Moscow-Seoul Axis Faced with Economic Crisis, Moscow Has Turned to the Pacific Rim for Assistance, and South Korea Has Proven an Enthusiastic Partner

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`WE will let the fruit grow ripe and when the fruit grows ripe, we will eat it." Mikhail Gorbachev, June 5, 1990, San Francisco.

"We have sowed seeds of freedom, prosperity, and cooperation." Roh Tae-Woo, Dec. 15, 1990, Moscow.

During an historic summit in Moscow with South Korean President Roh Tae-Woo, Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev obtained $3 billion in economic assistance. And Roh, the first South Korean head of state to make an official Soviet visit, received a Soviet pledge of peace and security in the Korean Peninsula. The Moscow summit symbolizes an unusually speedy, if not hasty, blossoming relationship between Moscow and Seoul. Relations were first normalized at the United Nations this September after 86 years of animosity. But along with improvements, the Moscow summit retained a cold war facade.

Despite what South Korean officials say, the Soviet Union has failed to explain its involvement in the Korean War and Moscow's downing of KAL Flight 007 in 1983. Moscow remains silent about Khrushchev's comments that the war, while started by the North Korean leadership, was enthusiastically supported by "everybody" in the Soviet Union. And seven years after the tragic KAL incident, not a word has been said by the Soviet Union about the 269 innocent passengers.

Soviet policy under Gorbachev in Northeast Asia has indeed opened a new chapter. Gorbachev's initiatives have altered the power relationship between Beijing, Moscow, and Washington. Roh has welcomed Gorbachev's initiatives and has embraced the new era of improved relations with Beijing, Moscow, and Pyongyang. Yet, Moscow and Beijing have proven more receptive than Pyongyang. Roh's "partnership" with Pyongyang is not likely to begin so long as Seoul still considers Pyongyang an "anti-state." And as Seoul and Moscow get closer to each other, both seem to distance themselves from Pyongyang.

What do Moscow and Seoul have in common? In a sense, Gorbachev and Roh seem to be in the same bed but with different dreams. The 1988 Seoul Olympics and related Soviet cultural activities in South Korea proved to be major catalysts for emerging Moscow-Seoul relations. Soviet athletes and artists were honored guests during the games. And Moscow responded. More than 6,000 Soviets attended, the largest Soviet presence in South Korea since 1945, when the Red Army, along with American forces, liberated Korea from 35 years of Japanese domination. When the Soviet Olympic team headed home after successful competition, it took an impressive amount of gifts from the Korean business community.

Clearly Gorbachev cannot afford to miss the fast-moving Pacific economic train. He wants to enlist Seoul's assistance through direct investment, joint ventures, and trade. And since Moscow's relations with Tokyo have stalled over a territorial dispute, Gorbachev has increasingly looked to other Asian trade partners. …