Paris blocks entente with North Korea

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Series Details Vol 7, No.5, 1.2.01, p9
Publication Date 01/02/2001
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Date: 01/02/01

By Shada Islam

The EU's hopes of playing a key political role in the Korean peninsula face an uphill struggle as France continues to block plans for an early establishment of diplomatic relations with the north.

Paris' stance has resulted in what diplomats admit is a "messy and uncoordinated" Union response to South Korean President Kim Dae Jung's calls for European support in the effort to bring his reclusive communist neighbour in from the cold.

Frustrated at the lack of progress in relations with North Korea, individual EU governments are rushing to forge bilateral ties with Pyongyang.

Belgium last week became the ninth EU country to normalise links with North Korea, following in the footsteps of Austria, Denmark, Finland, Portugal, Sweden, Italy, the UK and the Netherlands. Germany has also opened talks with Pyongyang, with Greece and Luxembourg expected to follow suit shortly.

But France and Ireland, citing concerns over North Korea's human rights record, are holding back. EU diplomats admit that Pyongyang has far to go in ensuring fundamental freedoms but argue that constructive engagement will produce more results than continuing isolation.

There are also suspicions that France's hard-line view solidified last autumn when several member states, including the UK and Germany, announced plans to set up diplomatic relations with North Korea without consulting Paris, which at the time held the Union's rotating presidency.

France is unlikely to stem the growing pressure for an upgrading of EU-North Korean relations in the coming months, however. The European Parliament is pushing for the opening of "an open and positive" dialogue with the country.

Swedish Prime Minister Göran Persson is believed to be considering a visit to Pyongyang during his country's EU presidency and Stockholm is also hoping to start a formal human rights dialogue along the lines of the Union's human rights talks with China.

North Korea is expected to require more EU food aid to counter declining domestic farm production and help it survive the harsh winter. The United Nations appealed last November for €380 million to cover the delivery of emergency food and drug supplies.

EU diplomats and members of European Parliament say the Union must move beyond emergency aid measures to a more coherent political and economic policy that reflects Pyongyang's recent efforts to open up to the outside world.

"The Union should not remain a half step behind history," said one diplomat, citing a recent visit by North Korean strongman Kim Jong Il to China for a first-hand look at Beijing's efforts at market-oriented economic reform as another sign that Pyongyang is reassessing its economic policy.

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