This first meeting led to highly concrete projects. Humanitarian efforts were undertaken to reunite families from both sides of Mount Kumgang (15 000 people). Economic projects included the construction of a tourist complex on the same Mont Kumgang (2004) and the development of a joint industrial zone in Kaesong.
The second inter-Korean summit in 2007, between Roh Moo-Hyun and Kim Jung-Li, continued in the same vein with important advances towards peace and cooperation on the peninsula. The common declaration at the end of the bilateral summit advocated the start of a 3-4 party negotiation (both Koreas, the USA, China) in order to establish a “system for permanent peace”. North Korea sketched out a commitment to dismantle its nuclear program and promised to renew bilateral summits. Economic considerations were not forgotten with the re-establishing of rail freight (the first in over half a century) and the project to transform the Yellow Sea from a previous source of tensions into a zone of cooperation. Economic collaboration was to reach 11 billion dollars in particular in technological industries, especially micro-computing. As early as 2005, economic exchanges between both countries were valued at over 1 billion dollars and South Korea became North Korea’s second economic partner, right after China.
One of the most important obstacles to rapprochement was the nuclear weapons issue. North Korea was reluctant to end nuclear proliferation and developing ballistic missiles. In 2006, the United Nations’ Security Council unanimously adopted the 1718 resolution condemning North Korea’s October 9 nuclear test and demanded the dismantling of nuclear programmes. To underline its determination, it established sanctions.
The bilateral talks produced positive results concerning the nuclear issue. On February 2007, the first 6 party talks (both Koreas, the USA, China, Russia, and Japan) ended with North Korea accepting the fist steps to freeze its nuclear program in exchange for fuel aid. Another step was taken at the Pyongyang summit, on October 3, 2007, with North Korea’s commitment to neutralise all of its nuclear weapons and programmes before the end of the year in exchange for more fuel aid (1 million tons of fuel) and normalized relations with the United States.
Since 2008 however, the situation has worsened considerably. In July 2008, a South Korean tourist was killed by a North Korean border guard, thus ending tourist activities at Kumgang. In December of the same year, North Korea hardened its stance again by interrupting joint economic activity at Keasong as well as suspending the inter-Korean railway. At the beginning of 2009, it imprisoned a South Korean national working at Kaesong under charges of “subversion”. On April 5, 2009 it proceeded with a new ballistic missile test that was immediately condemned by the Security Council. On April 14, North Korea pulled out of the 6-party talks, demanding the departure of the IAEA and resuming its military activities on the Yongbyon site with its second nuclear test. This latest violation led to financial sanctions by the international community and a Cold War climate has once again settled in.
Accrued tensions are not without economic consequences for both North Korea, one of Asia’s poorest countries, and South Korea.
Since August 2009, renewed détente seems to be making a timid appearance. The actors of the “Sunshine Policy” process, the partisans of bilateral dialogue and pragmatism have played a very important role.