Today, after the signature of the agreement between the two Koreas during the fifth Summit after the 1953 ceasefire, we can finally note some structural constant factors of the inter-Korean issue.
The South Korean leader, Moon Jae-in, asked Kim Jong Un when he could visit Pyongyang and the North Korean leader replied: “even now”.
Forgive this subjective note in a strategic analysis like this, but I was there.
I was received with full honours by the President of the Presidium of the Supreme People’s Assembly of North Korea, Kim Yong-Nam, at the Supreme People’s Assembly Palace the day before the Panmunjom ceremony. I spoke at length with the North Korean Leader and his aides and I assessed many ideas and impressions.
I saw and meditated everything although, as often happens to me, I have to treasure upall these things and ponder them into my heart – as the Blessed Virgin did when she listened to her Son’s sermons.
In other words, firstly I can state that North Korea’s opening is real and sincere. It will also best able, if Westerners and Japan want so.
As repeatedly noted over the years, North Korea’s nuclear, missile and chemical-biological potential was precisely what the small North Korea needed to rise to a world status and to pose the problem of its security and independence before all superpowers, as well as to ask for the respect due even to the smallest country in the world.
Countries, regardless of their size, can be autonomous and independent or not.
The key has always been to avoid being “disarmed prophets” – just to use an old concept developed by Machiavelli.
Italy is not a dependent country, it is now virtually non-existent.
Secondly, Kim Jong Un’s opening to the Western world, and to the United States at first, is conditional upon an issue that Kim himself has long discussed with Chinese President Xi Jinping on his very recent visit to China in the last week of March.
As repeatedly noted in recent years, China does not want to have a US army on its border without having the possibility of opposing to it a buffer State protecting it from the US imperial instability and volatility.
North Korea does not want to be the Piedmont of China, a small military power patrolling the Chinese Southern borders.
However, it does not even want to be a secondary and passive factor in the future development of the entire Korean peninsula.
Therefore the tree planted by Kim and Moon together on the North-South Korean border is not an old symbol of the French Revolution, but rather the token of a Korean unity based on a first concept, namely denuclearization – which is China’s primary goal for both North and South Korea.
Hence eliminating all nuclear, biological and chemical weapons from the Korean peninsula is a guarantee for North Korea, as well as safety and security for South Korea and an absolute need for China.
I think it would be a good choice also for the United States and Japan.
Hence lowering and equalizing strategic potentials throughout Southeast Asia is the rational point of contact for all strategies in the region. It must be pursued immediately.
Rightly Japan has still some doubts about the pan-Korean Summit and it has promptly made it known to the United States.
But, again, lowering the trigger threshold of a clash, even a conventional one, works to the benefit of everyone and mainly of Japan.
The latter is recreating a tripartite economic relationship with China and South Korea,which could become the axis of North Korea’s new regional development.
It is also worth recalling that Japan is fully resuming its economic relations with China thanks to the 13th Round of trilateral economic talks between Japan, China and, coincidentally, South Korea.
An axis along which North America can place itself to tackle economic issues with China.
This is essential in a context of present and future tariff wars.
Hence also the economic relations between South Korea and China are returning to high levels.
This strategically means that – if Xi Jinping’s China wants so – it can almost fully replace the US support to South Korea.
This is related and conducive to a weakening of the US military system in South Korea.
Thirdly it is worth underlining that Kim Jong Un ordered his military officers to “organize frequent meetings” with their Southern counterparts, without even referring to South Korea’s frequent military exercises with the US forces.
The “permanent peace regime” to resolve the “unnatural state of tension” between the two Koreas is one of the true goals of the Summit and it goes in the direction of Russian strategic interests.
Let us not forget that Vladivostok is a few kilometers from the North Korean coast.
This is also in the interest of China, which is not much interested in a unified Korea, but has the supreme aim of not having US forces in contact with its own or even with North Korea’s, considering that 160,000 Chinese soldiers are stationed at fewer than 100 kilometres from the North Korean border.
In particular, China does not want nuclear weapons on the Korean peninsula, both in North and in South Korea.
At the end of our summary on the fifth inter-Korean Summit – after the 1972, 1992, 2000 and 2007 ones -we arrive at the core of the issue, namely the economy.
In short, Kim Jong Un wants to ease the military tension to pursue his primary goal, i.e. his country’s economic growth.
It is not a denial of his theory of the correlation between military development and economic growth.
