Between September 1990 and October 1992, the two Koreas engaged in a total of eight bilateral meetings, including the first High-Level Talks held in Seoul. In December 1991, the two sides signed the Agreement on Reconciliation, Nonaggression, and Exchanges and Cooperation between the South and the North (also called the Inter-Korean Basic Agreement). The agreement was focused on mutual respect between the two nations, the renunciation of armed aggression, exchange and cooperation in many sectors, and the guarantee of free exchange of people between the two countries.

From the mid-1990s onward, the South’s government continued to provide support to the North, which was continuing to experience serious economic difficulties.

In the period 1999-2007, the South supplied a total of 2.55 million tons of fertilizers to the North in an effort to help the North Korean people who were suffering from a food shortage caused by the inefficiency of the North’s farming system and a lack of fertilizers and chemicals.

Such assistance was later suspended due to North Korea’s nuclear tests and other provocations, but humanitarian aid through private organizations was resumed in 2015.

The Inter-Korean Summits held in 2000 and 2007 provided the momentum for a dramatic invigoration of dialogue, exchange, and cooperation between the two sides. However, the South temporarily suspended the supply of food and fertilizers after the North’s continuing series of provocative actions culminated in the launch of long-range missiles and nuclear tests, but did not stop providing humanitarian support for children or emergency relief aid.

The deployment of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system in South Korea has led to some instability in the relations between neighboring powers (United States, China, Japan, and Russia). However, the Moon Jae-in administration has made aggressive efforts toward peace. In September 2017, the Moon government deliberated and approved a plan to send a humanitarian aid worth USD 8 million to North Korea at the request of an international organization under the United Nations. The South Korean government also invited North Korea to participate in the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics, which it accepted. Such a reconciliatory mood led to the 2018 Inter-Korean Summit, paving the way for a denuclearized Korean Peninsula.

Reunion of Dispersed Family Members

It is estimated that there are about 10 million family members separated by the Korean War. Since the 1970s, South Korea and North Korea have attempted to hold reunions for war-torn families through inter-Korean Red Cross meetings. The two Koreas held Red Cross talks intermittently, including the first meeting in Pyeongyang in August 1972 followed by the second meeting in Seoul in September that year, but ended up suspending such talks after continuing controversy.

The two sides resumed the meeting in the 1980s, and, finally, reciprocal visits materialized. A group of thirty people from the North paid a visit to the South while a group of thirty-five people from the South paid a visit to the North for four days from September 20, 1985. It was a truly significant event after 40 years of division. The two sides also allowed exchanges between groups of artists during the event.

The family reunion became a routine event following the Summit held in 2000, and was subsequently held on twenty occasions between August 2000 and October 2010. The North provided a special venue at Geumgangsan Mountain for these reunions. In addition, video reunions were carried out on seven different occasions between August of 2005 and November of 2007. Although such reunions have not taken place since the last event at Geumgangsan Mountain in 2015, the two Koreas are now considering holding various exchanges among divided families including the resumption of the August 15 family reunions as agreed in the Panmunjeom Declaration.

Gaeseong Industrial Complex

Gaeseong is the third largest city in the North after Pyeongyang and Nampo. The city offers clear advantages to businesses from the South due to its close geographical proximity to the South. Gaeseong is only 8km from Panmunjeom.

The Gaeseong Industrial Complex, the signature project of South Korea’s Sunshine Policy, allowed private businesses from South Korea to build factories on land leased by North Korea for 50 years for the production of goods by domestic and foreign firms.

Construction began in 2000, and companies started their operations in earnest from 2005. At one point, more than 120 manufacturers from South Korea employed over 50,000 North Korean workers. The project was regarded as a good example of inter-Korean economic cooperation as the complex was operated with the capital and technology of South Korea, and the labor force of North Korea.

Afterward, North Korea’s continued nuclear tests frayed bilateral ties, leading to the withdrawal of South Korean companies in February 2016. However, the recent thaw in inter-Korean relations is raising hopes of the reopening of the joint industrial complex.

Concerning the Gaeseong Industrial Complex, the two sides have signed four agreements on the Normalization of Gaeseong Industrial complex, etc., in addition to the agreements on communications, customs clearance, quarantine, and stay. Since the July 4th South–North Joint Statement, the two Koreas have made efforts to improve relations by signing various agreements including the Agreement on Reconciliation, Non-Aggression, and Exchanges and Cooperation between South and North Korea; the Joint Declaration of the Denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula; the June 15 South-North Joint Declaration; the Agreement on the Creation and Operation of a Joint Military Commission; and the Agreement on the Establishment and Operation of the South–North Liaison Office.

As the confrontational relationship came to an end with the Panmunjeom Declaration, the two Koreas are mapping out new economic plans for the Korean Peninsula through various inter-Korean exchanges including the opening of the second Gaeseong Industrial Complex.