North Korea

Hermits No More

The globe’s most isolated nation started reaching out to the rest of the world, making new or reinvigorated contacts with European and Asian countries, but Pyongyang’s state news agency remained bellicose toward South Korea as well as Japan and the United States.

North Korea’s new diplomatic relations with Italy, renewed ties with Australia, and discussions on similar links with Thailand, France, and Great Britain, were “welcome signs of change on the tense peninsula,” the South China Morning Post said on March 7.

A brief dispatch from the state-controlled Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) in Pyongyang welcomed the newly arrived Italian ambassador on March 9.

Still, wariness prevailed among participants in the charm offensive, with the centrist Sydney Morning Herald noting Feb. 21 that “for decades, the reclusive North Asian country has delighted in tormenting the rest of the world, establishing a well-deserved reputation as a belligerent, eternally suspicious state.”

That attitude was clear when the KCNA addressed South Korean President Kim Dae Jung’s “Sunshine Policy,” which calls for engagement with North Korea. “They are even trying to extend...their wretched fascist ruling system which has turned South Korea into a wasteland of independence and democracy and a living hell” (March 2).

In South Korea, Seoul’s conservative Chosun Ilbo ripped Kim’s call for state-to-state talks. A March 15 editorial said, “It is regrettable to see government officials seemingly begging North Korea for dialogue.”

Seoul’s independent Joong Ang Ilbo took a more upbeat tone, but retained a cautious approach. “In the case of a South-North summit meeting, both sides are mired in numerous complicated issues. The proposal of disarm- ament and peaceful coexistence is too general and vague to bring the two sides together,” it said on March 2.