Quite the reverse. It is a reaffirmation of the positive connection between North Korea’s two lines of development.
However, which is the North Korean leadership that has worked for this great breakthrough, thus reaching this turning point?
The mistake that Westerners make when analyzing the Asian political structures is to think that everything happens as in the Grimms’ fairy tales, in which a King decides bizarre things by chance without ever analyzing their effects.
None of that: the Asian systems, but especially North Korea’s, are apparently “irrational” for us followers of the legal rationalism not based on value judgements, but perfectly functional within their traditions and the oldest political symbols of the East.
If only in the West were we so sensitive to our old political traditions as the Chinese and North Koreans – but also the Japanese and the Vietnamese- are. The issue does not lie in economic systems, but in the political and cultural nature of political systems.
As is well-known, Karl Wittfogel studied the role played by ancient China’s hydraulic system in relation to the mythical role played by the Emperor of “Everything under the Heavens”.
The “Great Korean Empire” was proclaimed in 1897 and was later immediately reabsorbed in the opposing dialectics between China and Japan.
Both North and South Korea remember the symbol, its history and its meaning, as well as the never healed wound.
Hence without well understanding the Leader’s traditional and sapiential role in the Asian world, neither Communism nor the other pro-Western societies can be understood.
Hence who is really collaborating with Kim Jong Un, who is a cultured and lucid rational leader, very different from the “rocket man” described by the less cultivated President Trump?
The answer to this question is Ri Su-Yong, the Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Supreme People’s Assembly of the Democratic Republic of Korea.
He was next to Kim Jong Un during the ceremonies of the recent meeting in Panmunjom. He was with me the day before and, indeed, he is now a friend with whom I have long been talking about international policy.
Certainly I would have preferred not to be citizen of a country, namely Italy, which after two months of the North Korean Ambassador’s stay in Italy, refused to assess his credentials and sent him back home without even receiving him for pure common courtesy, as good manners dictate.
The foolish servants of politicians who are making other political choices. The utmost idiocy.
Voltaire was right in saying: “very often, say what you will, a knave is only a fool”.
Let us imagine how much leeway we could open up in the new Korean equilibrium, in both business and international policy, as well as projection of Italy’s and EU’s peaceful power throughout Asia – if only we knew how to behave.
Nevertheless Quos Deus lose vult, dementat.
However, with a view to better understanding the issue of relations between North Korea and me, I want to quote a letter recently sent by Ri SuYong to me.
It is an important, official and – indeed – analytical letter to understand the whole range of issues relating to the relations between South and North Korea.
Giancarlo Elia Valori
Honorable de l’ Académie des Sciences de l’Institut de France, UNESCO Ambassador, Chairman of La Centrale Finanziaria Generale SpA
Dear Prof. Giancarlo Elia Valori,
I would like to offer you my compliments and send you this letter regarding the situation of the Korean peninsula.
On November 29, 2017, our country brilliantly accomplished the great historic achievement of completing the State’s nuclear power program thanks to the successful test launch of the new ICBM.
The intercontinental ballistic missile “Hwasong 15”, newly developed according to the strategic and political decision of the Workers’ Party of Korea, is a more powerful ICBM reaching our goal of completing the missile system development.
Our efforts to develop the strategic weapon are intended to safeguard the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the country and to ensure the peaceful life of the people faced with the US hostile policy and ongoing threats.
In recent years the United States has systematically not recognized our country and tried to fully isolate and stifle us.
By falsely accusing our nuclear deterrent to be “a threat to the world”, the United States forces the other countries to downgrade the level of diplomatic relations and completely suspend all international economic and trade activities with our country, as well as to step up sanctions even in the field of international organizations’ humanitarian aid activities.
By recently putting our country again in the list of “countries sponsoring terrorism”, the Americans have openly shown that they use every method and means to stifle our system.
Unfortunately, some European countries have lost their impartiality and objectivity and follow the US attempts to isolate and stifle the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.
It is well known that the Korean peninsula’s nuclear problem is a matter between the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and the USA, resulting from 70 years of US hostile policy and ongoing threats.
It is no secret that the United States had attempted to launch the nuclear bomb on our country during the Korean war and has begun to deploy nuclear weapons in South Korea since 1957.
With a view to invading our country, since 1970 the Americans and South Koreans have started to carry out ongoing joint military exercises on a large scale against us, by using their huge nuclear strategic resources including nuclear submarines and bombers.
