Policy of engagement comes under scrutiny as a poll finds that 65 percent of Koreans now support a nuclear program.
On a sparkling morning in a villa high above the broad Han River in Seoul, Hyundai Automotive Vice Chairman Kim Dong Jin marvels over his company's new luxury utility vehicle – and weighs the possible impact of North Korea's nuclear blast on sales.
"Do you notice any scare?" he asks. "Koreans are very calm. They regard this situation as they did past North Korean scare tactics."
Still, a society suffused by years of a "Sunshine Policy" of engagement with the North is confronting diminished options for building ties with Kim Jong Il's isolated regime.
"Sunshine has got to be dead," says Lee Pil Ho, a mid-level manager. "It's not going to work. Many people think so. This is the result we get of giving a lot of oil, fertilizer, and cement to the North."
The rapid spread of such views – as well as Japanese and US encouragement of a tougher line in the wake of Mr. Kim's nuclear test – has convinced President Roh Moo-hyun to rethink his pursuit of reconciliation.
But even as public opinion tacks to the right – a poll by JoongAng Ilbo paper found that 65 percent of Koreans now want their own nuclear program – it is unlikely the government will dramatically shift its approach. Having first called for "stern measures," Mr. Roh later proposed "a strategic mix" of sanctions that would avoid provoking, if not another test, a severe response.
"The president felt compelled to express reservations about the usefulness of the policy of engagement, but I doubt this government's engagement policy will change in any significant way,", says Han Sung Joo, who served as foreign minister during the 1994 agreement under which North Korea agreed to stop developing nuclear warheads in return for nuclear-energy reactors.
Mr. Han sees little chance, for example, that the government will slam the door on a bankand companies operating factories in the special industrial zone at Kaesong, just inside North Korea.