Seven years after the first inter-Korean summit in 2000, the supreme leader of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK), Kim Jong-il, and the President of the Republic of Korea (ROK), Roh Moo-hyun, held talks in Pyongyang on October 4 and published an eight-point joint declaration, reiterating a clause in the June 15 Joint Declaration of 2000 that "the North and South, as masters of national unification, will join hands in efforts to resolve the issue of unification independently".
The latest inter-Korean summit was hailed throughout the world, but many people are not without misgivings about it, because the United States has interfered one way or another after each summit or senior official talks between the two Koreas and between the DPRK and Japan, making the meetings unable to bear fruits.
Back in 1972, the two sides of the Korean Peninsula published the July 4 Joint Declaration when then ROK President Pak Jung-hi's special envoy visited Pyongyang, emphasizing they would realize reconciliation under the principle of "independence from foreign interference, peaceful means and national unity". However, this process of reconciliation was suspended as a result of small skirmishes between the DPRK and US military personnel in the Panmujom demilitarized zone (DMZ) in 1975. And it was soon forgotten after Pak was assassinated in 1979.
In November 1988, Pyongyang proposed to Seoul again that the two sides hold high-level talks and received an enthusiastic response. On September 4, 1990, the premier of the DPRK crossed the DMZ to attend inter-Korea talks in Seoul. He was warmly welcomed by the ROK people.
Improved relations also helped advance the improvement of DPRK-Japan ties. In the same month when the first inter-Korean talks were held in 1972, the vice chief of Japan's ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), Shin Kanemaru, visited Pyongyang. He met with DPRK President Kim Il-sung and published a joint declaration afterwards, "calling for" early negotiations between the two governments on establishing diplomatic relations.
Considering the "king-maker" status of Kanemaru within the LDP, it would not be a stretch of the imagination to call this meeting a "summit" between the DPRK and Japan.
Just as the inter-Korean and DPRK-Japan ties improved, the US suddenly published satellite photos of nuclear facilities in Yongbyon, DPRK. The barely started DPRK-Japan negotiations over the establishment of diplomatic relations were brought to an abrupt halt, because nuclear development is such a sensitive issue in Japan.
Thanks to popular support in the ROK, reconciliation talks between the two Koreas resumed after a short stoppage and, in December 1991, the two sides signed the Joint Declaration on the Denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. The DPRK also signed a comprehensive safeguards agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in January 1992.
Unfortunately, the state of dtente on the Korean Peninsula was torpedoed afterwards. On February 9, 1993, the IAEA submitted to "strong prodding" by the US and demanded the DPRK accept a special inspection of its nuclear facilities after the smooth completion of a routine walk-through. The request infuriated Pyongyang, which announced on March 12, 1993 that it would pull out of the Treaty of Nonproliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT treaty). As a result, the first nuclear crisis on the Korean Peninsula erupted; though it should be pointed out the DPRK move did not violate any of the clauses in the NPT treaty.
In June 1994, the situation on the Korean Peninsula was on the brink of exploding as negotiations between the DPRK and the US ended in stalemate, while the war cry of a US aerial attack on the DPRK's nuclear facilities reached a high pitch.
Meanwhile, former US President Jimmy Carter arrived in Pyongyang, where he and DPRK leader Kim Il-sung reached a consensus on international compensation for the freezing of the DPRK's nuclear facilities in return for Pyongyang to stay in the nuclear nonproliferation system. Though Kin Il-sung passed away not long afterwards, the common understanding he reached with Carter led to the signing of the US-DPRK Framework on nuclear Issues on October 12, 1994.
On the precondition that the DPRK freezes all its nuclear facilities, an international consortium led by the US would build two light-water reactors for the DPRK and supply heavy oil for power generation in the DPRK until the first light-water reactor is online.
The framework agreement also brought progress in DPRK-ROK relations. In 1998, then ROK President Kim Dae-jung announced after taking office his "Sunshine Policy". In June 2000, he visited Pyongyang and met with Kim Jung-il to accomplish the first inter-Korean summit. According to the June15 Joint Declaration the two leaders announced after their summit meeting, they would reconnect motorways and railways linking the north and south and set up an industrial park in the DPRK border town of Kaesong to attract investment from ROK businesses.
