The Pyongyang Card : A 'Shameless Trick?' with Peace in the Air, South Korean Leader Kim Dae Jung Cashes in at the Polls

Article excerpt

President Kim Dae Jung knows the "North wind" better than most South Koreans. In 1987 Pyongyang effectively killed his presidential campaign. North Korean terrorists blew up a jetliner from Korean Airlines, Seoul's flag carrier, driving jittery voters to his conservative rival, former general Roh Tae Woo. In 1992 Kim lost another run for the Blue House after his more moderate opponent branded him a radical who would seek a dishonorable peace with the communist North. After Kim finally captured the presidency in 1998, his Millennium Democratic Party rode the "North wind" to a parliamentary victory last week, winning 17 new seats in the National Assembly just three days after his government announced a groundbreaking summit accord with North Korea.

The outcome still leaves the opposition Grand National Party with a thin plurality in the National Assembly. Yet Kim's triumph is apparent. The stunning summit announcement was welcomed by most South Koreans, and certainly altered the outcome of the election. In a public-opinion survey last week, 90 percent of South Koreans welcomed the announcement. "Had it not been for the summit, the ruling party would have failed to increase its support base," says Choi Jang Jip, a political scientist at Korea University. Peace is still fragile, but even the hint of a rapprochement will ease military tensions. Chosun Ilbo, a Seoul daily, heralded the summit, which it said "could resolve the Cold War structure on the Korean peninsula, the last Cold War region in the world."

In particular, prewar Koreans were heartened by the news. They hope that the summit will lead to reunions with family members left in the North decades ago. During 55 years of division, the Koreas have permitted only one reunion effort, in 1985, and that involved only 100 families. In the same survey, nearly half the respondents said that the reunion issue should be at the top of the summit agenda. South Korea's young people are less sentimental. Although they welcome the summit idea, they don't want to see a sudden national reunification that, as happened in Germany, could prove to be costly. …