Kim Jong Un, statesman

This has already gone beyond what might have been expected: another step towards Korean reunification. As multiple sources report in the two Koreas, a high level delegation from the south has recently concluded a two-day visit to the north. This is the third such event in the last couple of months. They met with Kim Jong Un and other leading officials and put everything on the table.

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As KCNA reports: (also here):

Shaking hands of the special envoy and his party one by one, respected Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un warmly welcomed them to Pyongyang.

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Jong Ui Yong courteously conveyed a personal letter of President Moon Jae In to the Supreme Leader.

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The members of the special envoy delegation presented gratitude to the Supreme Leader for having dispatched high-level delegations and various large-scale delegations with the 23rd Winter Olympics as a momentum to ensure its successful holding.

Expressing thanks for this, Kim Jong Un said it is natural to share the joy over an auspicious event of fellow countrymen of the same blood and help them. The recent Winter Olympics served as a very important occasion in displaying the stamina and prestige of our nation and providing a good atmosphere of reconciliation, unity and dialogue between the north and the south, he added.

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Then he had an openhearted talk with the south side’s special envoy delegation over the matters arising in actively improving the north-south relations and ensuring peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula.

He repeatedly clarified that it is our consistent and principled stand and his fixed will to vigorously advance the north-south relations and write a new history of national reunification by the concerted efforts of our nation to be proud of in the world.

After being told about President Moon Jae In’s intention for a summit by the special envoy of the south side, the Supreme Leader exchanged views and reached a satisfactory agreement.

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He gave an important instruction to the relevant field to rapidly take practical steps for it.

He also had an exchange of in-depth views on the issues for easing the acute military tensions on the Korean Peninsula and activating the versatile dialogue, contact, cooperation and exchange between the north and the south.

The talk proceeded in a compatriotic and sincere atmosphere.

The dinner afterwards was also celebrated in a ‘warm atmosphere overflowing with compatriotic feelings’.

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What, exactly, is a ‘satisfactory agreement’? Moon Jae-in’s office clarified, after the southern delegation returned:

  1. A summit next month between Kim Jong Un and Moon Jae-in, to be preceded by discussions over a ‘hotline’: ‘The South and the North have agreed to set up a hotline between their leaders to allow close consultations and a reduction of military tension, while also agreeing to hold the first phone conversation before the third South-North summit’.
  2. The topics: denuclearisation, believe it or not, which also entails that ‘military threats against North Korea removed’ and the safety and security of the state ‘be guaranteed’.
  3. A promise from Kim Jong Un ‘not to use not only nuclear weapons but also conventional weapons against the South’.

Obviously, these developments were unexpected only a few months ago. But Moon Jae-in has perhaps an even more delicate diplomatic task, given the fact that 20-30,000 US forces occupy the south. So, on the one hand he stresses the need for US-DPRK talks (to which the north has agreed) and the need to keep ‘sanctions’ in place with the aim of full denuclearisation. But as he does so, he also observes:

The dismantlement of the (North’s) nuclear program is the end goal. But given that the immediate dismantlement of it may be difficult, I think we can go through a certain road map before reaching that dismantlement stage.

In other words, we’ll get on with talks aiming at reunification and peace on the Korean peninsula even if the aims of others are a long way off. Or, as the Unification Minster of the south put it, the ‘government will utilize the current momentum to develop inter-Korean ties in a stable manner and bring peace to the Korean Peninsula’.

Meanwhile, what is the USA doing as all this happens? It is largely reduced to flapping at the sidelines, with Trump employing the great diplomatic tool of twitter as a sign of sheer uselessness. But these developments have a history, apart from the consistent north Korean policy of reunification, without outside interference, peacefully and through a federal system. Already at the ASEAN summit last year, the USA was sidelined. Asian countries realised that the USA is in serious decline and no longer a major player, so they began finding ways to solve their own problems. Clearly, Kim Jong Un has seen the opportunity to act on long-standing policy in the north – as his new year statement made clear. But so also has Moon Jae-in, once the bluster from the US passed. It seems as though the Koreans are genuinely trying to deal with their own problems.

Now, all of this may not lead to anything, but I do find that I get more optimistic as I get older. So it seems that Kim Jong Un may well be a greater statesman than many might have expected.

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How to trivialise news: reporting on the first official visit from the DPRK to South Korea

I have been intrigued for a while by another difference between corporate ‘news’ services (euphemistically called the ‘free press’) and sources from places like China or the DPRK (often dismissed as ‘state-run’). Apart from obvious ideological differences, what intrigues me is what counts as news in the different sources.