How could we remain passive when a country deploys strategic nuclear aircraft carriers and submarines in the Atlantic Ocean and threatens every day to bomb our country with nuclear bombers while openly declaring on the UN scene its willingness to exterminate us?
For over 70 years European countries have been able to ensure peace and social stability along the path of the European Union thanks to the common will and efforts to avoid the recurrence of a cruel war such as World War II.
Peace is a very valuable asset for our people who have suffered a cruel war imposed by the United States and always face the danger of another nuclear war.
Comrade Kim Jong Un, our esteemed President of the Workers’ Party of Korea, said that our Party’s goal is to build a peaceful world without war.
On the contrary, what the United States wants is ongoing tension on the Korean peninsula, not peace.
Because ongoing military tension on the Korean peninsula serves as a clear excuse for maintaining its hegemonic position on the Eurasian continent to restrain and threaten the other powers of the region and favor the sale of weapons to the other countries by the monopolistic companies of the US war industry.
The fact that during the visit paid to Asia early November, the US President had forced South Korea and Japan to buy high-tech military equipment from the United States at astronomical prices isa case in point.
We were forced to choose nuclear weapons for protecting peace on the Korean peninsula and defending the sovereignty of our country.
The lesson learnt from the long-standing conflict with the United States is that we cannot communicate with this country with words, but with force and that only the balance of power with the United States will ensure sound peace on the Korean peninsula.
Our nuclear force and power only have to do with the United States and not with Europe.
We are developing friendly and cooperative relations with the European countries which respect our sovereignty.
Hence Europe has nothing to fear from the expansion of our ballistic missile range as long as it does not take part in the US military activities against our Republic.
Nevertheless some European countries increase pressures and the embargo against our country, by taking sides with the United States. This does not help to solve the Korean peninsula’s problem and produces only disadvantages.
The US nuclear threat, pressure and embargo against our country are hostile acts designed to annihilating our ideology, our regime and people.
The more the level of threats, sanctions and pressures against our country is raised, the harsher our response will be.
The European countries must well think whether participation in the US hostile actions against our Republic is in line with the values of freedom, equality, mutual respect and defense of human rights that Europe champions.
I would like to seize this opportunity to wish you the greatest success in your political activities.
Ri Su Yong
President of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Supreme People’s Assembly of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea
November 30 Juche l 06 (20 17)Pyongyang
However, who is really Ri Su-Yong, the man who executes the orders, but also collaborates creatively with Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un in North Korea’s foreign policy and also in other sectors?
I think his biography speaks for itself.
It will also enable us to understand the particular mechanism existing in North Korea, but also in many other Asian countries, which finds a balance between the Leader’ symbolic and real power with a system of checks and balances.
This system, however, has nothing to do with the Enlightenment liberal ideologies which have created the political mechanisms of checks and balances in the West.
As shown in the letter sent to me, Ri SuYong -also known as Ri Chol -is the vice-President of the North Korean Labour Party, besides being Chairman of the Diplomatic Committee of the Supreme People’s Assembly, but he is also a member of the Central Committee and the Political Office of the Workers’ Party of Korea (WPK), according to the best traditions of the Third International.
Ri Chol is Kim JongUn’s official representative to Europe and was Ambassador to the UN Mission in Geneva.
I speak French with him.
In 1974, Ri was appointed Director General for Protocol and International Organizations at the Ministry for Foreign Affairs and in 1980 he became deputy-Director of Kim Jong-Il’s Personal Secretariat and deputy-Director of the Organization and Guidance Department.
In 1980, Ri was posted again to the North Korea’s Embassy to Geneva, where he had served as Protocol official, while he travelled across Europe and performed very delicate tasks jointly with the Supreme Leader and his family.
Ri Chol finally became North Korea’s Ambassador to Switzerland in 1988.
In Bern he followed the personal and school career of Kim Jong Un, who studied in the Swiss capital at the local University and later followed additional courses at the HSG, the University of St. Gallen, where in the past a great economist Ota Sik – the man of the “New Economic Model” developed in Prague with the leader of the Prague Spring, Dubcek – had taught.
In 2010, Ri Chol was recalled to his homeland, where he started to work for the Personal Secretariat.
In 2014 he became Foreign Minister.
Two years later he was appointed to the Party’s Central Committee.
He was born in 1940 and studied at the Mangyo’ndae Revolutionary School and later at the Kim Il Sung University but, at that time, he was already a personal friend of Kim Jong Il.
