Head­ing for Re-union?

While both Korean lead­ers are leav­ing per­sonal egos aside to keep the peace process on top, it looks that they have a cue of Viet­namese re-union, which suits to Korean Peace process


It may emerge as the ma­jor po­lit­i­cal de­vel­op­ment of the Korean Penin­sula: US Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump is ex­pected to hold sec­ond sum­mitlevel meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in not “very dis­tant time.” And this has been broadly con­veyed by the Amer­i­can Pres­i­dent him­self dur­ing a meet­ing with South Korean Pres­i­dent Moon Jae-in on the side­lines of UN Gen­eral As­sem­bly in New York re­cently. The first US-North Korea sum­mit was held in Sin­ga­pore on June 12. Since then a lot of water have flowed down the bridges of the two coun­tries’ rivers. But a cru­cial change in their be­hav­iour to­wards each other came af­ter North Korea’s Kim wrote a let­ter to Pres­i­dent Trump on Septem­ber 10; in­for­ma­tion re­gard­ing this was passed on to jour­nal­ists by the White House Press Sec­re­tary Sarah Huck­abee San­ders re­cently.

Though de­tails of Kim’s let­ter were not pub­li­cized by the White House, it markedly re­flected fast geo-po­lit­i­cal de­vel­op­ment of the Korean Penin­sula. In fact, de­nu­cle­ariza­tion re­ceived a mo­men­tum in the re­gion once again af­ter a third meet­ing be­tween North Korean leader Kim and South Korean Pres­i­dent Moon Jae-in in Py­ongyang on Septem­ber 18. Var­i­ous re­ports sug­gest that North Korea re­tains an es­ti­mated 20 to 60 nu­clear war­heads and there are fa­cil­i­ties to pro­duce more.

But the South Korean Pres­i­dent, us­ing his per­sonal charm and ne­go­ti­at­ing skills that he learnt dur­ing his pre­vi­ous stint as a chief of staff of for­mer South Korean Pres­i­dent Roh Moo-hyun, per­suaded the North Korean leader to move the ball

for­ward on the de­nu­cle­ariza­tion front. How­ever, Kim agreed to dis­man­tle a key mis­sile test fa­cil­ity at Tongchang-ri in the pres­ence of in­ter­na­tional ex­perts and also de­stroy its Yong­byon-based nu­clear unit pro­vided the US takes sim­i­lar mea­sures. With this, though, Kim shifted the ball in the US’ court; it paved the way for fur­ther ne­go­ti­a­tions be­tween the two coun­tries. Brim­ming with op­ti­mism, while US Pres­i­dent Trump ac­knowl­edged that he saw “tremen­dous en­thu­si­asm on be­half of Chair­man Kim for mak­ing a deal,” he gave no an­swer as to what roadmap he would un­der­take to re­solve jig­saw puz­zle of the Korean nu­clear is­sue.

As a mat­ter of fact, any North Korean agree­ment to dis­man­tle nu­clear pro­gramme in­volves sev­eral gives and takes. With­drawal of 28,000 US troops from South Korea is one of the key de­mands of North Korea. Then Py­ongyang has been de­mand­ing for­mal dec­la­ra­tion of se­cu­rity as­sur­ance to the Kim regime. It has also been seek­ing re­moval of crip­pling US and in­ter­na­tional sanc­tions im­posed on it. While the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion may agree with the sec­ond con­di­tion, it has al­ready made it clear that de­mands for with­drawal of troops and re­lief from sanc­tions re­main too early to be ful­filled. “Now is not the time to ease pres­sure,” US Sec­re­tary of State Mike Pom­peo said re­cently.

Still, the US Pres­i­dent and the North Korean leader — who have de­vel­oped lik­ing for each other — have voiced sup­port for a sec­ond meet­ing where in all like­li­hood these is­sues will be taken up. But then credit goes to South Korean Pres­i­dent Moon Jae-in who worked hard to bring the two lead­ers back to the ne­go­ti­at­ing ta­ble. He knew that peace is pricy and, as such to make things move smoothly, he avoided do­ing any­thing that could de­rail his plan for the two Koreas which ended their bloody wars af­ter ar­mistice was brought in place in 1953. In fact, to nudge mer­cu­rial Kim to see brighter side of peace in the re­gion, he met the North Korean leader thrice since April and the last one in Septem­ber in Py­ongyang.

