people have different points of view.

But the majority of the people has fully accepted that it is the only way, he added.

An opinion poll by the Unification Ministry showed that 96.7 per cent of South Koreans believed the summit was beneficial.

Said Ambassador Park: It might be an extra burden for Southerners but this would be far better than the destruction of war.