Inter-Korean Relations in 2009: Sources of Slow Rapprochment, by Paul Elliott

The year 2009 saw relations between North and South Korea turn bitter as the North launched the long-range Eunha-2 rocket and conducted a nuclear test in the spring.  Yet by the fall, inter-Korean relations were on the mend as North Korea showed flexibility in cooperating with the South, which in turn offered to resume contributions of food aid.  Recognition that 2010 is likely to bring major food shortages, coupled with the DPRK’s growing reliance both on China as a trading partner and its state trading companies as a source of funds for high- and mid-level officials, may have led Pyongyang to ease tensions with the South in order to obtain food aid. However, the government of President Lee Myung-bak in Seoul was hesitant to embrace renewed engagement with the North, as commitments to link inter-Korean aid to progress on denuclearization and moves made to contain and deter the North in response to the spring’s provocations had tied the Blue House to “principles” that prevented flexibility in dealing with the North. Still, the improvement in relations could not be ignored, and an inter-Korean Summit seemed possible by late fall. Yet if Seoul does not commit itself to a new aid relationship with the DPRK, the currently more or less cordial relationship is likely to become tense again.

“Inter-Korean Relations in 2009: Sources of Slow Rapprochement,” is an excerpt from Part I of the 2009 SAIS U.S.-Korea Yearbook.

Paul Elliott is a first-year M.A. candidate at SAIS concentrating in Korea studies. He holds a B.A. in government and English from Georgetown University. Previously, he worked at the Embassy of the Republic of Korea in Washington, DC, where he tracked American foreign policy and its impact on the Korean Peninsula and around the world. His academic interests include North Korean denuclearization and South Korean foreign policy outside the Peninsula.