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: 11, Issue: 1 (April 2009)


Full Text

Jan. 1, 2009: The DPRK’s New Year joint editorial accuses ROK President Lee Myung-bak of being “steeped in pro-U.S. sycophancy and hostility towards fellow countrymen.” Jan. 2, 2009: President Lee says in his New Year address that he “will work calmly and flexibly to resolve the current stalemate in inter-Korean relations.” He calls on the North to abandon its “outdated practice” of trying to fan tension between conservatives and liberals in the South. 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. 3, 2009: In a telephone call to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, himself a former ROK foreign minister, President Lee asks the UN to help improve inter-Korean relations. Jan. 5, 2009: ROK government unofficially confirms that the DPRK’s point man on the South, Choe Song-chul, was sacked in March 2008. Some name his replacement as Yu Yong-sun (68), who is the former leader of North Korea’s Buddhist federation. North Korea-South Korea Relations 90 April 2009 Jan. 5, 2009: South Korea’s Unification Ministry (MOU) reports that 2,809 North Korean defectors entered the South in 2008, up 10 percent from 2007. The flow slowed with tighter Chinese border controls for the Olympics; thus 1,700 arrived in the first half-year and 1,100 in the second. Of the total of 15,057 Northern defectors since 1953, who for decades were a tiny trickle, over half have come in the last four years alone. Jan. 5, 2009: MOU says that on Dec. 31 it signed a contract to build a day-care center at the Kaesong IC. The $685,000 facility will take 200 children and is due for completion in 2009. Jan. 5, 2009: A boat chartered by the the Korea Peasants League leaves Jeju island for several ROK west coast ports to collect 174 tons of rice aid for the DPRK, including 60 tons donated by the radical Korean Confederation of Trade Unions (KCTU). Jan. 7, 2009: MOU says the North has begun enforcing a ban on mobile phones and in-car GPS receivers for South Koreans in the Kaesong complex. Hitherto border authorities had let Southern drivers enter if these were switched off, but now they are being turned away. Jan. 8, 2009: Park Sang-hak, who leads Fighters for a Free North Korea (FFNK), says his group will henceforth send DPRK rather than U.S. currency with its balloon-borne leaflets into the North, since the regime arrests those found in possession of dollars. It is not clear how FFNK can obtain North Korean won without breaking both Korean states’ laws. Jan. 9, 2009: Former ROK Foreign Minister Song Min-soon, now a lawmaker of the main opposition Democratic Party, cites South Korea’s single-term presidency as a major obstacle to consistent dialogue with the North. He proposes establishing a pan-national consultative body to handle inter-Korean issues, to build bipartisan policy continuity. Jan. 11, 2009: In the DPRK’s first direct comment this year on President Lee, the weekly Tongil Shinbo blamed him for deteriorating inter-Korean relations. It insisted that “a change must come from South Korea by sweeping out the entire group of traitors.” Jan. 11, 2009: Rodong Sinmun, daily paper of the North’s ruling Workers Party of Korea (WPK), denounces the Japanese Prime Minister Aso Taro’s visit to Seoul as collusion by anti-communist forces in both countries. Jan. 11, 2009: Seoul sources claim that Choe Song-chul, who escorted then ROK President Roh Moo-hyun at his summit with DPRK leader Kim Jong-il in Oct. 2007, is undergoing severe “revolutionary training” at a chicken farm in Hwanghae Province. Jan. 14, 2009: ROK Unification Minister Kim Ha-joong says Kim Jong-il appears to be in full command in the North, and that recent photos released by Pyongyang seem genuine. Jan. 15, 2009: Yonhap says Kim Jong-il has chosen his third son Kim Jong-un as his successor. A day earlier, a Japanese daily claimed number one son Kim Jong-nam has been chosen. North Korea-South Korea Relations 91 April 2009 Jan. 16, 2009: The ROK island province of Jeju starts shipping to the North a much reduced shipment of 300 tons of tangerines and 1,000 tons of carrots, worth some $400,000. Jan. 17, 2009: A spokesman of the Korean Peoples Army (KPA) General Staff appears on DPRK TV in full uniform and declares that “a war … can neither be averted nor avoided.” Jan. 18, 2009: Rodong Sinmun dismisses as “rhetoric” an MOU report saying the ministry will focus on resuming inter-Korean dialogue this year. The WPK daily notes the absence of an explicit pledge to implement the 2000 and 2007 summit accords, as Pyongyang demands. Jan. 19, 2009: Hyun In-taek replaces Kim Ha-joong as ROK unification minister. Jan. 19, 2009: Rodong Sinmun warns what it calls “the Lee Myung-bak group” that “our guns and bayonets … are aimed at their throats.” Jan. 20, 2009: Hwang Joon-kook, South Korea’s deputy nuclear envoy, returns from a five-day trip to the North