In­ter­est­ingly, it was 11 years ago the lead­ers of the two coun­tries had held their meet­ing in North Korea where Moon Jae dur­ing his cur­rent visit took along a huge busi­ness del­e­ga­tion that in­cluded Sam­sung’s vice chair­man Lee Jae-yong. Some an­a­lysts say the South Korean Pres­i­dent’s dream of rec­on­cil­ing the ri­val Koreas is per­sonal; he was born in a refugee camp to par­ents who fled the North dur­ing the war. That was the rea­son when the South Korean ad­dressed a gath­er­ing at a Py­ongyang sta­dium filled with 150,000 cheer­ing North Kore­ans, he stressed on com­mon pros­per­ity and bring­ing of a new era of peace in the re­gion. It is rightly said that if Moon Jae-in re­mains suc­cess­ful in his ef­forts, not only his pop­u­lar­ity graph which is cur­rently down be­cause of his fail­ure to strengthen econ­omy and gen­er­ate promised num­ber of jobs for South Korean youths, will jump, but also he could be nom­i­nated for No­bel peace prize.

In the whole game of peace and re­union ef­forts sur­round­ing the Korean Penin­sula, there is a dan­ger for Ja­pan; it is go­ing to be left be­hind and for this, in­ci­dents of past are cited as the rea­son. Un­der Ja­panese colo­nial rule in the decades be­fore the World War II, Kore­ans suf­fered hugely. Kore­ans don’t want to for­get that chap­ter of their past suf­fer­ings at the hands of Ja­panese. Tokyo is quite aware of pres­ence of deep rooted ha­tred among Kore­ans to­wards Ja­panese. And it was the rea­son, the Ja­panese me­dia re­acted coolly to the ju­bi­lant mood that graced the

sum­mit be­tween South Korean Pres­i­dent Moon Jae-in and North Korean leader Kim re­cently. Ja­panese daily Nikkei penned a worse-case sce­nario in which Py­ongyang gives up its in­ter­con­ti­nen­tal bal­lis­tic mis­siles, but re­tains some to tar­get Ja­pan. There­fore, it would not be sur­pris­ing to find that Ja­pan which last year, stood side by side with the US in in­sist­ing on max­i­mum pres­sure on North Korea un­til Py­ongyang sur­ren­ders its nu­clear weapon pro­gramme, comes with the same set of ar­gu­ments in the com­ing days again.

Still, it is China which is quite happy with the US and North Korea’s readi­ness to re­sume talks. Dif­fer­ent from Western me­dia’s neg­a­tive re­port­ing about China’s views on Trump and Kim’s bond­ing, Bei­jing is ea­ger to see that Korean Penin­sula re­mains sta­ble and de­nu­cle­arized. An­a­lysts say that no coun­try how­so­ever strong it may be, will ever want in­sta­bil­ity, chaos and dis­or­der to re­main en­trenched in its neigh­bour­hood. Peace in the re­gion means, with­drawal of US troops from South Korea, a fac­tor which has been a key de­mand from China, a coun­try of fire spit­ting dragon which is am­bi­tiously pur­su­ing its eco­nomic and mil­i­tary agenda in the Indo-Pa­cific re­gion.