For example, the intense focus on the symptom-of-US-decline, Donald Trump, and his tweets simply does not appear in Chinese or DPRK news. Instead, they prefer to focus on substance, policy and concrete acts.

More recently, these news services have been allocating significant attention to one of the most important developments of early 2018: the rapidly improving relations between the two parts of Korea. For example, after the talks, the first delegation from the DPRK arrived in the south. It comprised seven people, moving from Seoul to Gangneung to engage in talks and inspect arts and music centres for a series of north-south cultural exchanges. Soon afterwards, a return visit from the south took place. All duly reported in places like Xinhua News, the Global Times and KCNA.

By contrast, if you cast an eye over efforts to report this development in corporate media sources, you get headlines like “Executed” North Korean pop diva takes Olympic spotlight‘, with most of them mentioning a ‘North Korean pop star‘ or ‘spice girl‘, ‘hand-picked‘ for an ‘all-girl group‘ by Kim Jong Un. It is, opines one, nothing less than Kim Jong Un’s ‘answer to K-pop‘. And these are supposedly the more sedate ‘news’ sources.

Not a bad way to trivialise an important moment.

Meanwhile, Chinees sources indicate support for the Koreans sorting this one out by themselves and DPRK sources point out that United States actually does not want reunification to take place, doing its best to disrupt the process.

Kim Jong Un’s new year address

This one is a beauty and worthy of note. In his new year address (for Juche year 107), Kim Jong-Un deployed the standard genre of communist speeches. It focuses on achievements in the past year, the international situation, problems that need to be addressed and the workers’ party. The section of most interest to observers is the following:

My New Year greetings go also to the compatriots in the south and abroad who are fighting for the reunification of the country and to the progressive peoples and other friends across the world who opposed war of aggression and gave firm solidarity to our cause of justice

As I have pointed out earlier, reunification has been a consistent policy of the DPRK since 1972, based on the two Koreas achieving reunification without outside interference and a bicameral system. We find these themes in the following section of the speech, with a call for easing tensions, dialogue and mutual celebration of 70 years of the DPRK and the Winter Olympics in the south.

The prevailing situation demands that now the north and the south improve the relations between themselves and take decisive measures for achieving a breakthrough for independent reunification without being obsessed by bygone days. No one can present an honourable appearance in front of the nation if he or she ignores the urgent demands of the times.

This year is significant both for the north and the south as in the north the people will greet the 70th founding anniversary of their Republic as a great, auspicious event and in the south the Winter Olympic Games will take place. In order to not only celebrate these great national events in a splendid manner but also demonstrate the dignity and spirit of the nation at home and abroad, we should improve the frozen inter-Korean relations and glorify this meaningful year as an eventful one noteworthy in the history of the nation.

First of all, we should work together to ease the acute military tension between the north and the south and create a peaceful environment on the Korean peninsula.

As long as this unstable situation, which is neither wartime nor peacetime, persists, the north and the south cannot ensure the success of the scheduled events, nor can they sit face to face to have a sincere discussion over the issue of improving bilateral relations, nor will they advance straight ahead towards the goal of national reunification.

The north and the south should desist from doing anything that might aggravate the situation, and they should make concerted efforts to defuse military tension and create a peaceful environment.

The south Korean authorities should respond positively to our sincere efforts for a detente, instead of inducing the exacerbation of the situation by joining the United States in its reckless moves for a north-targeted nuclear war that threatens the destiny of the entire nation as well as peace and stability on this land. They should discontinue all the nuclear war drills they stage with outside forces, as these drills will engulf this land in flames and lead to bloodshed on our sacred territory. They should also refrain from any acts of bringing in nuclear armaments and aggressive forces from the United States.

Even though the United States is wielding the nuclear stick and going wild for another war, it will not dare to invade us because we currently have a powerful nuclear deterrent. And when the north and the south are determined, they can surely prevent the outbreak of war and ease tension on the Korean peninsula.

A climate favourable for national reconciliation and reunification should be established.

The improvement of inter-Korean relations is a pressing matter of concern not only to the authorities but to all other Koreans, and it is a crucial task to be carried out through a concerted effort by the entire nation. The north and the south should promote bilateral contact, travel, cooperation and exchange on a broad scale to remove mutual misunderstanding and distrust, and fulfil their responsibility and role as the motive force of national reunification.

