The Koreas

One-Sided Relationship

Inter-Korean relations have continued to make historic strides since the North-South summit in June. North Korean Vice Marshal Jo Myong Rok’s meeting with President Clinton in Washington in October represented the first official visit from the Communist nation since the end of the Korean War nearly 50 years ago.

But despite outward symbols of friendship—including the August reunion of 200 families separated by the Korean War, the two countries’ athletes marching behind one flag at the Olympic Games, and the construction of the long-awaited railroad link through the two Koreas in September—the core issues, such as normalization of the demilitarized zone, have yet to be addressed.

Reports that the North Korean military carried out the most extensive army exercises in 10 years were deemed “shocking amidst the so-called reconciliation on the peninsula” by an Oct. 10 editorial in Seoul’s conservative Chosun Ilbo. Even more troubling is the North’s two-pronged approach, promoting economic cooperation with the South while discussing military issues only with the U.S., which, an Oct. 9 Chosun Ilbo editorial feared, “means that inter-Korean contacts are frozen at their current level and real issues will be discussed with America.”

An Oct. 9 editorial in the independent Korea Herald interpreted North Korean President Kim Jong Il’s reluctance to “start discussions on such basic confidence-building measures as military hot lines” as reason for South Korean President Kim Dae Jung to proceed more cautiously with his “sunshine policy” toward the North. This policy is increasingly criticized by South Korean skeptics as a hasty reunification policy motivated by the Southern Kim’s hope for a favorable legacy.

Newspapers throughout Asia also expressed concern that South Korea is lavishing too much kindness on its northern neighbor without receiving any substantive reciprocity. A Sept. 24 editorial in Madras’s conservative The Hindu said, “So far, it appears that on this clock, only one hand is moving.”

For its part, North Korea hardly sees the budding relationship as a one-sided affair. A Sept. 25 report from government-owned Korean Central News Agency in Pyongyang took offense at the crediting of the progress between the two countries solely to Kim Dae Jung and the South Korean government. It called the sunshine policy a policy aimed at “hurt[ing] the dialogue partner of the same blood with the help of outsiders.” It warned, “South Korean politicians should not put ideology, idea, and system to the fore, but do something helpful to achieve the independent reunification of the country.”