North Korea - South Korea

Chronology from Jan 2008 to May 2008

: The Korea Herald quotes as unnamed ROK official as saying that on April 8 two KPA fighter jets flew within 10 km of the Military Demarcation Line (MDL). This is the closest DPRK aircraft have flown to the inter-Korean border in recent years.

: North Korea expels a Southern procurement supervisor from a construction site at Mt. Kumgang, where the South is building a $60 million family reunion center. Later that day the North also blocks another ROK procurement official from entering the zone.

: The GNP narrowly wins control of the National Assembly, taking 153 out of 299 seats in South Korea’s parliamentary election. The GNP victory is less overwhelming that in December’s presidential election. Two other conservative groups also do well.

: The South’s Defense Ministry (MND) officially renames a June 2002 marine firefight as the “Second Yeonpyeong Sea Battle”; saying its previous name, “Exchange of Fire in the West Sea,” did not reflect its significance. The government rather than their military units will henceforth host the memorial service for the six ROK sailors killed.

: Minju Joson, daily paper of the DPRK Cabinet, attacks Seoul media claims that recent Northern criticism of Lee Myung-bak was intended to influence ROK national assembly elections as “a sophism for distorting truth.”

: Rodong Sinmun criticizes the ROK for “following the U.S. imperialists”. It warns that those who “dance to the whistle of outside forces will only suffer a collapse.”

: ROK unification minister Kim Ha-joong says Seoul will not riposte but wait until Pyongyang’s misunderstanding eases, adding: “Our position toward mutual respect and co-prosperity between the two Koreas remains firm.”

: Senior Southern sports officials say plans to field joint inter-Korean athletic and cheering squads at the Beijing Olympics in August are stalled. They have been rebuffed twice by Northern counterparts when they tried to raise the matter recently.

: The leftish Seoul daily Hankyoreh reports that North Korea has asked China for massive rice aid, having decided not to request this or fertilizer from South Korea unless Seoul moves to improve ties. Beijing has yet to respond.

: In a telephone conversation with outgoing Russian president Vladimir Putin, President Lee reportedly seeks continued efforts to link the trans-Korean and trans-Siberian railways as well as other tripartite cooperation projects involving North Korea.

: Rodong Sinmun attacks “pro-U.S. conservative ruling forces in south Korea hell-bent on dependence on foreign forces and confrontation with fellow countrymen.”

: Kim Yong-dae, presidium vice chairman of the Supreme People’s Assembly (SPA, the North’s rubber-stamp parliament), urges South Korea’s new administration to adhere to past inter-Korean agreements and their spirit, and not to raise tensions.

: KCNA reports undated visits by Kim Jong-il to different KPA bases on three successive days, and again on April 9. On April 7, it quotes Kim as saying the KPA could “beat back the enemy’s invasion at a single stroke.”

: In a lengthy article, Uriminzokkiri calls Lee a traitor. It urges all Koreans to “step up their struggle against [his] anti-tribal and anti-unification scheme”.

: The head of the DPRK delegation to inter-Korean general-level military talks warns ROK military authorities that the North will take “prompt corresponding military countermeasures.”  He dismisses the South’s reply as “nothing but an excuse” in relation to earlier “outbursts let loose” by the chairman of the ROK Joint Chiefs of Staff.

: The KPA Navy Command assails ROK “warmongers” for “perpetrating a serious military provocation” in the West (Yellow) Sea. The ROK navy retorts that its three patrol boats were south of the Northern Limit Line (NLL) and were there to stop Chinese fishing boats in Northern waters from crossing.

: The North’s DFRF accuses “South Korea’s conservative regime” of “driving north-south relations to confrontation and catastrophe, blatantly swimming against the trend of the era of independence, reunification, peace and prosperity.”

: A 6-strong Southern civic delegation visits Mt. Kumgang to discuss events to mark the June 2000 joint declaration. The North warns that this event’s success depends on both sides’ attitude.

: Finally breaking North Korea’s silence on the South’s new leader, a lengthy commentary in Rodong Sinmun attacks Lee Myung-bak as “a vicious political charlatan and imposter” and a pro-U.S. sycophant for subordinating inter-Korean ties to wider diplomacy and linking this to denuclearization and human rights. It names Lee 49 times, in the first direct insult of an ROK leader since 2000.

