That is Korean for "when," and it has become the hot question
here: When will North Korean leader Kim Jong Il pay a visit to
South Korea, as he promised during the extraordinary inter-Korean
summit a year ago?
The first meeting between the leaders of the capitalist South and
communist North since the division of the peninsula more than half a
century ago took place last June. But the North's Chairman Kim has
still not confirmed any plans for a reciprocal visit.
That looks especially bad for the South's Kim, whose popularity
has been sagging despite international recognition for his
"sunshine policy," which won him last year's Nobel Peace Prize.
With few other aspects of North-South reconciliation on track -
negotiations, an inter-Korean railroad, a hotline, and family
reunions are all on hold - the elusive visit is evolving into a
hoop that must be jumped through before the show can go on.
"Not long ago, I asked North Korea to inform us of when Chairman
Kim Jong Il will be able to visit Seoul. I want to remind them
again today," South Korea's Kim said earlier this month.
Some say that such statements only make President Kim appear
weaker, groveling for equal treatment from his younger, poorer
counterpart. Yet a visit by Chairman Kim appears to have been
elevated to the top of the South Korean government's wish list of
CBMs - diplomatese for confidence-building measures.
"We may be putting too much emphasis on a ... visit," says former
foreign minister Han Sung-joo. "We want him to come and yet when he
does we don't know what that will do. It may divide South Korean
Some analysts here say that President Kim is falling in line with
popular sentiment, which seems to be abuzz with one demand from
North Korea: reciprocity. That is also the catchphrase of the Bush
administration, whose newly jelled North Korea policy is
"comprehensive reciprocity." a term understood to include
discussions of everything from nuclear missiles to the last tank
posted along the heavily-armed "demilitarized zone" between North
and South Korea.
Others wonder whether the importance President Kim is placing on
a visit could provide a stumbling block to more substantive issues.
"They're turned the visit into a litmus test of the credibility of
the North Korean leadership," says Scott Snyder, the Asia
Foundation's representative in Seoul.
That is not to disparage the significance of a trip by Kim to
South Korea, a country that still harbors mistrust toward him.
Korea's Confucian roots, which holds elders and ancestors in great
esteem, mean that the older Kim's calling on the younger Kim first
seems out of the natural order. The lack of a return visit could be
perceived as an insult.
Moreover, history has proved the potential power of a leader's
visit to "enemy" territory. From President Nixon's visit to China
to Anwar Sadat's visit to Jerusalem, state sojourns have opened
doors and proved more than symbolic.
But many say Chairman Kim seems far from ready to fling open
North Korea's doors to the world. A visit would subject him, for
example, to the feisty South Korean press. At last June's summit in
Pyongyang, 50 South Korean journalists were allowed in under tight
supervision, but virtually no other foreign press.
"The summit last year was a highly orchestrated affair, and
that's a lot easier to do in Pyongyang," says Kyongsoo Lho, a
professor of International Politics at Seoul National University.
"North Koreans will be worried about how their image is portrayed
in the South."
North Korea's leader will probably use the visit to barter for
tangibles. The country desperately needs aid in the form of food,
funds, and electricity.
Perhaps "one of the main reasons Kim Jong Il hasn't showed up yet
is that a lot of economic benefits that were hinted at the
beginning of this process have not come through," adds Mr. …