Growing ties of friendship on Korean peninsula

Based on recent developments and opinion surveys, it seems much less likely that the Bush administration will be able to rely on South Korea, traditionally one of the United States’ strongest allies in Asia, to isolate the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK or North Korea).

Animosity between the DPRK and South Korea is decreasing, while the level of intra-national exchanges has been growing.

In a recent poll conducted among South Koreans aged 16-25 by Gallup and the Chosun Ilbo, a South Korean newspaper, 65.9 percent said that they would take the side of the DPRK if it were at war with the United States, while only 21.8 percent said that they would side with the U.S.

On Aug. 14, over 50,000 people participated in the Independence, Peace, and Reunification Festival in South Korea, which included nearly 200 North Korean delegates.

“I hope this festival will help improve reconciliation and trust between South Korea and the DPRK, and make a contribution to the development of the inter-Korean relations,” said Kim Ki Nam, secretary of the central committee of Workers Party of Korea, the ruling party in the north. His remarks were reported by Xinhua, the Chinese news service.

South Korean Unification Minister Chung Dong-young was similarly friendly. He exhorted all Koreans to “leave behind a bitter history.”

The North Korean delegation was visiting as part of a four-day tour organized to celebrate the 60th anniversary of Korea’s independence from Japanese rule. Both sides of Korea worked together to produce a united statement against Japan’s wartime atrocities, and to call for Japanese conservatives to stop whitewashing the crimes of the past.

On Aug. 16, about 30 leaders of the Workers Party of Korea made an unprecedented visit to South Korea’s National Assembly. The body’s speaker, Kim One-ki, suggested a meeting between him and his counterpart in the DPRK, Choe Thae-bok, chair of the Supreme People’s Assembly, this September in New York. This was met with “a positive response” from the DPRK delegation, according to reports. The meeting would take place during the UN-sponsored World Conference of Speakers of Parliaments.

After the visit to parliament, the delegation, which included both government officials and citizens, went on to visit a shrine to 104,000 South Koreans who were killed in the war against Japanese colonialism.

The next day, the delegation met with South Korean President Roh Moo Hyun. Roh reportedly told the North Koreans that the basis for solving the nuclear issue was for both parts of Korea to work together in the six-party talks. A round of talks ended earlier this month without agreement, and another round is scheduled to being on Aug. 29.

Roh told the visitors, “It was a great thing that you visited the National Cemetery. That will become the foundation on which good things will continue to happen in the future.” He said that he felt a new, better stage of relations had been reached on the Korean peninsula.

The North Koreans also visited student, labor and religious groups, and paid a visit to former President Kim Dae-Jung in the hospital. Kim initiated the “Sunshine Policy” of working peacefully with the north.

In related developments, one of the sticking points in the six-party talks was the DPRK’s insistence on its right, guaranteed under the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty, to use nuclear energy for peaceful purposes. South Korea’s foreign minister, Ban Ki Moon, appeared to disagree with Washington during a recent television interview, where he said that, if the DPRK returns to the NPT and trust is restored between the two states, then, as far as South Korea is concerned, “the door for peaceful use of nuclear energy should be open.”

Chung Dong-young, who is also chair of South Korea’s National Security Council, said that South Korea disagreed with the U.S. on the issue of the peaceful use of nuclear energy. As long as the DPRK returns to the NPT, which its leadership has said it would consider, “North Korea of course must have the right to use nuclear energy for peaceful purposes, such as for agriculture, medicine and electrical power.”

dmargolis @ pww.org