Relations with North Korea
Nordpolitik's final destination--P'yongyang--has proved difficult to reach. After nearly two decades, inter-Korean relations had not improved measurably. In fact, it may be argued that political leaders in Seoul and P'yongyang have skillfully used the perceived mutual threat to maintain and justify their political legitimacy. Their postures may seem reasonable, given that until the precarious 1953 armistice agreement is replaced by a permanent peace treaty, the Korean War cannot be considered completely over. Nevertheless, Seoul and P'yongyang have been increasing their contacts across and around the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) in a gradual and uneven fashion. These expanding contacts appear quite natural because there are an estimated 10 million separated family members. Moreover, South Korean business leaders have been keenly aware of potential economic benefits in improved relations with North Korea. As inter-Korean contacts are gradually becoming a "growth industry," their prospects appear promising.
Inter-Korean relations may be divided into four periods. The first stage was between 1972 and 1973; the second stage was P'yongyang's delivery of relief goods to South Korea after a typhoon caused devastating floods in 1984; and the third stage was the exchange of home visits and performing artists in 1985. The fourth stage, activated by Nordpolitik under Roh, was represented by expanding public and private contacts between the two Koreas. These working-level contacts have included Red Cross talks aimed at exchanging home visits by divided families and performing artists; sports talks aimed at establishing a unified team for the 1990 Beijing Asian Games; economic trade at the level of premiers; preliminary talks for joint parliamentary meetings; and expanded academic and religious exchanges.
The Nordpolitik blueprint--Roh's declaration of July 7, 1988-- opened a new chapter in inter-Korean dialogue. Calling for the building of a single "national commonwealth," Roh solicited the assistance of Washington and Tokyo to improve Seoul's relations with Moscow and Beijing. At the same time, he encouraged Washington and Tokyo to improve relations with P'yongyang and expanded inter-Korean exchanges. Roh urged a positive response from P'yongyang, but North Korea's reaction was not positive.
P'yongyang issued an immediate and detailed statement on July 11, 1988. The CPRF dismissed Roh's proposal as old wine in a new bottle, claiming that only the 1972 three basic principles for Korean reunification--reunification by peaceful means, by transcending ideological differences (nationalism), and without external interference (self-determination)--could be the basis to improve inter-Korean dialogue. Seen from P'yongyang's perspective, Roh's July 7 proposal was nothing more than a political ploy to cope with increasing radical student agitation that opposed Seoul's hosting of the Olympics without P'yongyang's participation. Consequently, Roh's statement angered rather than mollified P'yongyang's posture, which was based on Kim Il Song's proposal to establish a Democratic Confederal Republic of Korea.
Meanwhile, Seoul began to speak more openly about the rising level of direct and indirect inter-Korean trade, much to the displeasure of P'yongyang. P'yongyang claimed that Seoul had fabricated these trade stories. By 1988, however, Seoul began to reduce tariffs and other duties to liberalize trade with P'yongyang. Trade statistics provided by Seoul and P'yongyang on north-south trade were largely unreliable as each government had its own reasons for reporting high or low figures. Much of the trade was conducted through third parties.
P'yongyang's response to Seoul consisted of three points-- asking for the repeal of the National Security Act, which designated P'yongyang an enemy, making a declaration of nonaggression, and establishing a "Peaceful Reunification Committee." Over the next few months, Roh's government attempted to make progress toward satisfying each of these requirements. In his October 18, 1988, United Nations speech, Roh advocated convening a six-nation consultative conference to achieve a permanent peace settlement in Korea and called for establishing a partnership with P'yongyang. In his 1989 New Year's address, Kim Il Song extended an invitation to the presidents of the major South Korean political parties and religious leaders, including Cardinal Kim Soo Hwan, Reverend Mun Ik-hwan, and Reverend Paek Ki-wan, for a leadership-level inter-Korean reunification meeting to be held in P'yongyang. However, any meaningful inter-Korean dialogue bogged down at P'yongyang's objections to the annual United States-South Korean Team Spirit military exercises.
Economic relations have demonstrated more promise. An authorized public visit to North Korea by Chong Chu-yong, honorary chairman of the Hyundai Group, in early 1989 (in technical violation of South Korea's National Security Act) was a remarkable breakthrough. After years of behind-the-scene efforts, through a South Korean intermediary in Japan, Chong was invited by P'yongyang and fulfilled his long-cherished dream to see his relatives at his native village, near scenic Kumgang-san. Chong was received in P'yongyang by Ho Tam, Chairman of the Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of the Fatherland, and by business leaders eager to discuss large-scale economic cooperation, such as joint ventures and development of the tourist industry. Chong's visit caused euphoric expectations and also engendered other visits.
Many of Chong's expected business dealings, however, suffered temporary setbacks after his return to South Korea. These setbacks were primarily caused by the unauthorized visits to North Korea of Reverend Mun Ik-hwan (March-April 1989), South Korean lawmaker So Kyong-won (who had secretly visited P'yongyang in August 1988, was accused of this June 28, 1989, and sentenced in December 1989 to fifteen years in prison), and dissident South Korean student representative, Im Su-kyong, also later sentenced to a prison term for attending the thirteenth World Youth and Student Festival, July 1-8, 1989, in P'yongyang. The government's harsh handling of these visits clearly showed its intention of keeping the initiative in dealings with North Korea, but it also appeared to some Koreans to contradict Roh's July 7 statement encouraging free inter-Korean contacts at various levels. That Roh's statement itself seemed to disregard the National Security Act added momentum to dissident calls for the law's abrogation or revision.
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