The first meeting ever between the leaders of North and South Korea sparked friendship between former foes and produced an historic accord that pledges both countries to “work independently” on common ground issues to achieve “national unification”.
South Korean President Kim Dea Jung, who in the 90’s crafted a fresh “Sunshine Policy” of engagement toward the communist North, declared, “An era of conciliation and cooperation has begun. The hopes and dreams of the people have been realized.”
The most amazing development in the summit of June 13-15, 2000 in Pyongyang, the North Korean capital, was the emerging picture of the once-reclusive North Korean ruler, Kim Jong Il II, as statesmanlike, gregarious and gracious. Scenes of camaraderie and congeniality, and hand-holding while singing “Our Wish is for Unification,” shocked both Koreans and Westerners alike. “He really showed he’s not the evilish character living in a dark cave that we thought he was,” a South Korean official conceded.
The historic agreement between government officials who still maintain heavily fortified borders, calls for reunions of tens of thousands of families split apart since before the Korean war, discussion of political prisoners held in the South, and regular meetings. There will also be new cultural exchanges, such as the possibility of fielding a united Korean soccer team in the Olympics.
The two Kims spent more than three hours in private discussions that also produced an unprecedented promise from the host to visit his counterpart in the South.
“I have to admit it was a tough decision for him,” Kim Dae Jung, 75, said. “I told him that (he) must visit Seoul if we are to believe the relations between North and South will improve. I said, ‘An old man has come to visit you, and a young man should return the courtesy,’ Chairman Kim said yes.”
Throngs of South Koreans gathered in their country’s parks to watch on television the triumphal send-off their leader was given at the conclusion of the summit. They were transfixed by the images of Kim Jong Il, who embraced his new partner, and then stood waving as the plane departed.
The South Korean government has indicated it may spend billions of dollars in the reconstruction of North Korea, including building 15 miles of track between the two railway systems, connecting what Kim Dae Jung calls a “new Silk Road”.
“If we go into North Korea to build roads, infrastructure, harbors…the benefits will go to both North and South,” he said referring to the businessmen ready to create the resulting jobs, commerce, and profit.
After the accord had been signed, he declared, “The Korean people are one…We can do away with the border in time…We are at a starting point in history.”