Columbia International Affairs Online: Journals

CIAO DATE: 12/2010

North Korea-South Korea Relations Chronology

Comparative Connections

A publication of:
Center for Strategic and International Studies

Volume: 10, Issue: 4 (January 2009)


Full Text

Oct. 1, 2008: Prosecutors demand a 5-year jail term for Won Jeong-hwa, 35, who came to Seoul as a defector but has pleaded guilty to being a DPRK spy, obtaining secrets via sexual liaisons with several ROK military personnel. Oct. 1, 2008: The DPRK website Uriminzokkiri calls Suh Jae-jean, new head of the Korean Insitute for National Unification (KINU) – the official ROK think tank on the North, under the Unification Ministry (MOU) – an “extremely vicious … anti-DPRK hysteric”. Suh told a North Korea-South Korea Relations 92 January 2009 university forum recently that dialogue with an “abnormal and wrong regime” like North Korea is worthless, adding that reports of Kim Jong-il’s illness brought reunification closer. Oct. 1, 2008: In his first public appearance since leaving office in February, ex-President Roh Moo-hyun tells an unofficial meeting in Seoul, ahead of the first anniversary of his summit with Kim Jong-il, that the agreement he signed has been “abandoned … I hoped it would be thick with leaves and bear fruit one year later, but now the tree is shriveling.” Oct. 2, 2008: The first inter-Korean military talks in eight months – also the first official bilateral North-South dialogue of Lee Myung-bak’s presidency – are held at Panmunjom, but are brief and make little headway. The start is delayed almost an hour when the North demands that media be present throughout; the South protests that this is not the norm. Oct. 2, 2008: Some 40 lawmakers of South Korea’s center-left main opposition Democratic Party (DP) visit the Kaesong industrial complex (KIC). Oct. 7, 2008: A multi-faith group of South Korean Christians and Buddhists, led by Ven. Bomnyun of the Buddhist relief group Good Friends, hands unification minister Kim Ha-joong a petition with over a million signatures calling for urgent food aid to the North. Oct. 7, 2008: Unification Minister Kim Ha-joong tells the ROK National Assembly that he hopes tourism to Mt. Kumgang can resume “as soon as possible” and at all events in time for the tenth anniversary of such tours on Nov. 8. (In the event it does not.) Oct. 7, 2008: The DPRK test-fires two short-range missiles in the Yellow Sea. Oct. 8, 2008: Following North Korea’s Oct. 2 complaint, MOU asks Southern civic groups to refrain from sending leaflets across the DMZ by balloon. Two such groups immediately say they will ignore this and go ahead with planned launches. Oct. 9, 2008: North Korea’s Naval Command warns that repeated violations of its waters by ROK warships risk a clash in the Yellow Sea, as in 1999 and 2002. For its part, Seoul says DPRK vessels have crossed south of the NLL 21 times so far this year. Oct. 9, 2008: MOU says that it has earmarked Won 643 billion ($460) million for rice and fertilizer aid to the North in 2009, despite such assistance being currently suspended. The budget for inter-Korean economic projects, however, will be halved to Won 300 billion. Oct. 10, 2008: Celebrations of the 63rd anniversary of the North’s ruling Workers’ Party of Korea (WPK), normally a major occasion, are low-key. There is no sign of Kim Jong-il. Oct. 10, 2008: The Seoul-based Fighters for Free North Korea (FFNK) and two other North Korean defectors’ groups mark the WPK anniversary by launching large balloons carrying tens of thousands of propaganda leaflets across the DMZ. North Korea-South Korea Relations 93 January 2009 Oct. 11, 2008: Uriminzokkiri, North Korea’s official website, reports a new DPRK site,, devoted to Pyongyang city. In Korean language only, this is presumably aimed at the South and overseas Koreans. Pictures and videos are offered for sale (in euros). Oct. 12, 2008: Seoul officially welcomes the U.S. delisting of the DPRK as a state regarded as sponsoring terrorism, saying it hopes this will improve inter-Korean ties. Oct. 15, 2008: A court in Suwon sentences ‘Mata Hari’ Won Jeong-hwa (see Oct. 1, above) to five years in jail for spying for Pyongyang. This lenient sentence – the maximum penalty could have been death – takes into account her guilty plea and confession. Oct. 15-17, 2008: In a series of concerts in Pyongyang, musicians from both Koreas for the first time jointly perform works by Yun Isang (1917-95), Korea’s leading modern composer. Oct. 16, 2008: Further escalating criticism of President Lee Myung-bak as a “traitor, U.S. puppet and sycophant”, Rodong Sinmun, daily paper of the DPRK’s ruling Workers Party of Korea (WPK), threatens a “total freezing of North-South relations” unless Lee changes his stance. Oct. 20, 2008: ROK Foreign Minister Yu Myung-hwan says the South is ready to provide “comprehensive assistance” to the North, but two factors prevent this: slow progress in denuclearization and Pyongyang’s boycott of dialogue with Seoul. Oct. 21, 2008: Minju Joson, daily paper of the DPRK government, accuses the Lee Myung-bak administration of “conspiring with and patronizing” Southern NGOs that send hostile leaflets into the North. It warns that this “psychological campaign” so annoys the Northern army and people that any accident along the DMZ might trigger an armed conflict. Oct. 22, 2008: Unification Minister Kim Ha-joong says Seoul will “stay calm and firm while continuing to push for dialogue and cooperation,” despite Pyongyang’s shrill threats. Oct. 24, 2008: The Committee for Peaceful Reunification of the Fatherland (CPRF), a body under the WPK handling the South, condemns “the U.S. and South Korean puppets’ open war confab” in reference to the annual U.S.-ROK military consultation meeting, held in Washington on Oct. 17, which discussed how to respond in case of regime change or instability in the North. Oct. 26, 2008: The DPRK’s Korean Central Broadcasting Station (KCBS) television attacks a recent comment by the ROK Air Force Commander Lee Kae-hoon, emphasizing high-tech military coordination to maintain effective strike capability, as “a declaration of war.” Oct. 26, 2008: For a second time, ROK firms in the KIC plead with the leafleteers to desist, saying they are worsening inter-Korean ties and scaring away investors. Undeterred, Choi Song-ryong, who leads an association of families of abductees, said his group will press on with a scheduled leaflet launch next day of leaflets naming persons abducted to the North. North Korea-South Korea Relations 94 January 2009 Oct. 27, 2008: Inter-Korean military talks are held by the roadside at Panmunjom. The North again protests at the sending of leaflets across the DMZ, warning that if this does not stop it may suspend the Kaesong industrial complex (KIC). Oct. 27, 2008: MOU says that since Oct. 20 the North has been excising articles from ROK newspapers delivered to the Kaesong complex, apparently in case Northern workers read about Kim Jong-il’s ill-health. 30 copies of 9 different papers cross the DMZ each day. Oct. 28, 2008: KCNA quotes a military source as warning that Pyongyang will counter any ROK attack: “The advanced pre-emptive strike of our own style is based on a pre-emptive strike beyond imagination relying on striking means more powerful than a nuclear weapon.” Oct. 28, 2008: A GNP lawmaker quotes Kim Sung-ho, director of the National Intelligence Service (NIS), as telling a closed session of the ROK National Assembly that Kim Jong-il, “although not completely fit … appears well enough to perform his daily duties.” Oct. 28, 2008: A KPA soldier defects across the DMZ to an ROK guard post. Such direct border crossings remain rare. Oct. 29, 2008: A 254-strong Southern delegation, the largest to go North since Lee Myung-bak took office, flies by chartered plane to Pyongyang for the opening of the first ROK joint venture (JV) sited in the DPRK capital. (See also next entry.) Oct. 30, 2008: Pyongyang Hemp Textiles (PHT), a 50-50 JV of the South's Andong Hemp Textiles (AHT) and the North's Saebyol General Trading Co., starts operations in the DPRK capital, three years after the project was agreed. Each side has invested $15 million. Oct. 30, 2008: At a meeting in Seoul on national competitiveness, President Lee quotes a foreign report citing Kim Jong-il as one of three major factors undermining South Korea’s national brand. The other two are industrial conflict and illegal demonstrations. Oct. 31, 2008: Official sources in Seoul say that shipment of 3,000 tons of steel pipe, due to be sent North as energy-related aid under the Six-Party Talks (6PT) by end-October, is likely to be postponed until a verification protocol is agreed at the upcoming 6PT plenary meeting. Nov. 1, 2008: The AHT party flies back to Seoul. During their trip they also attended an investment briefing, toured factories, and went hiking at Mt. Paektu on the Chinese border. Nov. 4, 2008: Paul Kim Kwon-soon, a Franciscan father, reveals in Seoul that he will run a workers’ welfare center within PHT from later this month, as the first Roman Catholic priest to live in North Korea for over half a century. Nov. 6, 2008: Gen. Kim Yong-chol, chief DPRK delegate to inter-Korean military talks and policy chief of the National Defense Commission (NDC), leads an unprecedented and unannounced KPA inspection of the Kaesong industrial complex. North Korea-South Korea Relations 95 January 2009 Nov. 7, 2008: Choson Sinbo, the daily paper of pro-North Koreans in Japan, suggests that if