Diplomatic Demeanor and Words
By Kim Ji-soo
When former U.S. President Bill Clinton visited North Korea last week to bring back home two detained U.S. journalists, his journey was swift and all business.
He stayed just over a day, arriving in a private jet in the morning, meeting with the North Korean leader Kim Jong-il at night before flying back home with the journalists.
One might think he might have been relishing a meeting with the leader he almost met during the last leg of his presidency. But Clinton was expressionless in his photos when meeting with Kim, marking a wide contrast to the widely beaming North Korean leader.
In fact, I haven't seen the North Korean leader happier. In an unprecedented manner, the North Korean state media swiftly reported on the arrival of Clinton in Pyongyang and immediately channeled out the photos of the two.
Mission accomplished on both sides ― or at least on the matter of detained U.S. journalists. The post-trip interpretation was that citizen Clinton kept a stoic face to emphasize his trip was not an official one and in no way a change in the U.S. administration's approach toward North Korea concerning its nuclear capacity.
To drive home the point, the United States said that the assets of (North) Korea Kwangson Banking Corp. (KKBC) would be frozen and Americans prohibited from engaging in transactions with the bank. What we can do on the sidelines is wait and see how the North ― just when they thought they received due recognition from the United Sates ― will respond.
The trip by Hyun Jung-eun, Hyundai Group chairwoman, to North Korea differs on many fronts. While both Clinton and Hyun were selected by North Korea to pay a visit, the nature of Hyun's visit seems to lie in the economic interests between the two countries.
The detention of a Hyundai Asan worker, the 44-year-old man identified only as Yu, has put into question the future of the Gaeseong Industrial Zone. The death of a South Korean tourist last July has stopped tourism to the scenic Mt. Geumgang in North Korea.
Then, in December last year, the North halted Hyundai-run tourism to Gaeseong as well as limiting passage to the Gaeseong Industrial Complex. The halting of these businesses no doubt has dented its already fragile economy. And, with the North seemingly in a more conciliatory mode with the rest of the world, it is likely to pursue mainly economic interests with the South.
Hyun has already extended her original three-day stay for another day and North Korea watchers forecast that she will secure the release of her employee. However, where is the shuffle in North Korea's pace that we saw in their dealings with Bill Clinton?
It is this dilemma that South Korea finds itself in again: the harsh reality of the North wanting political negotiations with the United States while gaining immediate economic gains from the South, even as the overarching calls for one Korea remain.
If Hyun should successfully secure the release of the Hyundai Asan employee, what diplomatic demeanor can Seoul strike regarding the possible resumption of inter-Korean tours or to obtain the release of the four fisherman of Yeonan who were towed to North Korea on July 30?