Despite extensive assistance from the United States and the United Nations, the South Korean economy failed to rebound and it took nearly a decade before the South Korean economy began to demonstrate any significant improvement. Oddly the South Korean improvement coincided with the rise to power of Park Chung Hee (Vu). Prior to 1961, South Korea was ruled by a civilian government but a military coup occurred in 1961 which brought to power Major General Park Chung Hee. Under Park, the South Korean economy began to show improvement.
Park was assassinated in 1979 and things were in turmoil in South Korea for a few short years. During such time, South Korea again attempted civilian government but it was unsuccessful. A new militarily controlled government assumed control under the leadership of General Chun Doo Hwan. The economy rebounded during Chun's tenure but he was never able to attain the popularity enjoyed by his predecessor, Park Chung Hee. Chun led the South Korean government through its rise to prosperity and its procuring the 1988 Olympics but stepped down prior to the Olympics actually being held in South Korea. In 1987, Chun stepped down and his close friend, Roh Tae Woo, assumed leadership and was subsequently elected president in South Korea's third attempt at establishing a stable civilian government. Four years later, Kim Young Sam, succeeded Roh Tae Woo and, by doing so, became South Korea's first non-military leader since the military coup in 1961 (Cotton). Since Chun election South Korea has continued to maintain a civilian government and has gradually become more democratic. Additionally, the South Korean government has attempted to open the door toward increasing dialogue with the North Korean government and people.
As indicated earlier, the Cold War ended in most of the world in 1991 as the Soviet Union collapses but in Korea the tensions and hostilities have remained. Communications between the neighboring countries, including phone calls and letters between citizens, were virtually non-existent. This condition had existed since shortly before the commencement of hostilities between the two nations and has continued. Strangely, a situation that was created by totally artificial means through the work of two anonymous U.S. State Department clerks has resulted in a bitter and enduring national division.
There have been some positive signs that the division between the two nations is lessening (Soon-young). As both nations have expressed a desire of eventually reuniting into a single nation the eventuality must be considered but as of now the division remains strong.
The best chance of a reunion between North and South Korea occurred during the presidency of former South Korean president Kim Dae-jung. Kim Dae-jung, in an effort to bring the two nations closer together, introduced his "sunshine policy (Lee)." As part of his efforts to promote his sunshine policy, Kim Dae-jung negotiated a summit meeting between himself and Kim Jong II where the differences between the two nations were discussed. The result of this summit meeting was that the two Korean leaders agreed to resolve humanitarian issues, reopen borders and attempt to unite families divided by the War. Unfortunately, the promises made proved to be meaningless and none of the agreements ever came to fruition. None of the thousands of divided families were ever reunited, communications were not opened between the two countries, and the North Korean government has reverted to its old methods of remaining non-communicative with their South Korean neighbors.
To Kim Dae-jung's credit, despite the failure of North Korea to live up to its promises, he never abandoned the dreams of his sunshine policy. After his death in 2009, it was revealed that Kim Dae-jung induced Kim Jung to participate in the Summit through the payment of $500 million. Obvious questions were asked as to what use the North Korean government put said money but Kim Dae-jung's intentions were never at issue. In fact, he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts.
In addition to the Summit meeting and as part of his sunshine policy Kim Dae-jung also provided North Korea with assistance in a variety of other ways. Kim sent thousands of tons of fertilizer and food supplies to the North Korean government throughout his entire presidency without seeking anything in return except the good will and the cooperation of the North Koreans. Kim Dae-jung tried relentlessly to convince the North Koreans to abandon their nuclear testing and to convince the U.S. Government to lessen their hard-line policy toward North Korea but the North Koreans continued to pursue their testing and the United States was unconvinced.
Kim Dae-jung's successor, Roh Moo-hyun, continued his sunshine policy through his administration but the public pressure created by the expense of the program and the lack of cooperation from the North Korean government eventually caused political problems and the program was abandoned as Lee Myung-bak assumed office. Lee Myung-bak was far more conservative in his approach to North Korea and, as a result, the sunshine policy was abandoned by the South Korean government.
Another event that demonstrates the intransience and unreliability of the North Korean government occurred during the sunshine policy period. Inside North Korea was a location Mt. Kumgang, considered by some to be the most beautiful mountain on the Korean peninsula. A gentleman by the name of Chung Ju Yung, founder of the highly successful South Korean company, Hyundai, had a desire to open access to Mt. Kumgang to all Koreans, North and South. Chung Ju Yung approached the leaders of North Korea twice with the prospect of negotiating the necessary arrangements (Lim). The first attempt preceded the adoption of the sunshine policy and was entirely unsuccessful but his second attempt was done under the auspices of the policy and a plan was agreed to and formulated. The plan for opening the Mt. Kumgang site for tourism was looked upon by the South Korean government as a sterling example of how the sunshine policy could result in positive changes in the relationship between the two Koreas.
The plan that was formulated was financially very beneficial to the North Korean government. North Korea stood to gain not only yearly from the contract negotiated by Hyundai's Chung Ju Yung but to also profit by the creation of jobs in the building of the resort which was constructed to accommodate the tourists visiting Mt. Kumgang. Unfortunately, serious problems developed in the cooperative effort between the two nations due to a variety of factors including poor planning, inadequate funding, and a miscalculation in the number of tourists interested in visiting the Mt. Kumgang area. As a result of these problems, the terms of the agreement between North and South Korea had to be changed on several occasions but the tourism continued despite these problems but two unrelated events, one a detention of a tourist and the second a killing of a tourist. Security had always been a concern surrounding the Mt. Kumgang site both from the standpoint of the tourists visiting the site and North Korea's need to keep their citizens isolated from the tourists. The two incidents highlighted both nations' concerns and the plan was suspended following the second incident. Discussions regarding the resumption were conducted by leaders from the Hyundai corporation and an agreement was thought to have been negotiated with North Korean leader, Kim Jong-il, but the tourism trade between North and South Korea has never been resumed.
Although the sunshine policy may be looked upon by many as a failure there are some positive developments that grew out of the philosophy of cooperation initiated by said policy. One of these positive developments was the building of an industrial park, Kaesong, that was built in 2004 just over the 38th parallel in North Korea (Kim). The basic concept of the park was to encourage the operation of manufacturing facilities inside the park in an effort to provide South Korea's industrial base with inexpensive and qualified labor while at the same time assisting the struggling North Korean economy. It was additionally hoped that the successful operation of the complex would provide a potential opening for North Korea to expand its industrial base allow it to begin the process of globalization.
For the most part the Kaesong project has been highly successful. By the end of December 2010 approximately 120 South Korean companies have established operations at the park employing over 47,000 workers and there are existing plans to greatly expand the park. Through the support of the Hyundai Corporation the park has been the beneficiary of considerable financing and development of the park has gone forward in earnest but, not unexpectedly due to the various tensions and hostilities between North and South Korea, the future of the project is always in doubt.
In recent history the project has been jeopardized by events unrelated to its operation. In 2010, the sinking of the South Korean naval vessel, the Cheonan, by a North Korean submarine in a dispute over territorial waters and North Korea's subsequent artillery attack on a…