The two Koreas had a working-level dialogue Friday, discussing details of an upcoming summit, such as itinerary, protocol, security, and media report. The working-level talks was held only four days before President Moon-Jae-in leaves for Pyongyang. The South Korean delegates will travel to Pyongyang by plane and the advance party will leave on Tuesday. It was just Friday at the opening ceremony that North Korea said it appointed Jon Jong Su, vice chairman of North Korea’s Committee for Peaceful Reunification, as head of the joint liaison office. The asymmetrical relations between the two Koreas, where all bilateral talks and events are held according to the North’s schedule and important issues are notified on the very day of an event, seems to have become a norm.
This is the third inter-Korean summit being held in Pyongyang but none has had a working-level meeting at the last minute like this. The advance party, including the security team, should already have arrived in Pyongyang and completed all preparations by now. A total of five working-level talks were held from three weeks before the April 27 inter-Korean summit at Panmunjom. North Korea must have been busy preparing for its Foundation Day ceremony on September 9 but it is worrisome if the inter-Korean summit can proceed without a hitch when it has been hastily prepared like this.
In the past two inter-Korean summits held in Pyongyang, North Korea did not inform the South properly of the detailed itinerary, keeping the South in the dark as to when Kim Jong Il would meet the South Korean president. In 2000, North Korea asked South Korea to postpone the meeting by one day citing lack of preparations as a reason and in 2007, it offered to stay for one more day on the spot. The North frequently changed previously arranged schedule.
These practices should not be repeated again. Even more so now that Pyongyang has learned international practice through the inter-Korean summit in April and the U.S.-North Korea summit in Singapore. A summit meeting between the two Koreas should be held with sufficient prior consultation on detailed schedule, itinerary, and agenda. The same is applied to a surprise event as it is impolite to cause embarrassment to the other country.
It is not an exaggeration to say the formality determines the content in summit meetings. Critics point out that the South Korean government is not only tolerating the North’s arbitrary behaviors but also catering to the North when determining the key agendas of the summit. When the North shut down its nuclear and missile test sites, President Moon said, “North Korea has taken measures to give up its future nuclear weapons.” Making a remark that sounds like the president is speaking on behalf of North Korea, rather than urging the North to work toward denuclearization will only encourage Kim Jong Un’s arrogance.