| Once a unified country
with an independent monarchy, Korea was governed and controlled
by strong Japanese influence in the late 19th century. Japanese
forces invaded this country during 1905 and officially took control
of it 5 years later, overthrowing the emperor in the process.
Korea was under Japanese control until
the end of World War II when the Japanese were
forced to leave by Soviet and US forces. In a manner similar to
post-war Germany, Korea was divided into military occupation zones
along the 38th parallel (line of latitude). The former Soviet
Union pull out from the North in 1948, having overseen
the creation of a Democratic People’s Republic
and ensured the pre-eminence of the communist Korean Workers’
Party (KWP) in the country’s political life.
The North really wanted to reunite Korea under communist rule and,
in 1950, it was supported by the Chinese communists
who had taken control the previous year, occupied the South. US
and other united forces unified the South to defend against the
invasion. After 3 years of bitter fighting, the existing North-South
division was restored and an armistice was signed between the 2
Koreas. A demilitarised zone was invented, across which the 2 sides
– with backing from their respective superpower supporters
and have traded little more than insults ever since. The
DPRK was governed from 1948 until his death in 1994 by
Kim Il-Sung, known publicly as ‘The
Great Leader’, as the head of the ruling KWP.
Under his rule, Korea North was regimented to an outstanding degree
and all but hermetically sealed from the rest of the world. The
country was governed in accordance with the tenets of juche, Kim
Il-Sung’s idiosyncratic philosophical cocktail of
Stalinist orthodoxy, ultra-nationalism and quasi-religious mysticism.
In July 1994 the death of the Great Leader brought to power his
son, Kim Jong-Il, who carries the moniker ‘The
Dear Leader’. Under the new system of rule, the Korea Northns have very gradually opened up to the world. As well as a
natural desire for a rapprochement with the South, northern postures
have been driven by the economic crisis, manifested by severe food
shortages – which followed the collapse of trade with the
former Soviet Union at the beginning of the 1990s.
Exacerbated by crop failures, the crisis has meant that since 1995,
many parts of the country have suffered from constant crucial food
shortages and lots of Korea Northns have died from starving or sought
refugee status over the Chinese border.
The thaw, gradual, often indiscernibly slow in North-South relations
can be traced back to 1970 when Kim Il-Sung formally
decreed reunification as an objective. Unfortunately, the barbarous
and often pugnacious behaviour of the Korea Northn government has
not helped matters. Additionally, the postures of old allies in
Moscowand Beijing, who saw more
to gain by developing their relations with the rest of East Asia,
has not worked to the North’s advantage. Above all, the North’s
determined pursuit of its nuclear and ballistic missile
programmes created much international dubiety and antagonism,
particularly in the USA. In 1994, Pyongyang
agreed to stop nuclear activities but there were still doubts that
they continued in secret. In 2002, President George W. Bush
described Korea North as a part of the so-called ‘axis of
evil’ whose attitudes and activities are considered a threat
to the new world order. Later that year the Korea Northns confessed
that they had broken their previous promise. Yet the American reaction
was moderately mild, particularly when compared to the pressure
applied to Iraq over the same issue.
Some of the reasons for US moderation become involved in the posture
of the South, which is driven, in part, by the wish of several thousands
of families to be reunited after the post-war division of the peninsula.
A lot of isolated initiatives had been undertaken since the 1970s,
but the issue was near the top of the agenda when Kim Jong-Il
and the South Korean leader Kim Dae-Jung met in
Pyongyang in June 2000. This historic summit was deemed a considerable
success, even though the task of reconciling, these 2 former antagonists
remains a formidable one.
Since then, Korea North has come blinking into the light of international
diplomacy, holding a flurry of meetings in the 9 months
from October 2000 with the EU, the USA and others. The USA
is the key; however, as Korea North is desperate for aid from the
international commercial community, and needs US acquiescence.