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Files Show a Stubborn North Korea ; Communist Bloc Archives Reveal That Aid to North Korea Gave Its Old Allies Little Influence

By Becker, Jasper | The Christian Science Monitor, July 1, 2003 | Go to article overview

Files Show a Stubborn North Korea ; Communist Bloc Archives Reveal That Aid to North Korea Gave Its Old Allies Little Influence


Becker, Jasper, The Christian Science Monitor


New material emerging from secret archives opened in Moscow and Eastern bloc capitals is shedding light, mostly unfavorable, on the question of whether handing out aid to North Korea can buy any meaningful compliance.

A multinational group of scholars trawling through the Czech, Hungarian, Soviet, and East German archives is now producing the first clear picture of North Korea's relationship with its key allies.

"It shows how dependent North Korea has always been, and how extremely skillful it has always been at getting enough aid," says Kathryn Weathersby, who runs the Korea Initiative as part of the Woodrow Wilson Center's Cold War International History Project in Washington.

"It also shows that over the decades, China and Russia gave a lot of aid but gained very limited leverage," she says.

The new findings come as a string of visitors from Washington are returning from meetings with President Kim Jong Il convinced that there is a deal out there waiting to be done.

The latest group, led by Rep. Curt Weldon (R) of Penn., proposed in late June giving Pyongyang up to $5 billion a year in aid as part of a deal to end its suspected nuclear weapons program. Mr. Weldon also recommended that the US sign a one-year nonaggression pact with the North, recognize the communist nation, and establish a mission in Pyongyang.

The archives, which include telegrams and diplomatic reports, show that the aid-for-concessions formula has historically been an imbalanced equation.

Soviet experts built over 60 industrial plants in North Korea and kept it supplied with large quantities of weapons, oil, and grain. The East Germans and others also built industrial plants, trained North Koreans, and brought high-ranking North Koreans to Eastern Europe for medical treatment.

"[North Korea] was totally reliant on outside help. Even in the 1980s they could not produce enough clothing for themselves," said Bernd Schafer of the German Historical Institute in Washington.

After the Soviet Union's demise ended the supply of aid from Moscow and its allies, North Korea has been set on trying to make up for the loss by extracting aid from its erstwhile enemies - the United States, South Korea, and Japan. According to Balazs Szalontai, a Hungarian scholar who is studying the Hungarian diplomatic archives, there are clear parallels to be drawn.

"There is a long-term pattern. They are playing the same game they played with the USSR and China," he says.

"They set out to get the technology they needed but gave little back in return. Even the manufactured goods they shipped in payment were almost worthless, with the Soviets insisting they could not accept such museum pieces," Mr. Szalontai says.

The Koreans systematically harassed the Soviet and East Europeans living in North Korea.

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