03 October 2007

Summit Redux

The leaders of the two Koreas are meeting. No one is quite sure what for, but there will be talk of an end to hostilities and an increase in economic relations. People are wondering at the apparent sudden moderation of the North Korean leadership, with a reduction of international tensions and the welcoming to Pyongyang of the South Korean leader. In South Korea, there is concern that the trip to North Korea is just a political stunt by the president.

The summit occurs in the context of the regional powers and their interactions. Russian President Vladimir Putin appears full of surprises, no one knows just what he will do next, but Moscow’s comments seem to point toward a looming return to the Cold War. China is trying to look economically friendly for the United States while at the same time pursuing a policy of naval expansion that alarms its neighbors and Washington. In Japan, there has been a change in Prime Ministers, the LDP is unstable, and there is open talk of changing Japan’s longstanding defense policies (predicated on the pacifist post-World War II constitution). The United States, meanwhile, is still dealing with the political aftermath of its latest overseas war, where violence continues, and is looking to build up Australia and Japan as close strategic partners in Asia.

The year is 2000. The summit is between Kim Jong Il and Kim Dae Jung.

How little has changed, how much has changed.

In 2000, the summit was all the news all the time.
In 2007, it is barely noticed.

In 2000, there was a groundbreaking coming out party for the mysterious Kim Jong Il.
In 2007, Kim is a known entity.

In 2000, there was real hope and concern for some fundamental shift in inter-Korean relations.
In 2007, reality prevails, and the geopolitical constraints on the two Koreas are more than obvious to all.

Inter-Korean cooperation is a positive thing, much preferable to constant hostilities. Inter-Korean trade has more than tripled since 2000. North Korea has expanded its international diplomatic ties. There are still concerns about North Korean political behavior at home, human rights and of course nukes. But the two Koreas are operating within a closed system. Their options are shaped by their neighbors. The thought of a 70-million strong nuclear and missile armed technologically proficient and resource rich unified Korea is still there, but the timing is much further in the future.

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