The DPRK-US relations "warmed up" immediately as well. In October 2000, the vice- chairman of the DPRK's National Defense Committee, Marshal Jo Myong-rok, met with US President Bill Clinton during a visit to Washington. US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright paid a visit to Pyongyang and had talks with Kim Jung-il later that month.
However, since the Republican administration of President George W. Bush took over the White House in January 2001, the US government has labeled the DPRK a "rogue state" and part of "the axis of evil", sending US-DPRK relations into a nosedive. The Kim Dae-jung government of the ROK, under tremendous pressure from Washington, drastically slowed down the pace to improve its ties with the DPRK.
In the meantime, Japan's DPRK policy took a surprising turn in the opposite direction. In September 2002, former Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi held talks with Kim Jung-il in Pyongyang. The two leaders published the Pyongyang Declaration after their meeting, which said the DPRK agreed to resolve the issue of kidnapped Japanese nationals (in the post-Korean War era), while Japan agreed to resume negotiations over the establishment of diplomatic ties.
Though Koizumi stressed it was an "informal" visit, his meeting with Kim Jung-il was a bona fide "summit" nonetheless.
Regrettably history later "repeated" itself once again, as the US government claimed on October 16, 2002, that the DPRK told US Assistant Secretary of State James Kelly during a visit to Pyongyang earlier that month it had carried out another nuclear program after freezing its Yongbyon nuclear facilities. The US said this breached the 1994 framework agreement. Therefore, the US announced, it would impose sanctions against the DPRK, including the suspension of heavy oil supply and the construction of light-water reactor units for Pyongyang.
The DPRK hit back by saying it had continued nuclear development in response to threats posed by the Bush administration and announced on December 22, 2002 it would unfreeze its nuclear programs and formally pulled out of the NPT treaty on January 10, 2003, setting off the second Korean nuclear crisis.
Despite Koizumi's second visit to Pyongyang in May 2004, Japan-DPRK relations failed to recover but in fact worsened.
Through mediation by China, the Six-Party Talks among China, Japan, the ROK, the DPRK, Russia and the US were launched in August 2003 in Beijing. After more than two years, the participating countries finally approved unanimously the Joint Statement on September 19, 2005, at the second phase of the fourth round of the Six-Party Talks.
The DPRK committed in the Joint Statement to abandon all nuclear weapons and existing nuclear programs and return to the NPT treaty; the US affirmed it had no nuclear weapons on the Korean Peninsula and had no intention to attack the DPRK; while China, Japan, the ROK, Russia and the US stated their willingness to provide energy assistance to the DPRK.
But, the Joint Statement was terminated after it went into implementation because of US financial sanctions against a Macao-based bank accused of laundering and counterfeiting money for the DPRK. The DPRK conducted several missile tests on July 6, 2006 and an underground nuclear explosion on October 9 that year. The tension on the Korean Peninsula moved up a notch immediately.
The Six-Party Talks rekindled people's hopes when the Initial Actions for the Implementation of the Joint Statement was announced at the second phase of the fifth round of talks. The DPRK would invite back IAEA personnel to conduct all necessary monitoring and verifications; while DPRK-US and DPRK-Japan bilateral talks aimed at resolving pending bilateral issues would be started.
During the recent inter-Korean summit, the second phase of the sixth round of the Six-Party Talks published the second phase action for the implementation of the joint statement, which announced the DPRK would complete the disablement of its Yongbyon nuclear facilities by the end of this year.
To sum up, both the Six-Party Talks aimed at resolving the Korean nuclear crisis and the second inter-Korean summit have sent an optimistic signal to the rest of the world. However, with the behavior of the US following previous DPRK-ROK and DPRK-Japan summit meetings, one cannot but feel pessimistic and concerned.
This is because, despite the fact that the ROK and Japan are US allies in Northeast Asia, it is Washington's standing policy to let no one but the US itself do whatever it pleases, which means there is no way the US will allow the power of political leadership in the Asia-Pacific region from escaping from its grasp. Now the ROK is attempting to improve its relations with the DPRK again, but certainly not without the blessing of the US.
If anyone wants to know whether the US will give the Korean people a chance this time to realize national unification, I do not think we can give a proper answer. We can only "wait and see".
The author is a professor at the China Foreign Affairs University.