We will open our doors to anyone from south Korea, including the ruling party and opposition parties, organizations and individual personages of all backgrounds, for dialogue, contact and travel, if they sincerely wish national concord and unity.

A definite end should be put to the acts that might offend the other party and incite discord and hostility between fellow countrymen. The south Korean authorities should not try, as the previous conservative “regime” did, to block contact and travel by people of different social strata and suppress the atmosphere for reunification through alliance with the north, under absurd pretexts and by invoking legal and institutional mechanisms; instead, they should direct efforts to creating conditions and environment conducive to national concord and unity.

To improve inter-Korean relations as soon as possible, the authorities of the north and the south should raise the banner of national independence higher than ever before, and fulfil their responsibility and role they have assumed for the times and the nation.

Inter-Korean relations are, to all intents and purposes, an internal matter of our nation, which the north and the south should resolve on their own responsibility. Therefore, they should acquire a steadfast stand and viewpoint that they will resolve all the issues arising in bilateral relations on the principle of By Our Nation Itself.

The south Korean authorities need to know that they will gain nothing from touring foreign countries to solicit their help on the issue of inter-Korean relations, and that such behaviour will give the outside forces, who pursue dishonest objectives, an excuse for their interference and complicate matters further. Now it is not time for the north and the south to turn their backs on each other and merely express their respective standpoints; it is time that they sit face to face with a view to holding sincere discussions over the issue of improving inter-Korean relations by our nation itself and seek a way out for its settlement in a bold manner.

As for the Winter Olympic Games to be held soon in south Korea, it will serve as a good occasion for demonstrating our nation’s prestige and we earnestly wish the Olympic Games a success. From this point of view we are willing to dispatch our delegation and adopt other necessary measures; with regard to this matter, the authorities of the north and the south may meet together soon. Since we are compatriots of the same blood as south Koreans, it is natural for us to share their pleasure over the auspicious event and help them.

We will, in the future, too, resolve all issues by the efforts of our nation itself under the unfurled banner of national independence and frustrate the schemes by anti-reunification forces within and without on the strength of national unity, thereby opening up a new history of national reunification.

Availing myself of this opportunity, I extend warm New Year greetings once again to all Korean compatriots at home and abroad, and I sincerely wish that in this significant year everything would go well both in the north and in the south.

A North Korean Perspective on Reunification

Since the DPRK (North Korea) is in the corporate news, and full of the usual misrepresentation, I thought I would reprise a section of an article I wrote a couple of years ago on Korean reunification – from the perspective of the north.

Reunification been a consistent policy of the Democratic Peoples Republic of Korea since its earliest days. But on what terms? A northern takeover of the south? Not at all. The policy is that reunification would be undertaken without outside interference, peacefully and in terms of a federal system, socialist in the north and capitalist in the south. This position was made explicit in the Communiqué of 1972, after the leaders of both countries had secretly met. In 1973 and again in 1980, Kim Il-sung reiterated this position, proposing a Democratic Confederal Republic of Koryo.

However, the most significant movement happened after the June 15th North–South Joint Declaration of 2000, between Kim Jong-il of the north and Kim Dae-jung of the south. Given that reunification has been a core northern policy, the change was obviously in the south. Here more progressive governments became open to the idea and agreed to the declaration. The change began with Kim Dae-jung’s ‘Sunshine’ policy of 1998. The result was the opening of borders, family reunions, a series of meetings between leaders of north and south, sports, cultural and economic exchange, and even the two Olympic teams marching together at the opening ceremonies in 2000, 2004 and 2006.

But as is the way with the vagaries and uncertainties of bourgeois democracies, the south changed its tune in 2008 with the new president, Lee Myung-bak. His right-wing policies led to a hard-line approach more in tune with United States foreign policy. Cooperation ended and tensions once again escalated – the situation in which we find ourselves now. Perhaps an opening up from the south may be possible once again if Moon Jae-in wins the elections this year. Who knows.

But the north Koreans I have met continue to hope ardently for an eventual reunification along federated lines.

The origins of the DPRK: From Division to Reunification

The propaganda on which we were raised had it that the Second World War came to an end through the decisive action of the United States in dropping a couple of atomic bombs on Japan. Then, US troops immediately moved to the Korean Peninsula to ensure that the freedom-loving Koreans were not subjected to the totalitarian rule of evil communists. They were not entirely successful, because the north had been overrun by the Soviet Red Army, which brutally imposed collectivisation and socialist methods on the north. They then appointed a puppet as leader, Kim Il-sung. A few years later, the United States and troops from other nations such as Australia defended the southerners from aforesaid evil communists when the latter tried to take over the whole peninsula during the Korean War. Since then, the people of the south have earnestly wanted reunification, but the totalitarian ‘regime’ of the north has simply not been interested.