the Obama administration actively pursues dialogue with the DPRK, the latter will sideline South Korea even more unless the Lee administration changes its hardline stance. Nov. 11, 2008: In a newspaper interview, ROK President Lee says he would not oppose Barack Obama meeting Kim Jong-il “as long as it helps to lead North Korea to abandon its nuclear program.” He reiterates this on Nov. 14 while in Washington for the G20 meeting. Nov. 11, 2008: The ROK’s National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) says it has set up a special committee to monitor human rights in North Korea. Since its inception in 2001 the NHRC under previous liberal governments had largely ignored abuses in the DPRK, for fear of jeopardizing the former “Sunshine” policy of engagement. Nov. 12, 2008: The KPA warns that, effective Dec. 1, it will “strictly restrict and cut off” traffic crossing the DMZ. Separately, the DPRK Red Cross says it will close a liaison office in the truce village of Panmunjom and withdraw its representatives there, while also severing all cross-border telephone channels with its ROK counterparts. Nov. 13, 2008: MOU says the South will deal calmly with the North’s threats, and urges the latter to resume dialogue. It adds that inter-Korean hot lines for maritime affairs and aviation liaison at Panmunjom are in fact still working. Nov. 13, 2008: The ROK defense ministry (MND) faxes the North, proposing talks on providing materials and equipment to improve military communications (see Oct. 27). Nov. 13, 2008: The ROK’s main opposition Democratic Party urges President Lee to change tack and “start setting up a new North Korea policy from ground zero.” Nov. 13, 2008: One thing all Koreans can agree on: A joint seminar denouncing Japan’s moves to distort history and seize the Dokdo (Takeshima) islets is held in Pyongyang. Nov. 15, 2008: Rodong Sinmun criticizes routine U.S.-ROK annual war games as “criminal.” Nov. 15-19, 2008: A 20-strong delegation from the ROK’s hard-left Democratic Labor Party (DLP) visits Pyongyang. It carries a message from vice unification minister Hong Yang-ho, assuring the DPRK that Seoul has not “completely turned away” from agreements forged by previous liberal governments. On its return the DLP says that the North “remains very tough toward the Lee Myung-bak administration.” Nov. 17, 2008: Pyongyang rejects Seoul’s recent calls for dialogue as hypocritical: “It is the steadfast stand of the whole nation that nothing can be expected from this traitorous regime.” Nov. 18, 2008: Rodong Sinmun and Minju Joson both attack Seoul for co-sponsoring a UN resolution critical of Pyongyang’s human rights abuses, calling this “an intolerable mockery of the DPRK's dignified system.” (See also Dec. 19, below.) North Korea-South Korea Relations 96 January 2009 Nov. 18, 2008: Seoul lets four ROK civilians visit Mt. Kumgang; not as tourists, but to deliver 50,000 coal briquettes as aid to a nearby DPRK village. Nov. 19, 2008: MOU says it will “make aggressive efforts” to dissuade leafleteering NGOs. The latter respond by announcing further imminent balloon launches into the North. Nov. 20, 2008: Yonhap, the semi-official ROK news agency, notes that over 1.9 million South Koreans have visited Mt. Kumgang as of June this year; 22 have died in various accidents at the resort over the past decade, as has one KPA soldier. Nov. 21, 2008: Seoul repatriates six North Koreans whose boat drifted into Southern waters off the east coast owing to engine failure a day earlier. Nov. 23, 2008: MOU reports that North-South trade in October fell 23 percent year-on-year, down to $160 million from $210 million in the same month last year as ties have soured. Nov. 24, 2008: Gen. Kim Yong-chol (see Nov. 9), policy chief of the DPRK National Defense Commission (NDC), announces border restrictions effective Dec. 1. Nov. 24, 2008: Fighters for a Free North Korea, the chief leafleteers, declare a three month moratorium – only to cancel this next day in riposte to the North’s new border restrictions. Nov. 25-28, 2008: Most South Koreans required to leave the Kaesong and Kumgang zones do so, ahead of the North’s new restrictions due to be imposed from Dec. 1. Nov. 27, 2008: Seoul press reports claim that Kim Hyun-hee, the DPRK terrorist who bombed Korean Air flight 858 off Burma in 1987 but later converted, has complained that under the previous government both the ROK National Intelligence Service (NIS) and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission pressured her to recant her claim that Kim Jong-il ordered the bombing. When she refused, the NIS leaked her secret address, forcing her to move. Nov. 30, 2008: Pyongyang confirms to Seoul that from Dec. 1 cross-border rail services and day tourist trips