under the 6PT. His brief was to examine 14,800 unused nuclear fuel rods at Yongbyon with a view to buying them. Jan. 22, 2009: The Korea Institute for National Unification (KINU) says the DPRK regime is unlikely to collapse despite uncertainties over Kim Jong-il’s health and growing social distress. Jan. 23, 2009: President Lee says his top priority is securing peace and reconciliation with the North, while the military is to “maintain a perfect defense posture” and counter any aggression. Jan. 23, 2009: The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child in Geneva closely questions DPRK officials about claims of child labor and other abuses, made by Northern defectors in Seoul and NGOs supporting them who had briefed the UN committee ahead of the meeting. Jan. 25, 2009: Minju Choson, the DPRK government daily paper, criticizes the choice of Hyun In-taek, as the new ROK unification minister as an “outright challenge” and “open provocation” that will “push inter-Korean relations deeper into the abyss of confrontation and ruin.” Jan. 26, 2009: Minju Choson criticizes ongoing ROK military exercise as war preparation. Jan. 30, 2009: The DPRK’s Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of the Fatherland (CPRF) declares that all past inter-Korean agreements are now “nullified.” Jan. 30, 2009: Hours after the CPRF statement, ROK President Lee says he is “waiting for North Korea to understand that the South will work with an open heart and compassion to help the North. I believe the South-North relationship will improve before too long.” Feb. 1, 2009: Rodong Sinmun warns that “escalated tension …may lead to an uncontrollable and unavoidable military conflict and war.” The ROK Defense Ministry (MND) reports that the KPA is on its regular winter exercises, but with no “noticeably unusual” features. North Korea-South Korea Relations 92 April 2009 Feb. 2, 2009: The KPA General Staff warns “the Lee Myung-bak group of traitors” that the DPRK will never give up its nuclear weapons unless the U.S does likewise in South Korea. Feb. 3, 2009: DPRK media say that Kim Jong-il sent a New Year card to the UN secretary general, mentioning him last in a long list and not naming him. Feb. 4, 2009: Defense sources in Seoul confirm that a Taepodong-2 long-range missile, seen leaving a factory south of Pyongyang by train in late January, is now at the North’s main testing ground at Musudan-ri in the northeast. Feb. 4, 2009: The ROK government rejects a journalist association’s agreement, signed in Pyongyang last October, to share news content online with Northern counterparts. Feb. 4, 2009: Hyundai Asan says it is “desperate” to resume tours to Mt. Kumgang. Feb. 8, 2009: Some 20 Southern NGOs report a recent meeting in Shenyang, China with the North’s National Reconciliation Council (NRC). They agree to continue aid, even as official ROK assistance remains suspended. Projects include hospital modernization, a soybean milk plant, and greenhouses to grow strawberries in winter. Feb. 9, 2009: President Lee tells South Koreans that “you do not need to worry too much” about the North’s recent threats. Feb. 11, 2009: The official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) issues a rare report of a military reshuffle. KPA Vice Marshal Kim Yong-chun becomes defense minister, while a little-known general, Ri Yong-ho, is appointed chief of the KPA General Staff. The previous defense minister, Kim Il-chol, has apparently been demoted to vice minister. Feb. 12, 2009: Won Sei-hoon, appointed head of the ROK National Intelligence Service (NIS) in January, says Seoul needs to “beef up an early warning system to cope with any moves by North Korea” as well as “fully prepare for any terror and international crimes.” Feb. 13, 2009: Rodong Sinmun says western inter-Korean sea border “can no longer work” It calls the Northern Limit Line (NLL) “thoroughly unfair and sheer robbery” and a “ghost border.” Feb. 14, 2009: The DPRK Korean Central Broadcasting Station (KCBS) attacks the ROK government’s veto of a recent inter-Korean journalists’ agreement (see Feb. 4). Feb. 15, 2009: At a meeting to celebrate Kim Jong-il’s 67th birthday next day, Kim Yong-nam, president of the SPA Presidium, warns that the DPRK will “punish the group of traitors with decisive actions” It is rare for the North’s titular head of state to utter such menaces. Feb. 18, 2009: A spokesman for the KPA General Staff tells KCNA that the Army is fully ready for an all-out confrontation with “the Lee Myung-bak group of traitors.” North Korea-South Korea Relations 93 April 2009 Feb. 18, 2009: ROK Foreign Minister Yu Myung-hwan says the DPRK’s anticipated missile test is the more worrying given its nuclear capability. This combination “will have a very serious impact on the world’s peace and security.” Feb. 19, 2009: Hours before Hillary Clinton arrives in Seoul on her first visit as secretary of state, KCNA warns that “The political and military confrontation between the north and the south has reached such an extreme phase that there is neither way nor hope to put it under control.” The same day, KCNA blasts upcoming routine U.S.