How­ever, a ques­tion that still needs to be an­swered, can these two Korean na­tions look for­ward to an­nul the 38th par­al­lel and re­unite? Korean re­uni­fi­ca­tion refers to the po­ten­tial re­uni­fi­ca­tion of the Demo­cratic Peo­ple’s Repub­lic of Korea (com­monly known as North Korea), the Repub­lic of Korea (com­monly known as South Korea), and the Korean Demil­i­ta­rized Zone un­der a sin­gle gov­ern­ment. The process to­wards such a merger was started by the June 15th North–South Joint Dec­la­ra­tion in June 2000, and it was reaf­firmed by the Pan­munjom Dec­la­ra­tion for Peace, Pros­per­ity and Uni­fi­ca­tion of the Korean Penin­sula in April 2018, where the two coun­tries agreed to work to­wards a peace­ful re­uni­fi­ca­tion in the fu­ture, and the joint state­ment of Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump of the United States of Amer­ica and Chair­man Kim Jong-un of the Demo­cratic Peo­ple’s Repub­lic of Korea at the Sin­ga­pore Sum­mit in May 2018. Prior to World War II, Korea was one coun­try for over one thou­sand years, known pre­vi­ously as Go­ryeo and Joseon. Post World War II, Korea was di­vided into two na­tions along the 38th par­al­lel (now the Korean Demil­i­ta­rized Zone). North Korea was ad­min­is­tered by the Soviet Union in the years im­me­di­ately fol­low­ing the war, with South Korea be­ing man­aged by the United States. In 1950, North Korea in­vaded the South, be­gin­ning the Korean War, which ended in stale­mate in 1953. Since the end of the Korean War, re­uni­fi­ca­tion has be­come more of a chal­lenge as the two coun­tries have be­come in­creas­ingly po­lit­i­cally and eco­nom­i­cally di­ver­gent. How­ever, in the late 2010s, re­la­tions be­tween North and South Korea have warmed some­what, be­gin­ning with North Korea’s par­tic­i­pa­tion in the 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea.

The cur­rent di­vi­sion of the Korean Penin­sula is the re­sult of de­ci­sions taken at the end of World War II. In 1910, the Em­pire of Ja­pan an­nexed Korea, and ruled over it un­til its de­feat in World War II. The Korean in­de­pen­dence agree­ment of­fi­cially oc­curred on 1 De­cem­ber 1943, when the United States, China, and Great Bri­tain signed the Cairo Dec­la­ra­tion, which stated: “The afore­said three pow­ers, mind­ful of the en­slave­ment of the peo­ple of Korea, are de­ter­mined that in due course Korea shall be­come free and in­de­pen­dent”. In 1945, the United Na­tions de­vel­oped plans for trus­tee­ship ad­min­is­tra­tion of Korea.


The di­vi­sion of the Korean Penin­sula into two mil­i­tary oc­cu­pa­tion zones was agreed

— north­ern zone ad­min­is­tered by the USSR and a south­ern zone ad­min­is­tered by the US. At mid­night on 10 Au­gust 1945, two army lieu­tenant colonels se­lected the 38th par­al­lel as a di­vid­ing line. Ja­panese troops to the North of this line were to sur­ren­der to the Soviet Union and troops to the South of this line would sur­ren­der to the United States. This was not orig­i­nally in­tended to re­sult in a long-last­ing par­ti­tion, but Cold War pol­i­tics re­sulted in the es­tab­lish­ment of two sep­a­rate gov­ern­ments in the two zones in 1948 and ris­ing ten­sions pre­vented co­op­er­a­tion. The de­sire of many Kore­ans for a peace­ful uni­fi­ca­tion was ended when the Korean War broke out in 1950. In June 1950, troops from North Korea in­vaded South Korea. Mao Ze­dong en­cour­aged the con­fronta­tion with the US and Joseph Stalin re­luc­tantly sup­ported the in­va­sion. Af­ter three years of fight­ing that in­volved Koreas, China and United Na­tions forces led by the US, the war ended with an ar­mistice agree­ment at ap­prox­i­mately the same bound­ary.

De­spite now be­ing po­lit­i­cally sep­a­rate en­ti­ties, the gov­ern­ments of North and South Korea have pro­claimed the even­tual restora­tion of Korea as a sin­gle state as a goal. Af­ter the ‘Nixon Shock’ in 1971 that led to dé­tente be­tween the United States and China, the North and South Korean gov­ern­ments made a South and North Korea Joint State­ment (on July 4, 1972) that a rep­re­sen­ta­tive of each gov­ern­ment had se­cretly vis­ited the cap­i­tal city of the other side and that both sides had agreed to a North-South Joint Com­mu­niqué, out­lin­ing the steps to be taken to­wards achiev­ing a peace­ful re­uni­fi­ca­tion of the coun­try.

