News

    U.S. and South Korea Assess Relations

    The relationship between the United States and South Korea was forged during the Korean War in the early 1950s, and for decades after that centered on a common strategy of containing communist North Korea. But many experts say the unity between Washington and Seoul has been under pressure because of divergent positions on several key issues.

    In 1945, at the end of World War Two, Korea was split into the Russian-backed Democratic People's Republic of Korea in the north with Pyongyang as its capital, and the U.S. - supported Republic of Korea, or R.O.K., in the south with Seoul as its capital.

    In 1950, North Korean forces invaded the South and three years of war ensued. As part of a United Nations force, the U.S. fought on the side of South Korea. And today, American troops remain to help ensure that country's security.

    North Korean Threat

    For decades after the Korean War, Washington and Seoul were united in the face of Pyongyang's threats. But in recent years, as analyst Derek Mitchell with the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington explains, the issue of North Korea has become a wedge between the two nations.

    "South Korea views it [i.e., North Korea] as a failed state, but not a dangerous place. And they want to reach out and reconcile with the north. So it's really to them a peninsular issue," says Mitchell. "To the United States, it's a global issue of the danger of their missiles and of nuclear [weapons] development. We [South Korea and the United States] are both committed to dialogue [with North Korea], but if dialogue fails, the question is: 'What comes next?' And we have fundamentally different ways of addressing it."

    U.S. President George Bush has called North Korea a member of an "axis of evil" along with Iran and Saddam Hussein's Iraq, and favors strong international sanctions against Pyongyang. Mr. Bush says such actions may deter North Korea's ambitions to build an atomic arsenal.

    But as Bruce Bennett at the RAND Corporation in Santa Monica, California points out, the 1997 election of South Korean President Kim Dae Jung put Seoul on a different course that current president, Roh Moo-hyun, maintains.

    "President Kim Dae Jung started the notion of the 'Sunshine Policy' rapprochement with the North because he believed that if you approach the North confrontationally, you would only wind up with the chance of a conflict. And so, his attitude was, 'Let's try to rebuild the North's economy, meanwhile avoiding conflict and eventually resolving this sort of thing [i.e., North-South issues] in the long-term,'" says Bennett.

    Kent Calder with The Johns Hopkins University's School of Advanced International Studies in Washington says South Korea's desire for constructive engagement with the North goes far beyond wanting to avoid conflict. He says rapprochement is rooted in the Korean psyche.

    "Blood is thicker than politics. They have families on the northern side of the [38th] parallel [the border between North and South Korea] that have not had any contact with one another. They speak the same language. So they're one people. And that sense of nationalism and national identity has been fueling the 'Sunshine Policy,'" says Calder.

    The economic disparity between the two Koreas is huge. While South Korea's per-capita Gross Domestic Product was estimated by the U.S. government last year at more than $20,000. The same measurement for North Korea was less than two thousand dollars. Adding to the woes of people in the North are food shortages and a scarcity of fuel that holds back industrial production.

    U.S. Troop Reduction

    As South Korea has changed its relationship with the North, the United States has changed a key part of its relationship with South Korea. The Bush administration has announced that several thousand of the 37,000 U.S. troops in South Korea will be withdrawn, and that some of the remaining forces will be moved away from the border with the North.

    Scott Morrissey, an analyst at the Center for Defense Information in Washington, says social forces in South Korea are also a factor in the force reduction.

    "Ever since the sharp divergence [between Washington and Seoul] of policies toward the North, there have been anti-American rallies in many, many parts of South Korea. So as the South Koreans are saying that the United States is not wanted, many in the United States feel more than willing to accommodate that, if that's the sentiment. And that drives some of the base relocations," says Morrissey.

    Another recent change in U.S. - South Korean relations involved something called "wartime operational control." Since the Korean War, the two countries have had an American overall commander with a South Korean second-in-command who would lead a combined force into battle should a North-South war break out.

    But as the RAND Corporation's Bruce Bennett explains, Seoul wanted a different arrangement. "For largely political reasons, the South Korean government has chosen to be very nationalistic and say, 'We want R.O.K. [Republic of Korea] forces under R.O.K. control.' And the U.S. had opposed that because we didn't perceive a way to make that work very well in a combined [forces] manner," says Bennett.

    While a number of South Koreans have supported the "sunshine" policy, there is also some opposition. Concern has increased over North Korea's declaration that it has nuclear weapons, and its recent test of a missile believed to be capable of hitting targets thousands of kilometers away. Pyongyang's ambitions have even caused South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun to reconsider the pace of rapproachment with the North.

    Despite some differences in policy between Washington and Seoul, they stand on common ground in the desire for the Korean Peninsula to be stable and peaceful. President Roh is expected to visit Washington later this month for his sixth meeting with President Bush. The two leaders will likely discuss how they can find greater agreement on dealing with North Korea's nuclear and missile programs, as well as economic and other issues important to regional stability.

    This story was first broadcast on the English news program,VOA News Now. For other Focus reports click here.

