Monday, December 23, 2013


Roh Tae-Woo
Nordpolitik or Northern Policy was a foreign policy towards the communist countries by the Roh Tae Woo administration. When the period of D├ętente ushered during the 1970’s, it was time to move away from a foreign policy based on ideology to a policy that will benefit the Republic of Korea. It was became a way for Korea to increase presence in the world stage.  In addition, it intended to isolate further or bring the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) to have a dialogue with Seoul.

Nordpolitik began during the late 1980’s at the start of the administration of the first directly elected president of South Korea – Roh Tae-woo. In July of 1988, he announced that South Korea would begin engaging with communist countries. It was dubbed as Nordpolitik, which was similar to the Ostpolitik or Eastern Policy of West Germany. The policy was a follow up to the opening of relation of western countries, like the US and Great Britain, to the communist bloc nations.  Furthermore, it also served as a response to Soviet Premier Mikhail Gorbachev’s Glasnost (opening) which would allow USSR to engage with diplomatic relations with other nations.

As soon as the policy began, diplomatic talks for establishing formal diplomatic relations with communist countries began. One of the first to engage on talks with the Republic of Korea was the center of the communist world, the USSR. Talks began between USSR and South Korea and resulted to the opening of an office of the Korean Trade Promotion Corporation in Russia on summer of 1989. This was then followed up by a summit of leaders between the two countries in San Francisco on June of 1990. The San Francisco Summit was followed by two other meetings, one in Moscow on December 1990 and another in Jeju Island on April of 1991. These summits resulted to the apology of Russia on the shooting down of KAL 007 back in 1983 It also allowed the USSR to receive a loan of $3 billion from South Korea. And finally, it led to the establishing of formal diplomatic relation between the two countries on 1991. Once Moscow began talks with Seoul, other communist countries followed like China, which established relations with Korea on August of 1992.

Besides joining the bandwagon of opening ups, Roh aimed the Nordpolitik in increasing the influence and presence of South Korea on the world stage.  The Nordpolitik allowed the markets for Korean products to expand to Eastern Europe, Russia, and China. Furthermore, Seoul was to host the 1988 Summer Olympics. The policy allowed the country to host the games without any controversy of boycott except from its northern neighbor, North Korea. 159 countries with athletes greater than 9,000 participated, the highest participation rate during that time. With a successful Olympic games adding the spread of Korean products, the prestige of Korea increases.

Among the most important objectives of the Nordpolitik was to make North Korea to open up. The idea was that with friendly relations with North Korea’s allies, the North would be willing to engage with the South.  The South tried its best to make the North to talk. For instance, Roh proposed to the North an inter-Korean visit of professionals and separated families, assistance to the improve DPRK – Japan and the US relations, and most of all, an inter-Korean Summit. Kim Il-sung however was undeterred on opening up. Kim Il-Sung continued his isolationist Juche or self-reliance ideology. Diplomatic relations of the DPRK with Japan and US didn’t go quite well. Finally, the inter-Korean summit didn’t materialize not until 2000 under Nordpolitik’s successor, the Sunshine Policy. Changing North Korea’s stance with Nordpolitik somehow failed.

The Nordpolitik gained limited success. Korea hosted a successful Olympic Games. Korean companies benefited to the new markets for exports and contracts. However, the Nordpolitik was a failure in opening North Korea.

See Also: 
Sunshine Policy 

Brune, L. The Korean War: Handbook of the Literature and Research. Connecticut: Greenwood Press, 1996. 

Cha, V. Beyond the Final Score: The Politics of Sports in Asia. New York: Columbia University Press, 2009. 

Kim, J. International Politics and Security in Korea. Cheltenham: Edward Elgar Publishing Limited, 2007.

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