Date: 09-20-2002

HONOLULU -- The most significant impact of North Korea's recent burst of openness may be on rising anti-U.S. feelings in South Korea, an East-West Center expert says.

For Washington and Seoul, "how to manage U.S.-South Korea relations has become as important as how to deal with Pyongyang," said Choong Nam Kim, a specialist on the Korean Peninsula who served as an assistant for three former South Korean presidents.

"Public opinion in South Korea is sharply divided between pro-North Korea and pro-U.S.," he said. "North Korea is perceived as a more friendly country than the United States. As a result, anti-American sentiment has been rapidly rising since the 2000 inter-Korean summit."

While North Korea has greatly benefited from rapprochement, mainly through economic gains, Choong Nam Kim said it has harmed the U.S.-South Korea relationship. "South Korean vigilance against the North Korean threat has dramatically weakened. In short, South Korean security and political position have been weakened. Kim Jong Il's game is how to destabilize the South."

He believes Kim Jong Il's "smile diplomacy" with Japan and South Korea could drive a wedge between their relationships with the United States.

The timing for North Korea's flurry of dialogues with the United States, Japan and South Korea has mainly been based on U.S. pressure, as Pyongyang doesn't want to be a target of America's war on terrorism, Choong Nam Kim said.

North Korea also wants South Koreans to choose a new president in the upcoming election who will continue the "sunshine" policy of reconciliation that has been the hallmark of President Kim Dae Jung. "Inter-Korean relations will again enter into a winter sleep after the presidential election," Choong Nam Kim said.

Japan and North Korea recently agreed to resume negotiations on diplomatic normalization. Kim Jong Il admitted that North Koreans had abducted Japanese citizens, and he promised to extend a moratorium on missiles and comply with nuclear weapons inspections. North Korea also is hoping to get some $10 billion from Japan as compensation for Japan's past colonial rule.

The bottom line, Choong Nam Kim believes, is that none of North Korea's recent moves mean it is prepared to make any significant reforms in the country. "There will be no great reforms because that greatly endangers the survival of the regime."

Choong Nam Kim can be reached at 808-944-7372 or
This is an East-West Wire, copyright East-West Center