- The Washington Times - Monday, June 12, 2000

The Korean summit

Asian affairs always have been of special interest to this newspaper, which maintains one of our only two overseas bureaus in Tokyo, and we intend to provide definitive coverage of the historic summit between the two Korean presidents beginning tomorrow in Pyongyang.
That will be a tall order, given the closed and highly secretive nature of the regime in Pyongyang a government that often leaves even its few friends in the international community confused about its intentions.
That bewilderment extends even to China, North Korea's nearest thing to an ally since the collapse of the Soviet Union, or so I was told during a visit to Beijing in February.
During a briefing with a senior Chinese official, I asked whether visiting North Korean officials were not impressed with the explosion of economic growth in China and anxious to emulate the free-market reforms that have produced Beijing's towering skyscrapers and modern factories.
The official grimaced and gave me a frustrated shake of his head.
"You know, we bring them here to Beijing, and we take them to Shanghai," now the most modern and developed city in China, he said. "We show them the buildings and the factories. And all they do is accuse us of having betrayed the revolution."
With that conversation in mind, I was particularly interested when the news broke just over a week ago that North Korean President Kim Jong-il had made a secret visit to Beijing, presumably to consult with Chinese leaders ahead of the summit.
It was Mr. Kim's first visit to China in 17 years, so far as anyone knows. Could it be, I wondered, that the "Dear Leader" would be affected by the sight of China's economic transformation in ways that his subordinates had not?
There have been plenty of signs that North Korea is toying with the idea of opening up to foreign investment, if not to political influences, and we have done our best to report them in our pages.
Ben Barber noted in the paper on Wednesday that North Korea has opened diplomatic relations this year with Italy and Australia and is negotiating with at least five other countries, including Britain and Germany.
And South Korea's commerce minister told us in a surprisingly frank interview a month ago that his country expects the summit to open the door to a "rush" of foreign direct investment in the North.

Our correspondent

Readers will find a very different interpretation of Mr. Kim's trip to China in our scene-setting article yesterday by Ed Neilan, our Tokyo correspondent, who is in Seoul for the summit and hopes to get to the North Korean capital.
Mr. Neilan, a longtime Asia hand with close connections in the region, writes that for many in South Korea, Mr. Kim's visit to computer installations and talks with Chinese officials were "ominous signs."
He supports his argument with comments from Lee Hwang-jin, a North Korean-born banker now living in Seoul, and from Chin Chul-soo, a one-time Seoul bureau chief for the Associated Press.
It is sometimes the fate of a foreign editor to be contradicted by his reporters. While I will resolutely not allow anything into the paper I believe to be factually wrong, it is another matter with analysis and interpretation, especially when it is supported from quotes from credible sources.
Mr. Neilan, after all, knows the region better than I do. He has lived continuously in Asia since he moved to Tokyo in 1986 at the end of a four-year stint as foreign editor of The Washington Times.
Mr. Neilan left the paper in 1992 but remained in Japan. Over the next several years, he enjoyed a distinguished career as a self-syndicated columnist, as a fellow with the Hoover Institution and as a visiting scholar or professor at various Asian universities. He came back to The Times as our Asia correspondent last year.
I expect that readers will become familiar with Mr. Neilan's byline in the coming days as he brings his special experience and insights to his coverage of the Pyongyang summit.

David W. Jones is foreign editor of The Washington Times. His e-mail is jones@twtmail.com.

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