The Korean summit

The leaders of North and South Korea have wrapped up their meetings in Pyongyang.

They seem to be saying all the right things. Both called for a nuclear-free peninsula and a peace agreement to finally end the war. But this is just political drivel. An agreement to further talks and calling for things is progress of the most minor nature.

However, there’s also a deal on developing shared economic and tourist projects. The North’s economy — which is only about 3% the size of the South’s — is in tatters and it badly needs outside help. But is this a further step along the road toward reunification or a way of using outside resources to shore up a shaky regime? Billions of dollars (or trillions of won as the case is here) could go a long way to keeping the playboy, cognac-loving Kim Jong-il in the style to which he has become accustomed (cynicism on my part?).

The Wall Street Journal notes:

The agreement is so vague — lacking deadlines, incentives and penalties — that it leaves both countries free to pursue it at their own pace. The only short-term goal in the pact is a decision that the countries’ second-highest officials will meet next month in Seoul for more discussion.

However, local analysts are upbeat:

“The summit produced better results than many earlier predicted, especially in economic cooperation and peace,” said Kim Yeon-Chul, a professor at Korea University’s Asiatic Research Centre.

From AFP:

The leaders’ joint declaration said: “The South and North will not take a hostile stance towards each other and will reduce military tension and resolve issues of conflict through dialogue and negotiation.”

It called for a summit by leaders of “three or four countries” to declare a formal end to the Korean War.

The United States and China also fought in the Korean War on opposite sides, meaning their signatures are necessary to finish it.

Reunification is a goal politicians in the South have been pursuing for many years. This is perfectly understandable, given the number of families separated by the armistice in 1953 and the 4,000-year or so history of the Korean nation.

Economically, it would be a disaster. Germany is only just getting over its unification, and North Korea is in far worse shape than East Germany was. Famine is common and the populace is frequently malnourished. Recent flooding and storms caused more havoc. Whether the South Korean electorate will be content to bear the enormous cost of absorbing their northern neighbours is unclear to me.

The Koreas would be best going for a process of gradual equalisation. The North needs a lot of work, but taking it all on in one go would cripple the South. Building up the former’s economy by expanding the capitalist economic zones may be the way to go. Although a solid performance north of the 38th parallel might actually hinder reunification efforts — due to the domestic propaganda boost for the regime — the Kim dynasty won’t last forever. Now is the time to build for the future.

Or am I just being idealistic?

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