- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 18, 2001

SEOUL The South Korean government announced yesterday it will develop and deploy missiles capable of striking deep into North Korea, bringing several major cities within its range for the first time.

Separately, Foreign Minister Lee Jeong-binn told The Washington Times in an interview that he viewed reports of a secret visit to China this week by Kim Jong-il as a sign that the North Korean leader wants to emulate China's economic reforms.

Mr. Lee's ministry quietly announced that it has decided after lengthy negotiations with the United States to develop rockets with a range of up to 187 miles and a payload of up to 1,100 pounds.

The South previously had been bound by a 1979 agreement with Washington not to build missiles with a range greater than 112 miles for fear of sparking an arms race on the Korean Peninsula.

"By adopting the new guideline, our government will be able to develop and possess missiles with enough range capabilities to meet our security needs," said a Foreign Ministry statement.

In an apparent attempt to dispel concerns over a possible arms race on the Korean Peninsula, the government also pledged to join the global Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) aimed at stopping missile proliferation.

South Korea is set to join the MTCR at a March meeting of 32 signers of the treaty.

The Korea Herald newspaper reported that Seoul had already informed North Korea of its plans to adopt the new missile guidelines. However there was no immediate reaction from North Korea, whose reclusive leader is touring China on only his second foreign trip since taking power more than six years ago.

Neither China nor North Korea has officially confirmed the visit. But an unmarked 10-car train carrying a North Korean delegation has been spotted crossing the Chinese countryside and a Reuters News Agency correspondent yesterday reported seeing Mr. Kim, dressed in a dark suit, leaving the Grand Theater in Shanghai.

Reports from China say Mr. Kim's itinerary also includes stops at Shanghai's financial district and the Shenzen special economic zone near Hong Kong.

Mr. Lee said during an interview in his Foreign Ministry office that he saw the tour of the skyscraper canyons of Shanghai and Shenzen as an indication that thoughts of becoming a "second China" are very much on Mr. Kim's mind.

"China is a model. Vietnam is also a model to a certain extent. And this, I believe, is probably the only alternative that North Korea sees as the road for it to take as well."

If Mr. Lee is correct, it marks a dramatic change in North Korean thinking. A senior Chinese official told The Washington Times a year ago that visiting North Korean delegates had until then seen Chinese economic development as a betrayal of socialist principles.

The stakes are enormous both for South Korea and for the United States, which maintains 37,000 troops in the South.

With the peninsula frozen under a blanket of ice and snow, reports of the North shivering through yet another winter without adequate supplies of heat, electricity or food underscore the limits of a diplomatic opening that until now has been geared primarily toward wooing additional aid.

The timing of South Korea's missile announcement added a touch of irony to the tortured path of inter-Korean relations, since North Korea's own missile development and sales have become primary concerns in Washington.

North Korea shocked the world by test-firing a three-stage rocket in 1998, demonstrating its ability to build rockets capable of hitting the United States. Pyongyang claims it earns $1 billion annually by selling rockets to rogue nations such as Iran.

Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright became the first U.S. Cabinet official to visit in October, when she sought an agreement to halt the development and sales of additional missiles.

President Clinton had considered a visit to Pyongyang in the final days of his presidency to sign such a pact but decided not to go when an agreement proved beyond reach.

Diplomats said this week's discussions between Mr. Kim and Chinese leaders were certain to include an effort to size up the upcoming presidency of George W. Bush.

Apart from missile sales, which Western nations say earn far less money than Pyongyang claims, the isolated Stalinist state depends on hundreds of millions of dollars in food and other humanitarian aid from Seoul and Washington to stave off mass starvation.

But the limits of North Korea's diplomacy are quickly becoming apparent.

South Korean sources said officials from the cash-strapped Hyundai conglomerate are now in the North attempting to renegotiate a deal in which it pays $150 million a year for rights to ferry tourists to a scenic mountain resort.

Without some economic progress in the North, where factories lie idle and hungry people scour harvested fields for kernels of rice, officials say the prospects for an improvement in North-South relations are limited.

"The process of improving relations with North Korea will be very much restrained without fundamental improvement in the economic condition in North Korea," Mr. Lee said.

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