Volume 4, 2002
The year of 2002 saw a continuation of a post-Sept. 11agenda with some unexpected twists. The watershed event for Northeast Asia occurred on Jan. 29 when President Bush, in his State of the Union address, accused North Korea of being a member of the “axis of evil.” Despite efforts to allay Korean fears created by the statement, public onion of the US remained dour, especially after the death of two South Korean girls in a US military training accident. Relations with North Korea plummeted as it threatened to restart its nuclear reprocessing facility as it pressed for talks with the US, which finally came at the end of the year.
Seoul’s Unification Ministry called 2002 the “best year ever” for inter-Korean contacts since they began on a regular basis in 1989. Progress in North-South relations was put on pause when the DPRK Navy sank an ROK patrol boat on June 29, killing five, delivering what seemed to be a final blow to President Kim Dae-jung’s Sunshine Policy. However, later Pyongyang designated two areas – Kaesong and Mt. Kumgang resort – as special economic zones for South Korean business.
For South Korea and China, the question of North Korean refugees, drugs, illegal migrants, and an increasingly serious “yellow dust” of spring became issues of contention. However, the World Cup somewhat overshadowed a diplomatic imbroglio over a steady flow of North Korean asylum-seekers. For Seoul-Tokyo relations, the soccer matches overshadowed important, but quiet, efforts at resuming security dialogue.
The terrorist bomb that exploded in a tourist-filled nightclub in Bali, killing nearly 200 people, triggered a significant change both in the political equation in Indonesia and in the overall tenor of US relations with Southeast Asian states. Tokyo continued its support for the US-led war against terrorism and agreed to send an Aegis-equipped destroyer to the Indian Ocean. Meanwhile, China and the US continued to cooperate in the fight against al-Qaeda. A significant gain for the US was that the Chinese, in turn for the US freezing assets related to a Xianjang separatist group, released new rules on the export of missile technology and established a missile technology control list. The hostage crisis in Moscow in late October caused many in the West to look with slightly more sympathy on Russia’s dilemma with Chechnya as Russia was welcomed into NATO and given a seat on a council with a voice in alliance matters.