TOKYO — SOUTH Korea won a key victory on May 28, when North Korea decided to reverse itself and join the south in seeking separate seats at the United Nations. Officials in Seoul hope such a move will ease tensions on the divided and heavily militarized Korean peninsula. The shift by the north away from its one-Korea policy reveals that its only major ally, China, has decided not use its veto power in the UN Security Council to block South Korea's unilateral bid to apply for a separate seat this August.
China's decision to go against the wishes of its Communist ally was likely conveyed to the north early this month during a visit to Pyongyang, the capital, by Chinese Prime Minister Li Peng. During the visit, Mr. Li stated that China and North Korea are linked "like lips and teeth."
China's decision comes seven months after Moscow officially recognized South Korea, and five months after China and South Korea opened trade offices in each other's capital.
North Korea has become increasingly dependent on China for economic aid as a result of a decision by the Soviet Union to shift to hard-currency trade with Pyongyang. The north's economy is suffering under an industrial slowdown and a food shortage.
The south's victory comes after a campaign by President Roh Tae Woo to bring North Korea out of international isolation.
The north and south, which have been divided since 1945 and fought a bitter war from 1950-53, had their first official talks last year. But the talks were called off in February by Pyongyang after the south applied for the UN seat.
North Korea, which claims to be the only legitimate government representing Korea, had insisted that the two Koreas joined the UN with a single seat. Holding separate UN seats would freeze the division of the country, North Korea had warned, and would internationalize an internal affair. The two Koreas at present have observer status at the UN.
In announcing its decision to apply for a separate UN seat, North Korea stated that it had "no alternative but to enter the United Nations at the present stage as a step to tide over such temporary difficulties created by the South Korean authorities."
The south, in welcoming the north's reversal, said that parallel UN membership is just an interim measure to unification.