As the world’s attention is drawn towards rising tensions in the Korean peninsula, I wonder if there is a chance the North and South will ever be reunited again? Due to World War II, North and South Korea was split, similarly to West and South Germany.
So why was Germany reunited after 41 years whereas North and South Korea still split with tensions rising even more after the inauguration of President Trump?
The Role of the Soviet Union
After World War II, the world was pretty much split between Communism in the Soviet Union and Capitalist America with its allies. In Germany, the soviet union essentially controlled the country and saw it as a buffer zone against the US and its allies. In North Korea, however, the soviet union or USSR, backed financially and politically the Kim family, who essentially building the country as a model of the USSR. During the closing days of WWII, the the USSR proclaimed war on Japan and its forces flooded into Korea. The US who was concerned that all of Korea would fall under Communist rule, quickly deployed forces into Korea and asked the USSR to halt its forces in the 38th parallel.
The formation of the United Nations Temporary Commission on Korea (UNTCOK) in 1947 in the South, led to a general election where the Republic of Korea was established and Syngman Rhee was elected president. As the Soviet Union refused to allow the UNTCOK to be established in the North, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea was declared and Kim Il Sung became the prime minister of the North. Both states considered each to be the government of the whole of Korea and both saw the division as temporary.
A chance for reconciliation
After the collapse of the Soviet Union, both Germany, North Korea and China lost its strongest ally. As a result, the Soviet union broke up and Germany was reunited after 40 years of separation. At the same time, relations with the South began to thaw, with both North and South Koreans secretly reaching to talk of reunification. These talks in 1991 led to the Agreement on Reconciliation, Non-Aggression, Exchanges and Cooperation and the Joint Declaration on the Denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.
In 1998, Kim Dae-Jung decided to adopt a Sunshine policy towards the North, leading to a Inter-Korean summit in 2000. North and South Korean teams marched together in the Sydney Olympics. Family Reunions occurred and in 2003, the Kaesong Industrial Region was established to allow South Korean businesses to invest in the North. The economical crisis in North Korea suggested that there may be a chance of reunification as many North Koreans started to defect to the South.
The US president George Bush however did not support this policy and branded North Korea as an Axis of Evil. The same president who caused the mess in the Middle East, leading to the establishment and popularity of Al-Qaeida and ISIS.
Despite the establishment of the North Korean Nuclear testing programme, the relations of North and South Korea remained on relatively good terms.
Lee Myung Bak
In 2010, the new South Korean president, Lee Myung Bak abandoned the Sunshine Policy. On March 26, 2010, the ROKS Cheonan with a crew sank off Baengnyeong Island in the Yellow Sea. The South said there was an explosion at the stern, and was investigating whether a torpedo attack was the cause. The North denied any involvement. Tensions continued to escalate from then onwards, with the North and South cutting off all trade with each other. In 2014, North Korean drones containing pictures of the Blue House of South Korea were found. In 2015, things escalated further when a mine exploded in the demilitarized Zone, established after peace talks at the end of the Korean War, wounding 2 south Korean officers. The South accused the North for planting the bomb and the North denied this. The North then fired a shell at a South Korean city, Yeoncheon and the South fired back. Despite pre-war talks, the North has continued its nuclear testing weapons, despite strong warnings from the US.
Some conspiracies, claim that the US may play a role in this increased tension as a reunification, which at the time looked likely would mean that the America-South Korean alliance will melt away due to a decreased need for South Korea to depend on the US for security and therefore the US potentially losing power in the east.
The role of China
After South Korean had cut all trade from North Korea, China became the single largest trade partner of the North. In fact all international flights from North Korea are to Chinese cities in the North.
It also meant that any economical sanctions towards North Korea by the chinese government may cause the collapse of the regime.
However China is unwilling is unwilling to do this. According to chinese sources, this is because:
1) Wave of North Korean refugees. China would receive a huge influx of North Korean refugees as a result of this economical crisis, which China as a developing country will struggle to cope with. It is already home to about 100,000 North Korean defectors and will be unhappy to accept more. With a population of 30 million people, this could mean a vast proportion of people will be relocated. Because it is much more difficult to escape from North Korea through the demilitarised zone (DMZ), therefore, it is more likely that refugees will pour over the border to China. Also, if fighting continues in the DMZ, it would be impossible to cross through to the North through the DMZ.
2) It may cause Kim Jung Un to panic and set off his nuclear weapons. As North Korea has yet to develop long distance missiles which can reach the US, however it has an arsenal of effective short distance nuclear weapons, China would be one of the first targets. Many cities in China will likely within target of these dangerous weapons and it may lead to devastating effects in China.
3) Chinese officials are unable to contact North Korea. Since Trumps warning, North Korea has refused contact with everyone making talks impossible.
4) A buffer zone against Capitalist South Korea. Mainland China is still suspicious of the South Korean government and its ties with the US. Due to the uncomfortable relationship between China and the US, and even more so since President Trump, China may see Communist North Korea as a potential ally against the US if an invasion occurs. However, this is unlikely and North Korea does not provide a large buffer against the US and its allies should a war begin.
However, this reunification may well depend on the election in 8 days time. If the left wing, Moon Jae in wins, a reunification is likely to occur due to the fact, South Korea is about to hit an economical crisis and is in need for cheap labour and natural resources. According to Dr Petrov, a researcher at the Australian National University, North Korea has more natural resources and if there is an inbalance in the reunification between North and South, which is likely to occur, as it happened in Germany, despite a separation only occurred for 40 years compared to over 60 years- North koreans, due to their poverty, less experience in enterprise and education may well be exploited for cheap labour.
Whatever the case, at least families will be reunited after so many years of separation. Perhaps love can minimise the crash landing which is likely to occur on reunification.
For more information on the North South Korean division: