SOUTH Korea plans to apply soon for a United Nations seat long denied it by cold war rivalry. China's inscrutable vote in the Security Council remains as the only possible barrier. Ambassador Hyun Hong Choo, permanent UN observer of the Republic of Korea, said Seoul may act before mid-December, before the UN General Assembly adjourns for this year.
Mr. Hyun cited several recent developments that make his government optimistic about favorable Security Council action:
South Korea has just established diplomatic relations with the Soviet Union. This almost certainly removes the threat of a Soviet veto, by which Moscow repeatedly has blocked South Korea's membership bids since its first application in 1949.
The international climate favors Korean membership. Of the 162 heads of state, Cabinet ministers, and other delegation leaders who spoke in the just-concluded round of national policy addresses, 118 speakers referred to the current Korean intra-peninsular dialogue as favoring membership for one or both countries. A record 71 nations, up from 49 last year, specifically advocated simultaneous but separate membership.
Germany's smooth reunification belies Pyongyang's contention that separate seats would perpetuate Korean division. The German states were separate UN members from their admission on Sept. 18, 1973 until they were reunited on Oct. 3, 1990. Before 1973, like the Koreas at present, both held observer status, which bars full participation and voting.
Both Koreas, however, are full members of such specialized UN agencies as the World Health Organization, the Food and Agriculture Organization, the UN Children's Fund, and the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization.
The two prime ministers will meet in Seoul in December. Ambassador Pak Gil Yon, North Korea's permanent UN observer, conceded that the prospects for a compromise are more favorable now than in past years.
UN membership is granted by the General Assembly upon the recommendation of the Security Council. While China holds its veto card, representatives at Seoul's UN mission point to signs that, at worst, Beijing would abstain on a vote on South Korean membership.
Mission spokesman Jong Hwan Suh cited an Oct. 12 report that Beijing had rejected North Korea's appeal for China's commitment that it would veto a South Korean membership application. Seoul and Beijing have recently agreed to open trade offices in their respective capitals.
Hyun said he doubted Beijing would veto an application, because such an action would be ``going against the tide'' of the international mood.
``China has been pragmatic for thousands of years,'' he says. He also points to increasing trade and sports exchanges between the two countries. Chinese athletes participated in the Olympic Games in Seoul, and South Koreans took part in the recent Asian Games in Beijing.