: North Korea cancels two planned Southern visits to Kaesong. Acheon Corp., a church and an NGO were due to send 500 people to plant trees on Arbor Day, April 5. On April 10, 200 Gyeonggi province officials were set to visit, but the North said Gyeonggi governor Kim Moon-su – a GNP member – was not welcome, in effect aborting the trip.

: Chosun Ilbo reports that KPA MiG-21 and other fighter jets have made 10 sorties near the DMZ since President Lee’s inauguration on Feb. 25. These and other KPA winter drills are up 50 percent this year.

: The KPA further threatens to preempt any Southern preemption, and thus “not merely plunge everything into flames but reduce it to ashes.” It warns that all inter-Korean dialogue will be suspended unless the South retracts and apologizes.

: According to the DPRK’s Uriminzokkiri website, the Pyongyang weekly Tongil Sinbo criticizes Lee Myung-bak’s controversial plan to build a 450 km.- long grand canal as “no doubt an act of madness” serving no practical purpose.

: The DPRK Foreign Ministry attacks the EU and Japan for sponsoring the annual resolution at the UN Human Rights Council condemning North Korea’s human rights violations, but does not mention that South Korea voted for the resolution, having in the past mostly abstained.

: The KPA claims that the new chairman of the ROK Joint Chiefs of Staff had threatened a preemptive strike against DPRK nuclear sites. Calling this “little short of a war declaration,” the KPA says it would ban all South Korean officials from crossing the DMZ.

: The Korean People’s Army (KPA) navy command accuses ROK warships of violating DPRK waters in the West (Yellow) Sea, vowing to “mercilessly wipe out the provocateurs.” The KPA tests several short-range sea-to-sea missiles off the port of Nampo.

: The two Koreas meet at Panmunjom to discuss energy aid to the DPRK in the context of the Six-Party Talks.

: 11 ROK government officials leave the Kaesong Industrial Zone (KIZ) in the small hours (around 1 a.m.) at the North’s insistence, three days after being given notice to quit. No force is used, and business at the KIZ otherwise continues as normal. The South says this is regrettable, and that it will not offer anything to appease the North.

: President Lee renews his call to the North to scrap its nuclear weapons, citing a 1991 inter-Korean denuclearization accord. He also urges Pyongyang to be more serious about resolving POW and abductee issues, but says humanitarian aid will continue, as will the Mt. Kumgang and Kaesong projects.

: The new nominee to head the ROK Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Kim Tae-young, tells a parliamentary hearing that the DPRK has enough plutonium to build six to seven nuclear weapons, but says there is no confirmation that it has done so.

: Breaking with the previous administration’s policy, South Korea says it will vote for a UN resolution criticizing North Korean human rights abuses.

: The soccer world cup qualifying match between the two Koreas, moved to Shanghai, ends in a goalless draw. They will meet again in Seoul in June.

: A 159-strong Southern business delegation flies to Pyongyang by special plane direct from Seoul, for a 4-day trip to inspect industrial plant and explore investment opportunities. Acheon Global, which arranged the tour, is run by Kim Yoon-kyu, whose ouster in 2005 as vice chairman of Hyundai Asan caused a major rift with Pyongyang.

: Rodong Sinmun warns that inter-Korean ties may become strained if the South keeps trying to reinforce its alliance with “foreign forces.” It calls this “grave criminal moves” and “treacherous acts.”

: For the first time, Southern tourists visiting Mt. Kumgang may take their own cars. A convoy of 15 drives across the DMZ; 20 per day are allowed, with a 30 mph speed limit. Once arrived, visitors must use Hyundai’s tour buses within the zone.

: North Korea’s Democratic Front for the Reunification of the Fatherland (DFRF) accuses Southern conservatives of stepping up “propaganda broadcasting” aimed at fueling cross-border tensions and undermining the DPRK. It cites North Korea Reform Radio, Open Radio for North Korea and several Christian evangelical programs.

: KCNA says the DPRK will hold its first census in 15 years on Oct.1. MOU adds that the ROK will shoulder most of the cost ($4 million out of $5.6 million), with the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), which will assist, furnishing the rest.

: President Lee proposes “shuttle summit diplomacy” with North Korea, as with South Korea’s other neighbors. Yonhap glosses this as “a delicate departure” from Lee’s earlier stance, that he would only meet Kim Jong-il in Seoul and to discuss nuclear disarmament. Lee also tones down his earlier comments on DPRK human rights.

