Declassified Documents Reveal North Korea’s Tactical Approach to Inter-Korean Relations in Late 70s and Early 80s

SEOUL — South Korea's unification ministry released newly declassified documents on Thursday, shedding light on the dynamics of inter-Korean relations during the tumultuous period of 1979-81. The documents reveal North Korea's strategic use of peace initiatives as South Korea grappled with political instability following the assassination of Park Chung-hee and the subsequent military coup led by Chun Doo-hwan.

According to Yonhap News Agency, the dossier includes transcripts of inter-Korean contacts and proposals from North Korea for high-level meetings, re-establishing a suspended phone hotline, and forming a unified team for the 1980 Moscow Olympics. These overtures coincided with a period of significant political upheaval in South Korea. The ministry's analysis suggests that North Korea viewed dialogue and peace as advantageous for its unification strategy during the south's period of uncertainty.

However, the conciliatory stance of North Korea quickly shifted following Chun's consolidation of power and the violent suppression of the Gwangju uprising in May 1980. The working-level talks for an inter-Korean meeting of prime ministers eventually collapsed after ten sessions without yielding significant outcomes. The ministry's disclosure, which includes acknowledging North Korea's rare reference to South Korea by its official name, offers critical insights into the historical context of inter-Korean relations.

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