Summit in retrospect
The Nuclear Security Summit in Seoul has just concluded, issuing the ``Seoul Communiqué” ― a strong political commitment by world leaders on nuclear and radiological security. The summit meeting, ensuring the continuity of the Washington Nuclear Security Summit of 2010, made new progress on nuclear safety and security interface.
Judging from the volatile situation on the Korean peninsula surrounding the issue of North Korea’s impending rocket launch, the Nuclear Security Summit in Seoul was very significant in terms of timing and venue.
The 2012 Seoul Summit was also a historical event to Koreans in terms of the nature, scale and significance. It was the first time in Korea’s several-millennia-history that Korean citizens were able to witness such a large number of international leaders visiting Korea at the same time for a single event. Reflecting the seriousness of the topics that were discussed, the number of registered journalists covering the Summit also surpassed a remarkable 3,000.
Just two decades ago, when the Korean news media reported about ``summit meetings,” it used to refer to ``bilateral meetings” between heads of states of Korea and its counterpart. Here are some examples:
In April of 1985, incumbent President Chun Doo-hwan of Korea made a state visit to the United States of America to attend a summit meeting with then President Ronald Reagan. Having been caught up by domestic political controversies over the legitimacy of his coming into power and the future of Kim Dae-jung who was under house arrest, President Chun and his aides may have considered that the summit meeting with the U.S. President to be an opportunity to calm down domestic and foreign criticism. President Chun’s arrival at the White House and the summit meeting with President Reagan was covered live by Korean television networks. I was the then Korean Broadcasting System (KBS) ―Washington correspondent at the time.
One day in June, 1990, the Fairmont Hotel in San Francisco, California was packed with 400 journalists covering the first summit meeting between Korea and the Soviet Union. The General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, Mikhail Gorbachev agreed to have a brief and closed meeting with Korean President Roh Tae-woo at the end of his visit to the United States. For Korea, this meeting was the beginning of genuine dialogue on establishing diplomatic relations with the communist bloc nations. As the press secretary to President Roh Tae-woo at the time, I presided over the news conference that was held at the Fairmont hotel after the summit meeting.
In 2000, President Kim Dae-jung made a historic visit to Pyongyang, North Korea, for a summit meeting with the North Korean leader Kim Jong-il. Though the current relation between the two countries has stalemated, the South-North Korea Summit Meeting of 2000 at the time was considered to be the beginning of détente between the two halves of the Korean Peninsula.
Efforts for the thawing of South-North relations under the Sunshine Policy continued until the second South and North Korea summit meeting between South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun and the North Korean leader, Kim Jong-il in 2007. At the time, President Roh chose to travel by a car instead of airplane for his visit to North Korea. President Roh, crossing over the Military Demarcation Line by foot, stated that his gesture would symbolize the future reunification of Korea.
As time passed, Korea has been selected to host more significant events and discussions in a larger scale not only for international politics but also for sports and entertainment gatherings. In November 2005, the heads of the twenty one Pacific-rim member economies gathered in the southern city of Busan for the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Summit to discuss measures for economic cooperation throughout the Asia-Pacific region.
In 2010, world leaders met in Seoul for the G20 Seoul Summit to discuss ways to salvage the world economy. And just recently, leaders representing over 50 nations around the world, visited Korea to attend the Nuclear Security Summit 2012. These phenomena were attributed partially to the results of Korea’s continued economic growth. During the G20 Seoul Summit, some Korean and foreign media journalists reported that the meeting was a demonstration of Korea’s elevated international standing. This assessment was welcomed by many Koreans who remembered the shocking and humiliating financial crisis in the 1990s when the nation had to be bailed out to the tune of billions by the international community.
Timed with hosting the G20 Seoul Summit, Korea was admitted to the OECD’s Development Assistance Committee. Reshaping itself from a global aid receiver to a donor, Korea has emerged as a country with more responsibilities to help other developing nations nurture growth potential and stand on their own feet. ``Climbing higher up, the farther you can see, but the colder you may feel.” It is my belief. Becoming a member of the ``venue and voice” of the world's major donor countries should not lead to boasting of Korea’s elevated prestige in the international community, but instead should reflect the spirit of sharing and cooperation.
The Nuclear Security Summit in Seoul was an opportunity for Korea to demonstrate an active and moderating role in enhancing bilateral, regional and multilateral cooperation in the international community.
The writer is a chair professor of the Catholic University of Daegu. He previously headed the Foreign News Division of the Korea Overseas Information Service. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.