- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 11, 2000

SEOUL The China card adds an element of intrigue to the historic North-South Korea summit that begins Tuesday, reviving memories in Seoul of Chinese intervention in the Korean war that left the peninsula divided.

The summit, initially scheduled to begin tomorrow, has been delayed one day at North Korea's request for "technical reasons."

The first-ever meeting of South and North Korean leaders will take place in the North's capital, Pyongyang, prompting hope that the 1953 truce will someday be replaced with a permanent peace and unification of the two rivals.

Few expect the three-day summit between North Korean leader Kim Jong-il and South Korean President Kim Dae-jung to yield a major breakthrough or to change the military balance on the peninsula, where 37,000 U.S. troops remain in the South.

Nevertheless, the last-minute playing of the China card by North Korea has raised both the stakes and the level of emotions surrounding the historic event.

Kim Jong-il elevated China's presence as a behind-the-scenes power broker with a surprise visit to Beijing last month.

The trip by train, of course, since Mr. Kim has the same aversion to airplanes as his late father, Kim Il-sung was said by diplomats to be another sign that North Korea is trying to end its Cold War isolation.

Pyongyang recently established relations with Italy and Australia and has held talks with numerous countries on possible diplomatic ties, including the United States, Britain and Japan.

China fought on North Korea's side in the 1950-53 Korean War.

Beijing normalized ties with South Korea in 1992 and has developed active trade relations.

For the man in the street in Seoul, news of Kim Jong-il's visit to computer installations in Beijing and talks with Chinese officials were ominous signs.

China's role, even unseen, will have a "scary effect" on the summit, said North Korea-born Seoul banker Lee Hwang-jin.

Meaningful North-South talks have been a long time coming, but there have been several notable false starts, particularly in the 1970s.

Retired journalist Chin Chul-soo reminisced in Seoul recently over the 1972 Red Cross Talks, in which intelligence operatives from both sides pretending to be Red Cross officials, met in Pyongyang. They were accompanied by the first coterie of South Korean press members since the Korean War.

Mr. Chin, who now lives in Silver Spring, Md., was known by his nickname Charlie in the 1960s when he served as the Associated Press Seoul bureau chief. He relayed his doubts about tomorrow's summit:

"The North Koreans may be on the ropes economically, but don't even talk about 'collapse,' " he said.

"I don't trust them. They've got a second wind through fresh moral and probably advisory support from China. It may mean a new ball game. Does the U.S. have the stomach to go extra innings in Korea?" Mr. Chin asked.

"When I went to Pyongyang in 1972, we were briefed by Korean Central Intelligence Agency (KCIA) chief Lee Hu-rak, who told us the North at the time had an economic and military advantage but that the South, under President Park Chung-hee, was gaining.

The South (population 46.8 million) gained ground dramatically to become the United States' ninth largest trading partner. The North (population 23.8 million) has faced food shortages and today has a Gross Domestic Product (GDP) per capita of $741 to the South's $13,366, according to statistics compiled by the Heritage Foundation in Washington.

After the fall of the Berlin Wall, speculation about unification raged in Seoul. Its university research centers and other think tanks studied the prospects of how and when and the all-important how much it would cost.

Public sentiments in the South today hold that unification would be too disruptive and too expensive.

Literally millions of Chinese served in Korea during the war and the years following, and more than 300,000 were decorated.

Some Chinese military advisers were seen in North Korea through the 1950s, but most forces had left by 1957.

The North Korean army was Russian-equipped and trained, but, aside from some technical personnel and pilots, Russians did not take part in the Korean War directly.

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