North Korea - South Korea

Chronology from May 2011 to Aug 2011

: New KINU president Kim Tae-woo calls on South Korea to “show more flexibility” toward the North, albeit “without undermining its principles.”

: Lee Myung-bak reshuffles his Cabinet. The four ministers replaced include Unification Minister Hyun In-taek. He is replaced by Yu Woo-ik, Lee’s former chief of staff and later ambassador in Beijing. Hyun is made a special advisor on unification.

: The ROK Cabinet approves a bill that would protect North Korean residents’ rights to inherit assets from their families living in South Korea, while also strictly limiting the transfer of such assets out of the South.

: GNP Chairman Hong Joon-pyo says three-way gas pipeline talks will be held in November, and will “open a new chapter for inter-Korean relations.” He adds: “The GNP has been accused of being an anti-unification, warmonger group. But time has come for the party to change direction.”

: Chosun Ilbo quotes an unnamed official of the National Intelligence Service (NIS)’s National Cyber Security Center as saying that North Korea attempts as many as 250 million indiscriminate cyber-attacks on government agencies and private corporations in South Korea every day.

: Several Seoul papers report that at a meeting with President Lee the previous day, GNP chairman Hong Joon-pyo, pushed “strongly” for a change of unification minister.

: The JoongAng Ilbo reports that at mid-August MOU had yet to hold official discussions about unification funding with the Ministry of Strategy and Finance (MOSF). MOU said the ROK’s economic difficulties made such discussions problematic. Last year MOU said an outline unification plan would be ready by this June.

: Park Chol-su, the Chinese-Korean head of Taepung International Investment Group (TIIG), explains Pyongyang’s plans to turn Mt. Kumgang into an international tourist and business zone, with golf courses and casinos. A group of foreign business persons and journalists will visit the resort by sea from Rason next week; Yonhap is invited, but Seoul forbids it to go. On Aug. 30 an unnamed official says the ROK will call on all countries to boycott any new tours to Mt. Kumgang.

: The ROK’s liberal opposition Democratic Party (DP) calls for Minister of Unification Hyun In-taek to be sacked, calling him an obstacle to Korean reunification.

: Southern prosecutors release details of an ongoing spy ring probe, to counter charges that this is politically driven. They claim the alleged ringleader Kim Duk-yong met the late Kim Il Sung personally in Pyongyang in 1993, and founded a pro-North secret group called Wangjaesan. In 2005 four of the group are said to have received DPRK medals.

: MOU refuses a request by a special committee on inter-Korean affairs of the ROK National Assembly, which on Aug. 17 applied to visit the Kaesong Industrial Complex (KIC) at the request of Southern companies operating there. Since May 24, 2010 Seoul has let no South Koreans visit the North, except a few for business or humanitarian aid.

: The ROK convenes an inter-ministerial task force under MOU to mull legal and diplomatic measures against the DPRK over Mt. Kumgang. Unification Minister Hyun In-taek asks: “What country, what company, what person would trust and invest in North Korea after it abandoned what little trust it received?” (words as reported).

: Dmitry Medvedev and Kim Jong Il meet in Ulan Ude, Siberia. They call for early resumption of the Six-Party Talks, and agree to set up working groups to look into (in KCNA’s words) “various fields including the issue of energy including gas and the issue of linking railways.” Moscow’s version explicitly mentions a South Korean role.

: All 14 ROK workers (plus two from China) leave Mt. Kumgang ahead of the North’s deadline, leaving no South Koreans at the resort for the first time in over a decade.

: Park Geun-hye, the leading contender for the GNP presidential nomination in 2012, calls for “a new kind of Korea” and a fresh approach to the North based on building “trustpolitik” in an article in the September/October issue of the US journal Foreign Affairs.

: Pyongyang says it will “from now on make a real legal disposal of all the properties including real estates, equipment and vehicles of the south side in the Special Zone for International Tour of Mt. Kumgang.” It gives South Koreans 72 hours to leave.