by road to Kaesong city will both cease. Nov. 30, 2008: Seoul says Pyongyang has banned any ROK publications from being brought across the DMZ, even by Southern managers in the Kaesong zone who hitherto could do so. Dec. 1, 2008: The North implements its border restrictions on cue, denying entry to 56 South Koreans. Seoul protests that this “very regrettable” step breaches inter-Korean accords, and urges Pyongyang to retract the new measures. Dec. 2, 2008: Left- and right-wing South Korean activists scuffle at Imjingak near the DMZ, as the former try to stop the latter launching balloon-borne leaflets into North Korea. Dec. 2, 2008: South Korean prosecutors indict five leading members of a left-wing civic group, Solidarity for Implementing the South-North Joint Declaration, for spreading North Korean North Korea-South Korea Relations 97 January 2009 propaganda. Four other members are already on trial on similar charges. These are the first such prosecutions for a decade under the controversial National Security Law. Dec. 3, 2008: The ROK Defense Ministry (MND) tells the National Assembly Committee on inter-Korean Relations that “North Korea has breached or failed to honor most of the agreements reached between the South and the North in military affairs,” and that military relations are now all but defunct. Dec. 4, 2008: MOU reports that the last group of about 50 evicted personnel, including 23 Chinese, leave the Kaesong and Kumgang zones pursuant to Pyongyang’s new restrictions. Dec. 5, 2008: An anonymous MND offical tells reporters that Seoul is mulling offering “incentives” to Pyongyang to free Southern POWs and abductees. 76 POWs have escaped from the North, including six this year. Dec. 6, 2008: Pyongyang rejects as “provocative” Seoul’s (in truth rather mild) reaction to the border restrictions imposed by the North from Dec. 1. Dec. 9, 2008: Seoul reiterates that it has no immediate plan to send food aid to Pyongyang, despite a new UN estimate that the North will have an 800,000 ton grain shortfall in 2009. Dec. 14, 2008: ROK lawmakers earmark Won 1.59 trillion ($1.18 billion) for North-South cooperation in 2009, up 8.6 percent from 2008. The new budget includes Won 643.7 billion to provide 400,000 tons of rice and 300,000 tons of fertilizer aid, despite current poor ties and the fact that such aid, which used to be regular, has been suspended since 2006. Dec. 15, 2008: Kumsung, producer of the most-read and most left-leaning South Korean high school textbook on modern Korean history, is the last of six publishers to accept up to 206 changes ordered by the Education Ministry. The general thrust is a more critical view of North Korea and a more positive account of the origins of the ROK after 1945. Dec. 16, 2008: Kim Hak-song, a GNP lawmaker who chairs the ROK National Assembly’s Defense Committee on Defense, says that the DPRK may have over 20 nuclear weapons if it has chosen to make small warheads each using 2-3 kg of plutonium. Dec. 18, 2008: The South’s Rural Development Administration says that North Korea’s total grain harvest rose by 300,000 tons or 7 percent in 2008, thanks to better weather. Though an early drought cut the corn crop by 3 percent to 1.5 million tons, rice rose by 330,000 tons to 1.9 million tons. Other crops included potatoes (500,000 tons), soy beans (160,000 tons) and barley and other grains (240,000 tons). Dec. 17-18, 2008: Lt. Gen. Kim Yong-chol, head of the of the DPRK National Defense Commission (NDC)’s policy planning office, warns on a rare two-day inspection trip to the Kaesong Industrial Complex (KIC) that the current freeze in North-South ties is “serious,” and that the North’s sanctions are “not temporary, emotional or symbolic.” North Korea-South Korea Relations 98 January 2009 Dec. 18, 2008: North Korea’s Ministry of State Security (MSS) announces the arrest of a spy, named only as Ri, who was on a “terrorist mission ordered by a South Korean puppet intelligence-gathering organization to do harm to the safety of the top leader of the DPRK,” and warns of severe consequences. The ROK denies any such involvement. Dec. 19, 2008: Choi Sung-yong, president of the Family Assembly Abducted to North Korea, a Seoul-based NGO, says the spy arrested by the North was one of his agents, and that MSS’s charges are “mostly true.” But he denies any plot to kill Kim Jong-il. Dec. 19, 2008: The ROK co-sponsors the UN General Assembly’s annual resolution condemning DPRK human rights abuses, which is adopted by 94 votes to 22 with 63 abstentions. Dec. 20, 2008: Radio Free Asia reports that 19 DPRK defectors, including an elderly man and a child, will stand trial in Burma for illegal entry. They were arrested after crossing the border from China, hoping to get to South Korea. Dec. 