Needless to say, this account is more than a little biased, so let me see if I can provide some correctives.

To begin with, as war historians have long pointed out (see, for instance, Geoffrey Roberts), Japan began suing for surrender as soon it became clear that its colonisation of Korea and parts of China would soon be over. This occupation had been in trouble for some time, with Chinese and Korean fighters – led by the communists – undermining the occupying forces. But the decisive moment came when the Soviet Union’s Red Army arrived, fresh from the capture of Berlin and after having spent more than two weeks on the Trans-Siberian railway line. As Japanese troops were routed, Japan began suing for peace.

Somewhat alarmed, the United States hastily decided to drop an atomic bomb. This was entirely unnecessary for ending the war, since the Japanese were about to surrender. But the United States had its eyes on the post-war situation, using the two bombs to show the world, and especially the Soviet Union, its new firepower. In this light, the use of the bombs actually constitutes a war crime. Not satisfied, United States troops made haste to land on the Korean Peninsula and push as far north as possible.

At this point, the situation began to resemble Germany after the Second World War. In the north were Korean communists, led by Kim Il-sung, supported by Chinese units and the Red Army. In the south were American troops, which established the Allied Military Government. Now it becomes interesting. In theory, the Soviets and the Americans were allies, but they did not behave so. Kim Il-sung proposed that the Korean people should decide on the post-war situation in Korea. This entailed the removal of foreign forces from north and south. Negotiations over this process went on for three years.

Or rather, people tried to negotiate. The American military governor in the south, Lieutenant General Hodge, refused to meet with delegations. Syngman Rhee, a staunch anti-communist strongman, was appointed as provisional leader. Under his direction and with American support, a series of uprising in the south were brutally crushed. In autumn of 1946, workers and peasants rose up against the American occupation; from April 1948 until 1953 islanders from Jeju rebelled; in October 1948 regiments in the southern Korean army rose up in the Yeosu–Suncheon Rebellion; in December 1949, Mungyeong citizens and their families were massacred since they were suspected of being communist sympathisers. In suppressing these socialist movements, swathes of villages were destroyed and hundreds of thousands of people were killed.

These repressions were all part of the mechanisms for establishing a separate state in the south. Indeed, it was declared in August 1948, with Syngman Rhee as president. In response, the north found itself needing to declare the formation of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

The comparison with East and West Germany is striking. There too, the Anglo-American forces stalled on negotiations for a united Germany, which was pushed by the eastern Germans, as well as Stalin and Molotov. There too, plans began in 1948 for a separate state in the western parts, which was foreshadowed by a new currency. There too the West German state was declared first, in September 1949. And there too the east had no option but to respond with its own state. Throughout, the aim was to keep Germany separated, despite the will of most of the people.

In light of all this, what has happened to the desire for Korean unification? It has been consistent policy of the Democratic Republic of Korea since its earliest days. But on what terms? A northern takeover of the south? Not at all. The policy is that reunification would be undertaken without outside interference, peacefully and in terms of a federal system, socialist in the north and capitalist in the south. This position was made explicit in the Communiqué of 1972, after the leaders of both countries had secretly met. In 1973 and again in 1980, Kim Il-sung reiterated this position, proposing a Democratic Confederal Republic of Koryo.

However, the most significant movement happened after the June 15th North–South Joint Declaration of 2000, between Kim Jong-il of the north and Kim Dae-jung of the south. Given that reunification has been a core northern policy, the change was obviously in the south. Here more progressive governments became open to the idea and agreed to the declaration. The change began with Kim Dae-jung’s ‘Sunshine’ policy of 1998. The result was the opening of borders, family reunions, a series of meetings between leaders of north and south, sports, cultural and economic exchange, and even the two Olympic teams marching together at the opening ceremonies in 2000, 2004 and 2006.

But as is the way with the vagaries and uncertainties of bourgeois democracies, the south changed its tune in 2008 with the new president, Lee Myung-bak. His right-wing policies led to a hard-line approach more in tune with United States foreign policy. Cooperation ended and tensions once again escalated – the situation in which we find ourselves now.

The north Koreans I encountered view that time as one of hope disappointed, although they ardently hope for an eventual reunification along federated lines.

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