: Kim Jong Il visits a large dam and power station at Bureya in Amur region. In the past Russia has mooted selling electricity generated here to both Koreas.

: Lee Myung-bak undertakes state visits to Mongolia, Uzbekistan, and Kazakhstan. He signs energy and related accords worth $11 billion in total.

: KCNA reports – immediately, for once – that leader Kim Jong Il’s train has crossed the northeast border at Khasan. This is Kim’s first visit to Russia since 2002.

: On the day set by the North as a deadline to resolve the Mt. Kumgang row, four Hyundai Asan officials visit the resort. No progress is made.

: Revising an earlier plan, the ROK Justice Ministry says it will not recognize DPRK law regarding North-South inheritance cases lest this lead to “unreasonable rulings.”

: In a very rare usage of South Korea’s official name, KCNA prints in full Dmitry Medvedev’s Liberation Day message to “Esteemed Your Excellency Kim Jong Il.” The Russian president advocates “a three-party plan encompassing Russia, the DPRK and the Republic of Korea (sic) in the fields of gasification, energy and railway construction.”

: The (South) Korea Chamber of Commerce and Industry (KCCI) hosts a symposium on preparing for unification. Cost estimates range from 55 to 249 trillion won ($50 to 230 billion) in the first year of a unified government alone.

: Kim Tae-woo, ex-vice president of the Korea Institute of Defense Analyses (KIDA), is named president of the Korean Institute for National Unification (KINU).

: 400 Japanese high school students from Iwate, Miyage, and Fukushima Prefectures arrive in China at invitation of the Chinese government; the visit is part of student exchange program marking 40 anniversary of normalization.

: Court officials in Seoul say further lawsuits are impending by North Koreans claiming part of the assets of fathers who have died in the South. They suspect the DPRK government may be involved, since large estates are being targeted and the plaintiffs have surprisingly detailed knowledge of these, which ordinary North Koreans could hardly gain.

: Apropos Mt. Kumgang, North Korea gives notice that “the properties of the south side would be legally dealt with according to the DPRK law and in case the enterprises of the south side do not witness the adjustment within three weeks, the former would consider that the latter totally forfeited the right to properties and strictly dispose of them.”

: A Blue House spokesman warns against hopes of an early breakthrough on resuming the Six-Party Talks, adding, “Just because a swallow has come does not mean spring is around the corner.”

: Also at the ARF in Bali, the two Koreas’ foreign ministers, Pak Ui Chun and Kim Sung-hwan, meet briefly but cordially.

: The North and South Korean chief Six-Party Talks negotiators unexpectedly hold a two-hour bilateral meeting on the sidelines of the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) in Bali. Wi Sung-lac and Ri Yong Ho agree to make joint efforts to resume the talks as soon as possible.

: The two Koreas hold talks at Mt. Kumgang on the resort’s future. No progress is made as neither side budges from their earlier entrenched positions.

: In a landmark decision, Seoul Central District Court rules in favor of four DPRK siblings named Yoon who filed suit in the ROK in February 2009, claiming part of the 10 billion won estate of their late father who went South in 1950 and died in 1987. The four children of his subsequent remarriage in South Korea had opposed their claim.

: South Korea’s ruling conservative Grand National Party (GNP) elects Hong Joon-pyo, a maverick back-bencher, as its new chairman. Hong soon distances himself from some of President Lee’s policies, hinting at a change of course on North Korea.

: To mark the 61st anniversary of the outbreak of the Korean War in 1950, activists – mainly defectors – launch five balloons carrying 100,000 propaganda leaflets, 500 dollar bills, booklets, radios and DVDs northward across the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ).

: MOU reports that as of March the Kaesong Industrial Complex (KIC) has produced a cumulative total of goods worth $1.22 billion since it first opened in December 2004. Over 90 percent of these were sold in South Korea, with just 9 percent (worth $110 million) exported to overseas markets such as the EU, Russia, and Australia.

