South Korean views of North Korea have changed before, but this time may be different
As developments on the Korean peninsula continue to unfold (“US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will meet North Korean leader Kim Jong-un on Sunday”, October 3) it might be worth taking stock of South Koreans’ changing sentiments towards North Korea.
While the two Koreas have historically had a fragile relationship, there was a change after South Korean President Moon Jae-in took office. In February, North Korea took part in the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, with the two sides fielding a unified hockey team, followed by the inter-Korean summit in Seoul in April.
Before this, South Koreans disliked the hermit kingdom. It was common to see social media posts mocking Kim Jong-un. However, after the summit, South Koreans expressed positive views on North Korea and its leader.
However, this is not the first time Seoul’s view of Pyongyang has been transformed.
After the Korean war, South Korea regarded North Korea as its foe. Until the 1980s, successive governments encouraged South Koreans to dismiss their secluded neighbour as the enemy. When North Korean leader Kim Il-sung died in 1994, Seoul fretted that a war would break out.
But the climate changed in 2000. Kim Dae-jung, then leader of South Korea, visited Pyongyang and met Kim Jong-il. The summit led to the establishment of an industrial complex in Kaesong, North Korea. The Kim Jong-il regime allowed South Koreans to visit Mount Kumgang, a famous spot in North Korea. Having a Kim Jong-il doll even became a fad among teenage girls.
But the relationship later soured. In 2008, a North Korean soldier shot and killed a South Korean tourist who had wandered into a restricted zone. North Korea announced that the soldier hadn’t deliberately killed the woman, implying that the South Korean government was trying to take advantage of an accident. South Korea banned its citizens from travelling to Mount Kumgang.
Then, in 2016, South Korea declared the closure of the Kaesong industrial complex after North Korea announced a nuclear test. Amid the rising nuclear threat, public perception towards the North plummeted in the South.
Watch: Korean leaders pledge to ‘end the history of tragic conflict’ in historic summit
Moon Jae-in has found a way to calm the stormy North-South relations. When Moon visited Pyongyang in September, I was impressed by the North Koreans who welcomed him. I was pleasantly surprised that Mr Kim said that he will visit Seoul. It will soon be our turn to welcome him.
I still remember when I first learned about the division of Korean peninsula after the war and about the existence of North Korea in primary school. When I asked my teacher when the two Koreas would be reunited, she gave a short answer: “I don’t know”. But, now, she may have different answer.
Da-Sol Goh, Seoul