|South Korea Table of Contents
The external posture of South Korea in general, and toward North Korea in particular, began a new chapter in the 1980s. While retaining its previous goal--enhancing political legitimacy, military security, and economic development by maintaining close ties with the West--South Korea greatly expanded its diplomatic horizons by launching its ambitious pukpang chongch'aek, northern policy, or Nordpolitik. Nordpolitik was Seoul's version of the Federal Republic of Germany's (West Germany) Ostpolitik of the early 1970s. Although the policy's origins can be traced back to 1973 under Park, it was greatly invigorated by Roh.
Seoul's Nordpolitik was designed for a number of rather ambitious but initially ill-defined objectives. Seoul's basic dilemma in its Nordpolitik appeared to be how to reconcile its traditional ties with the West with its new opportunities in the East. First, policymakers felt that their economic and military reliance on the West was excessive, mendicant, and too lengthy. Seoul sought to correct this situation by establishing its own self-reliant global posture. This desire to be less dependent became particularly acute as Seoul's Western allies greatly improved relations with Eastern Europe, the Soviet Union, and China.
Second, Nordpolitik was designed to expand and diversify trade relations on a global scale to cope with increasing trade protectionism from the United States. Intentionally or not, the policy aroused anti-Americanism. Ironically enough, the rising anti-United States feeling was accompanied by increasing demands for economic and political democracy, culminating in the Kwangju incident in May 1980.
Finally, Nordpolitik involved the pursuit of wide-ranging relations with socialist countries and contacts and dialogue with North Korea. It had often been observed that political leaders in P'yongyang and Seoul utilized their confrontational postures to sustain their political legitimacy. Claiming that P'yongyang's response had been far from satisfactory, Seoul's policymakers solicited assistance and cooperation from P'yongyang's socialist allies to induce and persuade P'yongyang to become more accommodating. Yet Seoul's success in improved relations with P'yongyang's socialist allies had not resulted in substantially improved relations with P'yongyang by 1990. In fact, for the short term, Seoul might have even aggravated its chances for improved relations with P'yongyang by having improved its relations with North Korea's socialist allies--and raised the question of whether Nordpolitik was primarily designed to confront and compete with P'yongyang. Thus far, Nordpolitik clearly demonstrated the limited power of P'yongyang's socialist allies, particularly Moscow and Beijing, vis-à-vis the extremely self-reliant North Korea. In reality, Seoul may have grossly underestimated P'yongyang's firmly established independence.
On the whole, however, Nordpolitik was successful, and Seoul's accomplishments could be readily observed in sports, trade, and diplomacy. The 1988 Seoul Olympics was a major catalyst for Nordpolitik. It was the first Olympic Games in twelve years not marred by a bloc-level boycott and had the highest participation ever--159 nations and more than 9,000 athletes. Seoul gained new global recognition and visibility as more than 3 billion people around the world watched the Games being televised live.
Had it not been for the North Korean bombing of KAL 858 over the Andaman Sea in November 1987, Seoul might have been more willing to reach out to P'yongyang. While the much-feared and predicted North Korean misbehavior over South Korea's staging of the Olympics did not materialize, Seoul probably was relieved by P'yongyang's absence from the games.
Seoul's international trade record has been impressive. While encountering, along with other newly industrialized nations, mounting trade friction with the United States and other major markets, Seoul emerged in the late 1980s as the world's tenth-largest trading nation. Economic reforms and the open-door policies of socialist countries, coupled with their recognition of Seoul's economic growth, pushed economic trade and cooperation between South Korea and socialist countries into full swing.
Perhaps Seoul's most impressive success was in diplomacy. Literally implementing the 1988 Olympics slogan, "From Seoul to the World, and from the World to Seoul," by the beginning of 1990 South Korea had established diplomatic relations with 133 countries, and had 138 diplomatic missions, including representative offices and a consulate department in Moscow. Conversely, North Korea had diplomatic relations with 102 countries and 85 overseas missions. An impressive number of young South Korean diplomats were trained in the West and actively implemented Nordpolitik. These diplomats were also supported by the aggressive worldwide market diversification programs of South Korea's big business establishments, the chaebol, and by an increasingly large number of overseas South Koreans, many of whom become salespersons of South Korean products.
After Roh's inauguration in February 1988, Nordpolitik was particularly invigorated. In a July 7, 1988, statement primarily aimed at insuring the success of the Olympics, Roh unveiled a six-point plan to ease forty years of bitter confrontation between Seoul and P'yongyang and to clear the way for peaceful unification of the divided peninsula. In the afterglow of the Olympics, Roh made his diplomatic debut as the first South Korean president to address the United Nations (UN) General Assembly, on October 18, 1988. Roh's speech called for a six-nation consultative conference to discuss a broad range of issues concerning peace, stability, progress, and prosperity in Northeast Asia. Pledging unilaterally never to use force first against North Korea, Roh proposed to replace the existing 1953 armistice agreement with a peace treaty.
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Source: U.S. Library of Congress