20, 2008: MOU reports that inter-Korean trade fell year-on-year for the second month running. November’s total of $142.72 million was down 27.7 percent from 2007. The weak Southern won was blamed; most payments to the North are made in dollars or euros. But for the year overall to end-November, the total of 1.69 billion dollars is up 3.7 percent on 2007. Dec. 22, 2008: MOU announces that resettlement training for North Korean defectors will increase from 8 to 12 weeks, effective March. Hanawon, the main training center some 45 miles south of Seoul, recently doubled its capacity to 600 persons as arrival numbers grow. Dec. 22, 2008: Rodong Sinmun, daily paper of North Korea’s ruling Workers Party of Korea (WPK), attacks Seoul’s recent overtures: “Hypocritical is the “dialogue” much publicized by those who seek confrontation with daggers hidden behind their belts.” Dec. 22, 2008: Despite official denials, sources in Seoul signal that Pyongyang has indicated willingness to return some Southern POWs and abductees in exchange for aid. Dec. 22, 2008: Ignoring the ROK government’s appeal to stop, the North Korea Christian Association in South Korea sends 1.5 million propaganda leaflets on 26 large balloons into the North from an island off the west coast. Dec. 23, 2008: DPRK Defense Minister Kim Il-chol warns “the South Korean warmongers” not to unleash a war. If they do, the North’s “preemptive strike, built upon stronger means than nuclear weapons, will not only make the South a sea of fire but turn all things that are against the Korean people and unification into a pile of ashes.” Dec. 26, 2008: An official in Jeju says MOU has both withdrawn funding (around $1.5 million) and forbidden it to send 10,000 tons of locally grown tangerines to North Korea. Jeju has sent such aid every winter since 1998. North Korea-South Korea Relations 99 January 2009 North Korea-South Korea Relations 100 January 2009 Dec. 28, 2008: The DPRK website Uriminjokkiri warns that “If the Lee Myung-bak government continues to push for its confrontational policy next year, North-South relations will further deteriorate.” Dec. 29, 2008: ROK Unification Minister Kim Ha-joong says “everything is normal” in the North, and its “leadership is stable.” Citing Kim Jong-il’s 13 reported public appearances in December alone, Kim admits that this “year-end concentration seems a bit unique.” Dec. 30, 2008: MOU spokesman confirms that the ROK is mulling paying the North to return Southern detainees, saying that “The return of the abductees and war prisoners is our priority” Dec. 30, 2008: An ROK navy patrol boat picks up a family of four North Koreans, who defected from Haeju that day in a small wooden boat. Such direct defections remain rare. Dec. 30, 2008: Jungto Society (JTS), also known as Good Friends, a South Korean Buddhist NGO active in the North, says it has sent baby formula and maternal foods worth $300,000 to Hoeryong in the DPRK’s impoverished northeastern province of North Hamgyong. It also delivered life support machines, oxygen generators and other medical equipment worth over $100,000 to a hospital in the same province earlier in December. Dec. 30, 2008: The ROK-based Northeast Asia Foundation for Education and Culture (NAFEC) says that the much-delayed Pyongyang University of Science and Technology (PUST), which it is building and funding, will not open until April 2009. It is ready to start now, but both Korean governments have warned that the timing is unpropitious. Jan. 1, 2009: The DPRK’s customary New Year joint editorial, carried in the Party, army and youth daily papers, accuses Lee Myung-bak of being “steeped in pro-U.S. sycophancy and hostility towards fellow countrymen.” Washington, by contrast, is spared such invective. Jan. 2, 2009: Choson Sinbo, the daily paper of pro-North Koreans in Japan, says that the North will continue a hard line toward the South unless Seoul changes its stance, “no matter how (the Lee government) rehearses kind but hollow words.” Jan. 2, 2009: The diirector of South Korea’s National Intelligence Service (NIS) vows in his New Year message to monitor the North closely. Kim Sung-ho avers that national security is a precondition for the ROK’s economic revival; he does not explain why. Jan. 3, 2009: In a telephone call to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, himself a former ROK foreign minister, Lee Myung-bak asks the UN to help improve inter-Korean relations. Jan. 5, 2009: The Seoul press reports the ROK government as unofficially confirming that the DPRK’s point man on the South, Choe Song-chul, deputy director of the KWP’s United Front department, was sacked last March. Some name his replacement as Yu Yong-sun (68), hitherto leader of North Korea’s Buddhist federation.