: Rodong Sinmun claims that a projected triangular military alliance of South Korea, the U.S., and Japan is a leftover of the Cold War, aimed at stifling the DPRK.

: South Korea’s Football Association says that soccer’s governing body has ruled that the World Cup qualifier between the two Koreas will be held in Shanghai instead of Pyongyang on March 26. The South had complained after the North insisted that the ROK not fly its national flag or play its anthem, proposing joint symbols instead.

: The Blue House – South Korea’s presidential office – announces two new committees as part of a reorganization. The aim is to better coordinate unification (meaning relations with North Korea) and foreign affairs, and subordinate the former to the latter.

: The Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of the Fatherland (CPRF) attacks Seoul’s comments on its human rights as “reckless remarks…treacherous outbursts [and] an intolerable, grave provocation.” It calls the new ROK government “descendants of the past dictatorial regime.”

: Choson Sinbo, a Tokyo-based pro-Pyongyang weekly, says “the arrows of condemnation in DPRK rhetoric on joint military drills were targeted at the U.S. troops and South Korean warmongers, not the South Korean government.” It adds, “The whole Korean people want the South Korean government neither to regress in the North-South relations nor to join in behavior to do so, and choose the path of independent reunification.”

: At the UN Human Rights Council (HRC) in Geneva, South Korea urges the North to address international concerns about its human rights record.

: North Korea’s “guidance bureau of scenic site development” tells Hyundai Asan that visits by Southern civic groups to Mt. Kumgang and Kaesong city are suspended indefinitely. They may still send aid and ordinary tourism is unaffected. No reason is given. This prevents one NGO from bringing in 70,000 coal briquettes on March 4.

: Former Unification Minister Lee Jong-suk, now a fellow at the Sejong Institute, says the ROK Bank of Korea (BoK)’s estimate of DPRK gross national income (GNI) per head in 2005 as $1,108 – almost twice Vietnam’s – is too high. Accusing BoK of incorrect methodology, Lee says an unpublished study he commissioned at MOU recalculated the North’s overall GNI at $8.4-8.9 billion – 1 per cent of the South’s – or $368-389 per capita.

: The U.S. and ROK conduct their annual Key Resolve/Foal Eagle military exercises. As usual, various Pyongyang media lambaste this as a bid to ignite a new war.

: Meeting in Kaesong, the Koreas fail to agree on flags and anthems for their forthcoming football match due on March 26.

: Lee Myung-bak is formally inaugurated as the ROK’s 17th-term president for a five-year term. DPRK media ignore this, but stress the need for great unity of the whole nation on the principle of independence.

: Pyongyang denies rumours that 22 North Koreans whom Seoul returned on Feb. 8 after their boat drifted into Southern waters have been executed. It claims that they “flatly rejected an enticement that they would be guaranteed a wealthy livelihood if they defected to the South, and now live normal lives in their homes after returning.”

: Pyongyang denies that it ever diverted Southern food aid to its military.

: At a tripartite meeting under the SPT, North Korea thanks China and South Korea for energy aid, but complains that it is being delivered too slowly.

: DPRK Vice Foreign Minister Kim Kye-gwan has a farewell meeting with his ROK counterpart Chun Young-woo in Beijing. The new government in Seoul is expected to replace Chun as its chief delegate to the SPT.

: 15 officials from the ROK Health Ministry join DPRK colleagues in 5-day site surveys of a hospital in Sariwon, south of Pyongyang, and for a planned surgical cotton factory. This was one of the projects agreed at last October’s summit.

: Seoul media belatedly find that Tongil Sinbo, a nominally unofficial DPRK weekly on the South, on Jan. 26 criticized Lee Myung-bak’s new year remarks on the North as reactionary, anti-reunification and “obscene talk of impropriety.”

: Presidential TC sources confirm that MOU will remain, but is likely to be downsized into fewer and smaller divisions.

: In the first confirmation of repeated allegations by critics of the sunshine policy, sources in Seoul admit that the ROK military has known of, and seen across the border, KPA frontline units diverting Southern food aid around ten times since 2003. The outgoing government neither publicized this nor apparently ever protested to Pyongyang.

: Pyongyang media, which rarely cover events in South Korea, report (with pictures) the fire that destroyed Seoul’s historic Namdaemun gate two days earlier.

