PYONGYANG, NORTH KOREA
A BIG chill from the cold war continues to linger in this war-scarred corner of Asia, with few signs of a thaw soon.
The two Koreas, one communist and the other anticommunist, still glare at each other across an armed border, while some 36,000 United States soldiers remain pinned down in the south by this ideological clash.
In North Korea, billboards depict the evils of "Yankee imperialists"; in South Korea, students are taught the evils of communism.
Ideological fervor remains as strong as ever in North Korea, stronger than in its closest ally, China. "It is an inexorable law of historical development that mankind advances toward socialism [communism,]" stated Kim Jong Il, the son of North Korean leader Kim Il Sung, in comments reportedly made by him in January. The young Kim is heir designate.
Nonetheless, the collapse of the Soviet Union has forced North Korea to soften its hard-line stance toward the south, mostly by a cutoff of Soviet aid, including cheap oil.
"Because of the quick destruction of the international socialist market, we are facing difficulties," says Kim Dal Hyun, North Korean deputy premier for external economic cooperation.
North Korea, one of the few closed societies among the remaining communist-run nations, must now try to trade with free-market nations to keep its own economy healthy.
But the US and its allies have tried to isolate Pyongyang until it allows inspections of its nuclear facilities. The US fears the North is making an atomic bomb. The North promises to allow inspections in June.
The two Koreas have held high-level talks for two years and signed a number of pacts to improve their icy relations. But the pacts remain unimplemented; suspicions remain high between the two sides four decades after they fought a bitter war in the early years of the misnamed cold war.
In contrast to the North, South Korea has gained diplomatic recognition from Moscow, its former adversary, and has opened trade ties with China. The South now prefers to delay hoped-for reunification to avoid the economic toll, and finds the North less of a military threat. About 15 percent of US troops are being withdrawn as a result.
South Korea also maneuvered to have the two Koreas admitted to the United Nations last year, a step long opposed by Kim Il Sung.