: Yonhap reports that a group of nine North Koreans defected by boat in the West (Yellow) Sea a week earlier. Next day, Unification Minister Hyun In-taek says he was not told of this and first heard of it in the media, raising doubts about coordination in Seoul.

: North Korea amplifies its account of May’s secret talks, including allegations that the South tried to use a bribe. It threatens to publish transcripts of the proceedings.

: North Korea’s National Defense Commission (NDC) says that on May 9 the two Koreas held secret talks in Beijing. South Korea does not repudiate the story, but claims it was the North that took the initiative.

: A six-person team from the Council for Cooperation with North Korea, a Southern NGO, visits Kaesong for talks on aid. This is the fourth such humanitarian trip approved by MOU since it banned most Southern travel to the North in May last year.

: MOU says that South Koreans wishing to send money to their families in the North must get official approval in advance. The move draws criticism from defectors and others. It is unclear when this will take effect. Also, Southern firms doing business with the North must register; MOU says it has confirmed 580 so far, but believes there are 700-800.

: Apropos the ROK president’s recent visit to Berlin – see above, May 9 – the (North) Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) lambastes “traitor Lee Myung-bak” for his “daydream of ‘emerging a victor’ in the confrontation of systems.”

: MOU announces that the cumulative total of North Korean defectors to the South topped 21,000 in April, and now stands at 21,165. It passed 20,000 last November.

: Still in Berlin, Lee Myung-bak meets retired and current officials who were involved in Germany’s reunification, to seek advice on how to prepare for this in Korea. He tells a German newspaper: “Such a movement as the Jasmine Revolution cannot be defied….  However, as North Korean society is so closed and lacks information, the Middle Eastern revolution will not have any direct impact, at least for the time being.”

: An editorial writer at the JoongAng Ilbo (Seoul’s leading center-right daily), Kim Jin, claims that on May 3 he and some fellow-conservatives, dining with Blue House advisers, persuaded them that Hyun In-taek should be retained as unification minister for fear that Pyongyang would read any change as a sign that Lee Myung-bak is going soft.

: North Korea tells the South it has nothing to say about the latter’s proposal for further dialogue on seismic cooperation. Seoul had proposed that they meet on May 11-13. This contact, initiated by Pyongyang in March after Japan’s earthquake, thus goes no further.

: Yonhap reports that the Unification Ministry (MOU) has approved more non-governmental humanitarian aid to Pyongyang. Five ROK civic groups have been allowed to deliver 830 million won ($769,000) worth of bread, soy milk, basic medical supplies and anti-malaria aid. This brings the total amount of private Southern aid to the North this year to 2.28 billion won ($2.11 million); very meager compared to what used to be sent officially.

: In Berlin, ROK President Lee invites Kim Jong Il to next March’s second Nuclear Security Summit (NSS) in Seoul, if the DPRK first commits to denuclearization. Lee and Chancellor Angela Merkel endorse a plan for Germany to share a large database on exchanges between the former two Germanys, negotiations for reunification, reconstruction of East Germany, social integration, mutual growth after reunification and estimation of unification costs. South Korea and Germany will hold an annual conference on reunification.

: According to subsequent revelations by Pyongyang (see June 1), the two Koreas hold secret talks in Beijing towards a potential summit meeting.

: ROK President Lee Myung-bak partially reshuffles his Cabinet. Against many expectations Hyun In-taek, unification minister since January 2009, retains his post.

: A 10-person delegation of the Jogye Order, South Korea’s largest Buddhist sect, goes to the otherwise mothballed Mt. Kumgang east coast tourist resort to deliver 100,000 vermifuge tablets (a medicine for intestinal worms). The ROK government, while permitting this visit, forbids the monks to hold a joint service with Northern Buddhists.

: South Korean prosecutors blame North Korea for a cyber-attack on April 12 which paralyzed Nonghyup, a major bank with irretrievable loss of some transaction data.

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