-ROK military exercises as a “war preparation maneuver,” warning both countries that they will “pay a high price.” Feb. 19, 2009: ROK Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) Kim Thae-young warns that the DPRK may attempt a border provocation, but said his and U.S. forces are fully prepared. Feb. 19, 2009: MOU forecasts that North Korea’s food supply will fall 1.17 million tons short of demand this year, despite an improved grain harvest of 4.31 million tons in 2008. It reports that since late last year the North has tightened social control. Feb. 19-20, 2009: Both Koreas, along with the other four partners in the Six-Party Talks, meet in Moscow for a session of the 6PT working group on peace and security in northeast Asia. Feb. 20, 2009: ROK Defense Minister Lee Sang-hee says Seoul would “clearly respond to any preemptive artillery or missile attack by North Korea,” including striking the bases from which any such attack was launched. Feb. 21, 2009: The North’s CPRF accuses Lee Myung-bak of “maliciously defaming the dignity of socialism,” apparently by telling supporters that the DPRK “would be better off without socialism if it means they have to worry about three meals a day for their people.” Feb. 22, 2009: MOU reports that inter-Korean trade in January fell year on year for a fifth consecutive month. It totaled $113 million, down from $140 million in Jan. 2008. Feb. 23, 2009: MND’s delayed 2008 defense white paper terms the KPA an “immediate and grave threat.” Feb. 24, 2009: The DPRK’s Committee of Space Technology announces that it is preparing to launch an “experimental communications satellite.” ROK Foreign Minister Yu says this would contravene UNSC resolution 1718. Feb. 24, 2009: South Korea accuses the North of false allegations and time-wasting at the UN Special Committee on Peacekeeping Operations. The DPRK delegate says that the UN Command (UNC) in the ROK is just a cover for the US, and calls for its dissolution. Feb. 25, 2009: NIS chief Won Sei-hoon (see Feb. 12) says that another father-to-son power transfer in North Korea appears possible. He adds that Kim Jong-il is fully in charge, but has not wholly recovered from his suspected stroke last year. North Korea-South Korea Relations 94 April 2009 Feb. 27, 2009: Ahead of the 90th anniversary of the March First rising against Japanese rule in 1919, conservative and progressive ROK churches issue a rare joint “3.1 Declaration of Korean Churches for Peace and Unification”, in hope of breaking the inter-Korean impasse. They call for 1 percent of the South’s budget to go as aid to the North. That would almost triple the present budget of some $700 million, much of which this year may remain unspent. Feb. 28, 2009: The KPA’s self-described chief of “the military working group of the DPRK side in the area under the control of the North and South in the Eastern and Western regions” sends a notice to the ROK, warning of countermeasures against alleged provocations by U.S. troops along the Military Demarcation Line (MDL). March 1, 2009: North Korea marks Independence Movement Day (see Feb. 27) by renewing threats against South Korea, the U.S. and Japan, threatening “merciless punishment.” March 1, 2009: President Lee calls on North Korea to abandon its planned satellite launch. If it does, “The doors to unconditional dialogue remain wide open even now. The South and the North must talk at the earliest date possible.” March 2, 2009: At the first UNC general-level meeting in almost seven years at Panmunjom, North Korea demands that the US and ROK cancel their joint annual drills Key Resolve and Foal Eagle (KR/FE), scheduled for March 9-20. The meeting lasts barely half an hour. March 3, 2009: Minju Joson says the peninsula is a “powder keg of Northeast Asia.” It calls KR/FE “a serious military threat to our republic and also an extremely dangerous fire play aimed at provoking a new war.” March 3, 2009: At the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, South Korea urges the North to improve its human rights record. The North blasts these “impertinent remarks,” saying they “instigate confrontation and hatred.” March 4, 2009: Rodong Sinmun warns that: “Should the enemies invade even 0.001 mm into our territory, we will mobilize all our potential and deal retaliatory strikes that will be a hundred times and a thousand times more powerful.” March 4, 2009: ROK Unification Minister Hyun In-taek says the North’s missile launch is not imminent. He tells the North to stop insulting President Lee, and says there will be no early resumption of government-level rice and fertilizer aid suspended last year after a decade. March 4, 2009: President Lee says, “It appears from Chairman Kim’s recent activities