The agree­ment out­lined the steps to be taken to­wards achiev­ing a peace­ful re­uni­fi­ca­tion of the coun­try. How­ever, the North-South Co­or­di­na­tion Com­mit­tee was dis­banded the fol­low­ing year af­ter no progress had been made to­wards im­ple­ment­ing the agree­ment. In Jan­uary 1989, the founder of Hyundai, Jung Juy­oung, toured North Korea and pro­moted tourism in Mount Kum­gang. Af­ter a twelve-year hia­tus, the prime min­is­ters of the two Koreas met in Seoul in Septem­ber 1990 to en­gage in the In­ter-Korean sum­mits or High-Level Talks. In De­cem­ber, the two coun­tries reached an agree­ment on is­sues of rec­on­cil­i­a­tion, nonag­gres­sion, co­op­er­a­tion, and ex­change be­tween North and South in “The Agree­ment on Rec­on­cil­i­a­tion, Nonag­gres­sion, Co­op­er­a­tion, and Ex­change be­tween North and South”, but these talks col­lapsed over in­spec­tion of nu­clear fa­cil­i­ties. In 1994, af­ter for­mer US Pres­i­dent Jimmy Carter’s visit to Py­ongyang, the lead­ers of the two Koreas agreed to meet with each other, but the meet­ing was pre­vented by the death of Kim Il-sung that July.


How­ever, af­ter too much of brouhaha and at­tempts by global lead­er­ship to bring both coun­tries’ lead­ers at one ta­ble re­mained a dis­tinct vi­sion. Re­uni­fi­ca­tion re­mained a long-term goal for the gov­ern­ments of both North and South Korea. North Korean leader Kim Jong-un made calls in his 2012 New Year’s Day speech to ‘re­move con­fronta­tion’ be­tween the two coun­tries and im­ple­ment pre­vi­ous joint agree­ments for in­creased eco­nomic and po­lit­i­cal co­op­er­a­tion. The South Korean Min­istry of Uni­fi­ca­tion re­dou­bled their ef­forts in 2011 and 2012 to raise aware­ness of the is­sue, launch­ing a va­ri­ety show (Mir­a­cle Au­di­tion) and an In­ter­net sit­com with prouni­fi­ca­tion themes. The Min­istry al­ready pro­motes cur­ricu­lum in ele­men­tary school­ing, such as a gov­ern­ment-is­sued text­book about North Korea ti­tled “We

Are One” and re­uni­fi­ca­tion-themed arts and crafts pro­jects.

In Kim Jong-Un’s 2018 New Year’s ad­dress, a Korean-led re­uni­fi­ca­tion was re­peat­edly men­tioned and an un­ex­pected proposal was made for the North’s par­tic­i­pa­tion in the 2018 Winter Olympics to be held in Pyeongchang County of South Korea, a sig­nif­i­cant shift af­ter sev­eral years of in­creas­ing hos­til­i­ties. Sub­se­quent meet­ings be­tween North and South led to the an­nounce­ment that the two Koreas would march to­gether with a uni­fied flag in the Olympics’ Open­ing Cer­e­mony and form a uni­fied ice hockey team, with a to­tal of 22 North Korean ath­letes par­tic­i­pat­ing in var­i­ous other com­pe­ti­tions in­clud­ing fig­ure skat­ing, short track speed skat­ing, cross-coun­try ski­ing and alpine ski­ing.

In April 2018, at a sum­mit in Pan­munjom, Kim Jong-un and Moon Jaein signed a deal com­mit­ting to fi­nally seal peace be­tween both Koreas by the end of the year. Both lead­ers also sym­bol­i­cally crossed each other’s bor­ders, mark­ing it the first time a South Korean pres­i­dent cross the North bor­der and vice versa. Kim stated that the North will start a process of de­nu­cle­ariza­tion, which is sup­ported by the US Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump.


