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With Summit, 2 Kims Score Points Against Critics

Asia: Leaders have staked political capital on rapprochement, which would also benefit China and region's people.

June 16, 2000|MARK MAGNIER and SONNI EFRON | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

Managing public opinion is much easier in totalitarian North Korea than in the South, with the latter's irrepressible media and strong conservative opposition.

Kim Jong Il has already taken the leap by mobilizing 600,000 people on the streets of Pyongyang to cheer Kim Dae Jung, said Kwak Tae Hwan, president of the Korea Institute for National Unification.

"The citizens of Pyongyang are the most important element--the people in the countryside just follow the leader. There is no problem," Kwak said. "In South Korea, yes, we have a problem. We have lots of problems ahead of us."

North Korea is gambling that entente will bring direct and tangible benefits--such as food and money--that will help the government maintain its legitimacy in the short term despite any ideological losses, said Korea University's Choi.

But in the long run, the Northern regime will face the same threats from technology, information and globalization seen by totalitarian governments elsewhere in the world. Kim Dae Jung's strategy is to help Pyongyang with aid and development, tap its cheap labor and build goodwill and infrastructure that are also in South Korea's interest.

Some see this as a way to lure the North out of its isolation, reassuring Kim Jong Il that his regime is secure and unchallenged.

"Everyone has to keep up the pretense that nothing will happen to the North Korean regime, [that] you can open up and keep your power [and] we'll help you make deals with the [International Monetary Fund] and World Bank," said Yonsei's Hahm. "But ultimately, we hope it does undermine them. It's the Trojan horse."

Others prefer to call this the "poisoned carrot" strategy and say it is a big mistake. But a U.S. official recently remarked: " 'Poisoned carrot' sounds deceptive. The North is too smart to be deceived, and it is not our goal to deceive them. Rather, we are suggesting a path that is in the mutual interest of all parties involved, including North Korea."

This approach, which is articulated by Kim Dae Jung and endorsed by the Clinton administration, involves offering the North incentives to join the global market economy and helping it reap the benefits.

The overarching promise from Kim Dae Jung is that his nation will not seek to destabilize or absorb its poorer neighbor.

Analysts said China, which benefits from the status quo--a divided Korean peninsula--is a big beneficiary of Wednesday's agreement. Some believe that Beijing was also an architect, discussing summit terms and strategy during Kim Jong Il's visit to China late last month.

China would be hurt most if deteriorating conditions in North Korea pushed more refugees across its borders, requiring costly subsidies to prop up its Communist ally. But analysts say China does not want a unified Korea that brings U.S. troops to its border.

Pyongyang has previously thrived on creating conflict. But Kwak, of the unification institute, argues that the Northern leader is unlikely now to reverse course and ratchet up military tensions.

At the final luncheon between the leaders, Kim Jong Il told a Southern delegate that he had ordered his military to refrain from criticizing the South or showing force, the South's culture minister, Park Jie Won, said Thursday. Kim also ordered the military not to hold any ceremonies to mark the June 25 anniversary of the start of the Korean War.

Said Kwak: "I don't think Kim Jong Il has any intention of provoking a military conflict. If he does, he's stupid, which I don't think is the case."

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