that there are no serious obstacles for him to continue ruling North Korea, and I think it is better to have a stabilized North Korean regime at this point in time for inter-Korean dialogue and cooperation.” March 5, 2009: The DPRK warns that it cannot guarantee the safety of ROK civilian aircraft in or near its airspace if the KR/FE war games go ahead. North Korea-South Korea Relations 95 April 2009 March 5, 2009: Lighthouse Foundation, a Seoul-based NGO, says it will break ground on a rehabilitation center for the disabled in Pyongyang in May. Costing $3.2 million, the five story building will be ready by 2011. March 6, 2009: KPA and UNC generals meet again at Panmunjom (see March 2). The DPRK repeats its threat to South Korean passenger airplanes if KR/FE goes ahead. March 7, 2009: Minju Joson attacks the new ROK defense white paper (see Feb. 23): “It is the United States and the South Korean puppet government who are creating the immediate and grave threat to the peace and stability of the Korean Peninsula.” March 8, 2009: North Korea holds its general election as scheduled, claiming the usual 100 percent yes vote for the 687 candidates (all unopposed). 316 SPA members are new, but contrary to prior rumors they include no son of Kim Jong-il. March 8, 2009: On International Women’s Day, Rodong Sinmun claims that North Korean women live a happy life in the warm care and love of Kim Jong-il. By contrast, “traitor Lee Myung-bak’s misrule” has plunged their Southern sisters into “misery and pain.” March 9, 2009: To protest the US-ROK war games starting the same day (see March 2), North Korea suspends its last military telephone link with the South. March 10, 2009: Rodong Sinmun claims the DPRK has “capability and modern military and technical means strong enough to neutralize” the vaunted “superiority” of US and ROK forces. March 10, 2009: North Korea reopens border crossings after a day’s closure. March 12, 2009: Military sources in Seoul claim that Gen. Kim Kyok-sik, replaced by Ri Yong-ho in February as chief of the KPA General Staff, was transferred to head the KPA’s 4th Army Corps, whose mission includes guarding the marine border in the West/Yellow Sea. March 13, 2009: The North shuts the border again, this time stranding 730 South Koreans, three Chinese and an Australian; almost all in the Kaesong IC. March 14, 2009: The CPRF says: “The Lee Myung-bak government, if it really is interested in inter-Korean dialogue, must apologize before the entire Korean nation for ruining relations with its anti-DPRK confrontational scheme and driving us to the brink of war.” March 16, 2009: The North partly reopens DMZ crossings, and fully on March 17. Despite this, doubts are aired in Seoul as to the KIC’s viability if subject to such arbitrary threats. March 16, 2009: South Korea’s foreign minister says Seoul would not object if the U.S. were to resume direct talks with North Korea on its missile programs, as in the Clinton era. March 20, 2009: The North again imposes border restrictions, despite saying it will reinstate the military hotline now that the US-ROK military exercises are over. North Korea-South Korea Relations 96 April 2009 March 20, 2009: The CPRF says North Korea will not talk to South Korea or the U.S. until they stop accusing it of being a human rights violator. The same day, the ROK says it will co-sponsor the latest annual UN resolution criticizing the DPRK’s human rights record. March 21, 2009: North Korea reopens the inter-Korean military communication line around 8 a.m., and later faxes a letter of approval for border traffic. Normal service gradually resumes. March 26, 2009: UNHRC passes a resolution criticizing North Korea’s human rights abuses. The vote is 26-6 with 15 abstentions. March 30, 2009: North Korea detains a Southern employee of Hyundai Asan at the KIC. The unnamed engineer is accused of criticizing the socialist regime and urging a DPRK female worker to defect. March 30, 2009: The CPRF warns that if the ROK joins the U.S.-led Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI) “over our plan to launch a rocket,” this would be tantamount to a declaration of war. Seoul has said it is contemplating this. It has been an observer in the PSI since 2005. March 30, 2009: Pyongyang slams UNHCR resolution on North Korean human rights (see March 26) as “peppered with lies and fabrications.” March 31, 2009: Seoul demands access to its citizen detained in Kaesong. March 31, 2009: Meeting in the Hague, foreign ministers of South Korea, the U.S., and Japan reaffirm their consensus that if North Korea goes ahead with a rocket launch, it should be taken up at the U.N. Security Council. Apr. 5, 2009: The DPRK finally launches its long-expected three-stage rocket. It claims a successful satellite launch, but the U.S. and South Korea dispute this. The ROK, with many other states, criticizes Pyongyang’s act as provocative and calls for punishment. North Korea-