Korea, historically, has a tendency to split north and south. The mythical and legendary origin of Korea began in the north with Dangun and Gojoseon (2333 B.C.E.), and Gija and Gija Joseon (1222 B.C.E.). Goguryeo, the successor of Gojoseon and Gija Joseon, constituted the northern Kingdom during the Three Kingdoms Period. Powerful, Goguryeo withstood the full power of Sui Dynasty China during the late 6th and early 7th century C.E.. Southern Silla dynasty combined with Tang China to defeat Goguryeo in 668 C.E. forming the unified Silla dynasty.
Even Silla's victory did not end the north/south split. Silla claimed the southern Goguryeo kingdom while Balhae emerged from the Manchurian regions of the former Goguryeo kingdom in the late seventh century C.E. Current history in South Korea emphasizes the Unified Silla dynasty while, for the most part, neglecting the Balhae dynasty. Historians, in South Korea and North Korea, who consider Unified Silla and Balhae co-equals, southern and northern powers, call that period the North-South States period of Korean history.
In one sense, the northern/southern split in Korean history came to an end with the fall of Balhae to the Khitan people around 930 C.E. Yet that is somewhat of an illusion. The aristocratic class of Balhae fled to the newly emerging kingdom of Goryeo with it's capital in Kaesong, above the 38th parallel. They brought the ancient traditions of Dangun and Gojoseon, Gija and Gija Joseon, and Goguryeo to Goryeo. Goryeo conquered the Unified Silla dynasty, becoming, for the first time in Korean history, the ruler of the entire Korean empire, north and south.
The Korean territory of Gojoseon, Gija Joseon, Goguryeo, and Balhae never returned to Korean sovereignty after 930 C.E. But that does not mean the north/south mentality of the Korean people disappeared. It has continued and manifests most recently in the North Korea/South Korea division of the Korean Peninsula.
Kim Dae-jung, a Catholic dissident political reformer during the authoritarian presidencies of Park Chung-hee, Chun Doo-hwan, and Roh Tae-woo, became president of South Korea in 1997. During his years of seeking to reform the military, authoritarian regimes of Park, Chun, and Roh, critics accused Kim of communist sympathies. South Korea, from the first presidency of Syngman Rhee, held vigilance for communist activists and sympathizers. North Korea's Kim Il-sung maintained one of the largest, most heavily armed, armies at the DMZ, just thirty miles from South Korea's capital city of Seoul. Tunnels capable to allowing one division an hour to move under the DMZ into South Korea had been found. The threat of subversion and war made the need for a strong hand and vigilance paramount.
Kim Dae-jung appeared a danger and a threat to the South Korean presidents Park, Chun, and Roh. On more than one occasion, the South Korean government attempted to assassinate Kim. He survived, becoming president in 1997 and immediately instituting a friendly approach toward North Korea termed the Sunshine policy. That has been the prevailing foreign policy approach toward North Korea until now (2007).
The Sunshine Policy has become possible with the collapse and transformation of Soviet and Chinese communism. North Korea has suffered isolation, cutting off of vital aide from Russia (especially energy), and a depletion of foreign reserves. North Korea's Kim Il-sung died, handing the reins to his son, Kim Jung-il at a time of national calamity exacerbated by famine and drought. If ever a time seemed right for the success of the Sunshine policy, recent times seemed like the right time.
Kim Jong-il threw a wrench into the spokes of the Sunshine policy with the announcement of a program to create nuclear weapons and delivery systems in recent years. That has placed the South Korean government in an awkward position of looking weak toward tyrant dictator Kim Jong-il. The United States refused North Korea's demands to deal with the nuclear issue one on one, insisting instead on bringing North Korea's neighbors, who have the most to lose in the short run, into the negotiations. China, Russia, Japan, and the United States have created a united front insisting upon North Korea's abandoning it's nuclear weapons program. South Korea is placed in the impossible position of maintaining the Sunshine policy for friendly relations while staying in step with the four major powers insistence upon compliance-based rewards for North Korea. At present, the South Korean Sunshine Policy and the Six Party platform might constitute a good cop/bad cop approach to North Korea. On the other hand, North Korea might seek to play South Korea for every concession possible in the name of friendly relations.