: Working talks in Kaesong on joint highway repairs in the North adopt a joint report on two site surveys carried out in December, but fail to agree on how to further inspect and renovate the Kaesong-Pyongyang road.

: The Seoul press reports, as is later confirmed, that after inter-party talks the incoming administration will after all retain the MOU, but with less power.

: Unusually, 22 North Koreans whose boat drifted into Southern waters are returned, by land, the same day. The ROK government insists this was at their own request, and that the group – comprising related families – had not sought to defect.

: Meeting in Kaesong, the two Koreas agree to send two 300-strong joint cheering squads to the Beijing Olympics in August. They will go by rail across the DMZ, on the first train to travel from Seoul to Beijing in over half a century.

: Wang Jiarui, a senior Beijing figure as director of the International Liaison Department of the Chinese Communist Party’s Central Committee, visits the KIZ as a side trip from Pyongyang. This is a rarity: almost all visitors to the KIZ cross the border from Seoul. Wang is the KIZ’s first high-profile Chinese visitor. Two PRC firms operate in the zone.

: At the postponed working-level railway talks in Kaesong, it is agreed to retain daily service but to remove empty freight cars. Southern officials acknowledge that their 50-plus SMEs in the KIZ prefer the flexibility of trucks and road transport, since the train is slow and does not directly serve the zone.

: Working-level military talks at Panmunjom on security aspects of joint economic projects make little progress. The North again suggests reducing the daily cross-border rail service, which often runs empty. The South resists this for the sake of regularity.

: Pyongyang postpones at short notice 2008’s first scheduled inter-Korean meeting, due on Jan. 22-23 in Kaesong to discuss railway cooperation, on the ground that “it is the start of the year and there are a few things to prepare.” This is taken as signalling that the North is unsure of the intentions of the South’s incoming government.

: Not for the first time, DPRK media demand the abolition of the Northern Limit Line (NLL), the de facto inter-Korean border in the West/Yellow Sea.

: In his New Year news conference, Lee Myung-bak says he will cooperate fully with North Korea – if it adheres to denuclearization as agreed in the Six-Party Talks (SPT).  To that end he is ready to meet Kim Jong-il any time – but only in Seoul. Calling accords reached by President Roh Moo-hyun at last October’s summit “lacking in details”, Lee says his government will study their implementation “from the perspective of feasibility, fiscal burdens on the people and the national consensus.” Pyongyang has yet to comment on Lee or his election.

: Choi Won-ho, president of a South Korean fast food franchise, says he will open Pyongyang’s first chicken and beer takeaway and delivery service (by motorbike) in February, in a restaurant joint venture with the North’s Rakwon General Trading Co.

: A Seoul daily reveals that ROK intelligence chief Kim Man-bok secretly visited Pyongyang on Dec. 18. He told his DPRK counterpart Kim Yang-gon not to worry if Lee Myung-bak is the South’s next president, as he will continue to engage the North.

: The conservative Grand National Party (GNP) asks President-elect Lee Myung-bak’s transition committee (TC) to be cautious in some contentious areas, such as abolishing the Unification Ministry (MOU), which it fears may harm the party in National Assembly elections due on April 9.

: The TC asks MOU to slow some inter-Korean projects, like the Haeju peace zone and Anbyon shipyard, pending their review. Such plans – but not humanitarian aid – may in the future be linked to nuclear progress in the SPT. MOU pleads not to be abolished, and for already agreed North-South meetings and surveys to go ahead as scheduled.

: MOU puts to the TC the idea of making aid to North Korea conditional on repatriation of Southern POWs and abductees, thought to number 548 and 485 respectively (with perhaps a further 80,000 taken North during the Korean war, who are on no one’s agenda). It cites Germany as a precedent, where West Germany paid the former East to release political prisoners.

: MOU reports that inter-Korean trade in 2007 rose 33 percent, from $1.35 to $1.79 billion. Main factors were a 52 percent rise in trade in minerals and marine products, and a 48 percent rise in shipments to and from the Kaesong industrial zone (KIZ). Non-commercial exchanges, meaning aid, fell 13 percent. No trade balance was given.

: A second load of DPRK zinc reaches Incheon, completing the North’s initial repayments under the raw materials for minerals barter deal (see Dec. 14).

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