One gets accustomed to the front page invective and threats when living in Korea for a number of years, but lately the situation has been intensifying beyond the usual truculence. There has been a precipitous and much publicized deterioration in the relationship between the South and North since Lee Myung Bak began his term as president February 25, 2008.
The two previous administrations pursued a tactic commonly referred to as the "Sunshine Policy" - a policy which emphasized active engagement with the North and ample amounts of aid donated without condition, appealing to goodwill, a relaxing of tensions, and tentative reconciliation.
This policy was justifiably criticized for generating a false sense of serenity between the two sides while ignoring the repressive nature of the North. In addition, there were many indications that a substantial amount of aid was being misused, mainly sold for profit or overly-distributed to the military, not the suffering populace. Kin of South Koreans kidnapped around the time of the Korean War, like those participating in the photos above, had good right to protest the fact that Kim Jong-il was being given handouts to prop up his dictatorship while being asked of nothing in return. Their lost family members remained ghosts, dead or alive, inhumed above the Demilitarized Zone.
The conservative Lee administration has made it a point to interlock aid with the North's progress in denuclearization. This, combined with international pressure to ameliorate the North's pathetic human rights record has inflated the hyperbole coming out of the Korean Central News Agency ("South Korea will face the dearest price") and deepened the recalcitrance of the North's posturing. For some 10 years preceding the Bak administration South Korea was tepid toward endorsing UN resolutions against the North's Human Rights record, the liberal governments weary of ruffling bilateral relations. A Nobel Prize was one as a result of the Sunshine Policy, but what does that mean? A look at the World Food Program's report on the North's recurrent food crisis and recent reporting on today's famine-like conditions remind us that little has changed for those who truly suffer.