If North and South Korea were in Africa, a meeting of their leaders might be ho-hum, just another summit to end a long civil war.
But their tiny peninsula lies between China, Russia, and Japan. They remain armed to the teeth, 47 years after a nasty war. And the Communist North shot a long-range missile in 1998 that has jolted the US into designing a defense system that's upsetting its allies and adversaries alike.
Then there's the fact that 36,516 Americans died in the Korean War, and a like number of US soldiers stand ready to help repel the North's million-man Army. Added to that is the North's proven ability to make nuclear-bomb material.
With so much military tension, it's a sign of courage that the North's Kim Jong Il and the South's Kim Dae Jung plan to meet today (see story page 1).
Even if they just agree to open mail service for divided families, this first-ever Korean summit will have been a triumph of hope over despair.
It has been the South Korean president's hope that the North's leaders feel secure enough to end their fearful and hermitlike isolation. He's been a dove among the anti-North hawks in both Seoul and Washington. His "sunshine policy" of engagement with the North made it easier for Kim Jong Il to open the door for foreign investment that will uplift a dismal economy.
Reuniting the Koreas seems unlikely for now. The South is not eager to bear the costs - two years of its economic output - to bring the North up to its living standards. And the South rightly worries that any support for the North might go to the military.
But over the past year, the North has sought new friends, and may be embracing China's style of reform. Both China and Russia are nudging it to change - mainly to stop the US from using the missile threat as an excuse to build its defense shields.
This summit will be a pivotal test to see if the trust in a new North Korea can be reciprocated.
(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society