South Korean Foreign Minister Park Tongjin hopes North Korea will someday follow China's example and change its policy to one of friendly cooperation with the West.
He knows there is no present sign of such a policy change, despite North-South talks that have been going on intermittently at Panmunjom. North Korea has not allowed these talks to inhibit its attempts to send armed infiltrators into the South.
A United Nations Command civilian police patrol exchanged fire with unidentified infiltrators from North Korea May 12. It was the first such clash in two months.
One of Seoul's principal concerns over violent student demonstrations that have engulfed several campuses is that North Korea might take advantage of student unrest to infiltrate armed agents into the South.
Nevertheless Mr. Park thinks that with China having adopted the so-called four modernizations as its new strategy and busily cultivating closer ties with the West, "North Korea may before long have second thoughts" about its own strategy toward South Korea.
In a recent interview, Mr. Park characterized China's policy since the restoration of Vice-Premier Deng Xiaoping to power as "the most important factor in political and diplomatic developments in east Asia in the past few years."
Peking's new policy has had no immediate effect on North Korea, he said, because both China and the Soviets want to keep North Korea on their side. Hence both communist superpowers have humored North Korean dictator Kim II Sung, who, in turn, has skillfully played off one neighbor against the other.
But Mr. Park thinks that in time North Korea will see the fruitlessness of its belligerent ideological dogmatism. "The North Koreans have made some progress in developing their military industry, but they have been much less successful in other areas."
Until North Korea comes around to reevaluating its policies, Mr. Park thinks it is not helpful for the US, Japan, or other Western countries to "talk directly to North Korea over the shoulder of South Korea."
Mr. Park received this correspondent in his spacious office in the domed capitol building, center of government activities in Seoul. In the gallery outside hung flags of the 16 nations whose soldiers fought side by side with the South Koreans during the 1950-53 war.
"Our first priority goes to national security," Mr. Park said. "The maintenance of a high degree of national security occupies our thinking at all times. In that sense, it is essential for us to maintain close cooperation with the United States."
This sentiment is shared by many South Koreans, whatever their politics or station in life.
Mr. Park, a professional diplomat, has been foreign minister for four years. Although he emphasizes that neither the US nor South Korea can afford to let down its military guard on the Korean peninsula, he says that patient diplomacy can lead to a North- South relationship similar to that of the two Germanys. Both Koreas would then join the United Nations, and countries could then establish diplomatic relations with both.