While the sit­u­a­tion of South and North Korea might seem com­pa­ra­ble to East and West Ger­many, an­other coun­try di­vided by Cold War pol­i­tics, there are some no­table dif­fer­ences. Ger­many did not have a civil war that re­sulted in mil­lions of ca­su­al­ties, mean­ing “it is very hard to be­lieve that Peo­ple’s Army com­man­ders who fought the South in such a bloody frat­ri­ci­dal war would al­low the ROK to over­whelm the DPRK, by what­ever means”. Both sides of Ger­many main­tained a work­ing re­la­tion­ship af­ter the war, but the two Koreas’ re­la­tion­ship has been more ac­ri­mo­nious.

The East Ger­mans also had 360,000 Soviet troops on their soil in 1989; how­ever, North Korea has not had any for­eign troops on its soil since 1955. “East Ger­many col­lapsed be­cause Gor­bachev chose to do what none of his pre­de­ces­sors would ever have done, namely, keep those troops in their bar­racks rather than mo­bi­lize them to save the Ho­necker regime.” The East Ger­mans looked fa­vor­ably at the fact that West Ger­mans had good re­tire­ment ben­e­fits, pub­lic or­der and strong civil so­ci­ety ,[ ci­ta­tion needed] whereas the North Korean cit­i­zens are not aware of any im­me­di­ate ben­e­fits from unit­ing with South Korea, be­cause all such knowl­edge is kept from them by the state.

Un­der Roh Tae-woo, a for­mer South Korean army gen­eral and politi­cian, the Seoul gov­ern­ment cre­ated a “Nord­poli­tik” pol­icy, based on the West Ger­man “Ost­poli­tik” model, hop­ing to make trad­ing agree­ments with Py­ongyang.

Korean re­uni­fi­ca­tion would dif­fer from the Ger­man re­uni­fi­ca­tion prece­dent. In rel­a­tive terms, North Korea’s econ­omy is cur­rently in a far worse sit­u­a­tion than that of East Ger­many in 1990. The in­come per capita ra­tio was about 3:1 in Ger­many ($25,000 for the West, about $8,500 for the East). The ra­tio is close to 20:1 in Korea. While at the mo­ment of Ger­man re­uni­fi­ca­tion the East Ger­man pop­u­la­tion (around 17 mil­lion) was about a third of the West Ger­man (more than 60 mil­lion), the North Korean pop­u­la­tion (around 25 mil­lion) is cur­rently around half of South Korea’s (around 51 mil­lion).

In fact, the di­vi­sion be­tween North and South Korea can be seen as more com­pa­ra­ble to North and South Viet­nam, which were also di­vided af­ter in­de­pen­dence fol­low­ing World War II from a colo­nial power (France). Un­like the Korean War, the Viet­nam War spanned a much longer pe­riod and spilled over to the neigh­bor­ing coun­tries of Laos and Cam­bo­dia. The end of the war re­sulted in all three coun­tries com­ing un­der con­trol of the Com­mu­nist-ori­ented in­de­pen­dence move­ments, with China and the Soviet Union com­pet­ing for in­flu­ence. Re­la­tions be­tween North and South Viet­nam were also ac­ri­mo­nious, with North Viet­nam be­ing largely iso­lated and un­rec­og­nized ex­cept by other com­mu­nist states, sim­i­larly to North Korea.

It seems that both Moon and Kim have an idea of Viet­namese re­union and hence they have put the global play­ers aside and have started to take de­ci­sion that suits to the Korean re­union. A glar­ing ex­am­ple of it is the re­cent meet­ing of the two Korean lead­ers, which took place even af­ter Trump’s ag­gres­sive tweets and rep­ri­mands to the North Korean leader. Kim used his calm and used his po­lit­i­cal acu­men, which helped him win praise from Ja­pan— a ma­jor play­ers, who bats for re-union of the Korean na­tions and played a piv­otal role in this suc­cess­ful meet­ing of the Korean lead­ers.

US Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump with North Korean Pres­i­dent Kim Jong Un

North Korean nu­clear plant de­mol­ished in Yong­byon

US Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump with Chi­nese Pres­i­dent Xi Jin­ping

US Pres­i­dent Trump with Ja­panese PM Shinzo Abe and South Korean Pres­i­dent Moon Jae-in

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