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History, Relations with North Korea

Sunshine Policy, Kim Dae Jung, unstable situation, Roh Moo Hyun, North Korean capital

Relations between North and South Korea, which were tense during the late 1960s and at times during the 1970s and 1980s, continued to be troubled until the late 1990s. Allegations about North Korea’s possible nuclear weapons development program strained relations in 1994. In December 1995 a U.S.-led consortium that included South Korea reached an agreement with North Korea over the suspension of its suspected nuclear weapons program. Under this agreement, South Korea agreed to help finance the replacement of two of North Korea’s nuclear reactors with modern versions designed to produce less weapons-grade plutonium.

Announcing it no longer would abide by the armistice that ended the Korean War, North Korea in early April 1996 sent heavily armed troops into the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) between the two countries. In response to the incursions, which lasted for three consecutive days, South Korea and the United States jointly proposed four-party peace negotiations, with China and the United States acting as mediators. In a further bid to open dialogue with a reluctant North Korea, South Korea approved a $19.2-million investment package involving three joint-venture projects in North Korea. South Korea also extended emergency food aid, which was desperately needed in the north after massive summer floods destroyed many of the country’s agricultural crops.

In 1998 Kim Dae Jung encouraged economic contact with North Korea and offered unconditional economic and humanitarian aid in the hope of improving political relations. His approach, known as the Sunshine Policy, thawed relations between the two countries. In June 2000 Kim and North Korean leader Kim Jong Il held talks in P’yongyang, the North Korean capital, and agreed in principle to promote reconciliation and economic cooperation between the two countries. The landmark event was the first face-to-face meeting between the leaders of North Korea and South Korea since the division of Korea in 1945. The improved relations between the two governments led to the first authorized cross-border visits of family members separated since the Korean War, the start of mail service between the two countries, and agreement by both sides to reconnect road and rail links long severed by the DMZ border. In recognition of his efforts to bring about reconciliation with North Korea, Kim Dae Jung was awarded the 2000 Nobel Peace Prize.

Although Kim was constitutionally barred from seeking a second term, the candidate of his Millennium Democratic Party, Roh Moo Hyun, won the December 2002 presidential election. Roh had staked his campaign on the continuation of Kim’s policy of diplomatic and economic engagement with North Korea. The election took place amid an increasingly unstable situation on the Korea Peninsula due to strained relations between North Korea and the United States.

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