    This forum has been closed.
    Comments
         
    There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    'No Means No' Program Targets Sexual Violence in Kenyai
    X
    February 08, 2016 4:30 PM
    The organizers of an initiative to reduce and stop rape in the informal settlements around Kenya's capital say their program is having marked success. Girls are taking self-defense classes while the boys are learning how to protect the girls and respect them. Lenny Ruvaga reports from Nairobi.
    Video

    Video 'No Means No' Program Targets Sexual Violence in Kenya

    The organizers of an initiative to reduce and stop rape in the informal settlements around Kenya's capital say their program is having marked success. Girls are taking self-defense classes while the boys are learning how to protect the girls and respect them. Lenny Ruvaga reports from Nairobi.
    Video

    Video New Hampshire Voters Are Independent, Mindful of History

    Once every four years, the northeastern state of New Hampshire becomes the center of the U.S. political universe with its first-in-the-nation presidential primary. What's unusual about New Hampshire is how seriously the voters take their role and the responsibility of being among the first to weigh in on the candidates.
    Video

    Video Chocolate Lovers Get a Sweet History Lesson

    Observed in many countries around the world, Valentine’s Day is sometimes celebrated with chocolate festivals. But at a festival near Washington, the visitors experience a bit more than a sugar rush. They go on a sweet journey through history. VOA’s June Soh takes us to the festival.
    Video

    Video 'Smart' Bandages Could Heal Wounds More Quickly

    Simple bandages are usually seen as the first line of attack in healing small to moderate wounds and burns. But scientists say new synthetic materials with embedded microsensors could turn bandages into a much more valuable tool for emergency physicians. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Bhutanese Refugees in New Hampshire Closely Watching Primary Election

    They fled their country and lived in refugee camps in neighboring Nepal for decades before being resettled in the northeastern U.S. state of New Hampshire -- now the focus of the U.S. presidential contest. VOA correspondent Aru Pande spoke with members of the Bhutanese community, including new American citizens, about the campaign and the strong anti-immigrant rhetoric of some of the candidates.
    Video

    Video Researchers Use 3-D Printer to Produce Transplantable Body Parts

    Human organ transplants have become fairly common around the world in the past few decades. Researchers at various universities are coordinating their efforts to find solutions -- including teams at the University of Pennsylvania and Rice University in Houston that are experimenting with a 3-D printer -- to make blood vessels and other structures for implant. As VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Houston, they are also using these artificial body parts to seek ways of defeating cancerous tumors.
    Video

    Video Helping the Blind 'See' Great Art

    There are 285 million blind and visually impaired people in the world who are unable to enjoy visual art at a museum. One New York photographer is trying to fix this situation by making tangible copies of the world’s masterpieces. VOA correspondent Victoria Kupchinetsky was there as visually impaired people got a feel for great art. Joy Wagner narrates her report.
    Video

    Video Sanders, Clinton Battle for Young Democratic Vote

    Despite a narrow loss to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in last week's Iowa Democratic caucuses, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders secured more than 80 percent of the vote among those between the ages of 18 and 29. VOA correspondent Aru Pande talks to Democrats in New Hampshire about who they are leaning towards and why in this week's primary.
    Video

    Video German Artists to Memorialize Refugees With Life Jacket Exhibit

    Sold in every kind of shop in some Turkish port towns, life jackets have become a symbol of the refugee crisis that brought a million people to Europe in 2015.  On the shores of Lesbos, Greece, German artists collect discarded life jackets as they prepare an art installation they plan to display in Germany.  For VOA, Hamada Elrasam has this report from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video E-readers Help Ease Africa's Book Shortage

    Millions of people in Africa can't read, and there's a chronic shortage of books. A non-profit organization called Worldreader is trying to help change all that one e-reader at a time. VOA’s Deborah Block tells us about a girls' school in Nairobi, Kenya where Worldreader is making a difference.
    Video

    Video Genius Lets World Share Its Knowledge

    Inspired by crowdsourcing companies like Wikipedia, Genius allows anyone to edit anything on the web, using its web annotation tool
    Video

    Video In Philippines, Mixed Feelings About Greater US Military Presence

    In the Philippines, some who will be directly affected by a recent Supreme Court decision clearing the way for more United States troop visits are having mixed reactions.  The increased rotations come at a time when the Philippines is trying to build up its military in the face of growing maritime assertiveness from China.  From Bahile, Palawan on the coast of the South China Sea, Simone Orendain has this story.
    Video

    Video Microcephaly's Connection to Zika: Guilty Until Proven Innocent

    The Zika virus rarely causes problems for the people who get it, but it seems to be having a devastating impact on babies whose mothers are infected with Zika. VOA's Carol Pearson has more.
    Video

    Video Stunning Artworks Attract Record Crowds, Thanks to Social Media

    A new exhibit at the oldest art museum in America is shattering attendance records. Thousands of visitors are lining up to see nine giant works of art that have gotten a much-deserved shot of viral marketing. The 150-year-old Smithsonian American Art Museum has never had a response quite like this. VOA's Julie Taboh reports.