From a spiritual father to an aide and finally a friend- this is the mechanism by which a very high profile figure like Ri Chol has become the true éminence grise of North Korea and the kingmaker of the current détente phase.
Let us hope that the effrontery and temerity of the foolish servants or the imperial obsessions of someone in the West will not soon put an end to this extraordinary opportunity for peace.
Why does the Dragon do what it does
The recent stand-off between China and India has been the headlines around the world, especially since the stand-off went ugly with 20 Indian soldiers and an unknown number (probably less than 20) Chinese soldiers losing their lives in a vicious hand to hand combat. Since then, nationalistic sentiments in India are running high with immense public pressure to account for the Chinese for what happened in Galwan Valley. In order to understand the motives behind the recent clashes, one has to go back to 1962 or even before that.
This is not the first time that tensions along the LAC (Line of Actual Control) have flared up and definitely this is not the end of such events. Strategically, what was true in 1962, is true today. The real bone of contention is still Aksai Chin. Aksai Chin is the Dragon’s hanging sword on Delhi, which can be unleashed anytime keeping India continuously in a state of passive defensive. As long as China adheres to its strategy on Aksai Chin, it will always have the strategic initiative, and India’s “great power ambition” will continue to lay in the abyss of the Indian Ocean.
Aksai Chin indeed was a part of the State of Kashmir but since Kashmir already was being fought over between India and Pakistan and the region being far from both India and Pakistan was inaccessible to both claimants. Beijing saw an opportunity and with tacit approval from Pakistan, went ahead to control this “Sand Sea of China” which is the literal translation of Aksai Chin in Turkic.
Aksai Chin is strategically very important for China. It is the only possible land route that connects China’s Xinjiang Region to Tibet. China’s G219 Highway and the New Tibet Railway Line both pass through Aksai Chin. If there was not to be an Aksai Chin, the Chinese had to cross the hard terrain of the Kunlun Mountains to connect China’s two big landmasses. In 1962 when China took the initiative to cross the LAC, Beijing had several things on its mind. Firstly, it had to secure Aksai China so that a land link between Xinjiang and Tibet can be established. Secondly, China knew that controlling the heights over India is going to give it a long term strategic advantage and through it, it could always keep the initiative in its hands, keeping Delhi in a defensive position for an unprecedented time in the future. Thirdly, it wanted to support Pakistan which was having its own problems in the Kashmir sector. In case of any future Indo-Pak conflict, China would be in a better position to intervene. Lastly, and most important of all, Beijing wanted to ensure no future disturbances along the LAC. The main objective of the 1962 War was made very clear by Chairman Mao at the Xiangshan meeting: “At least 30 years of peace must be guaranteed.”
One may wonder that what does thirty years of peace do. What merited the risk of crossing over the LAC by the Chinese? The answer is rather simple: Integration of Tibet! Tibet was having internal problems and especially after the Dalai Lama fled Tibet it was getting harder for Beijing to keep it under control, but that couldn’t be possible unless and otherwise New Delhi would be completely knocked out of the Tibetan game and this is exactly what the 1962 War did.
Some analysts believe that instead of focusing on Aksai Chin which is a rugged piece of land, China should’ve gone for the Arunachal Pradesh, which the Chinese call “Southern Tibet”. The area is also much richer in natural resources than Aksai Chin. The point made then by Beijing was that Arunachal Pradesh was a more difficult terrain to be defended plus the aim was to stabilize the whole of Tibet, instead of just Southern Tibet. Another interesting reason why Beijing kept mum about Southern Tibet was that it was the “Granary of Tibet”, the absence of which meant that Tibet had to rely on Beijing for its basic necessities. Another well-calculated move by Beijing to reign in Tibet.
All along the 1962 War, Beijing was clear of its objectives. It was not expansionism that drove the war but rather strategic interests. The war was initiated by China, and China itself took the initiative to end it. It was clear to the Chinese planners that any War with India had to be swift, decisive and must set the tone for future engagements. That is why after the PLA took over control over large swathes of land across the LAC and the “McMahon Line”, then quickly retreated back to the “McMahon Line”. Since the battleground is usually too cold for battle, the PLA had only a two-month window to launch an offensive
Prior to the war, at the Beijing Xiangshan meeting in which it was decided to fight the 1962 War, Zhou Enlai specifically instructed that “logistics must be done well, and we must never increase the number of casualties due to logistical factors like in the Korean War.”
Learning on the lessons of 1962, India unilaterally decided not to build any infrastructure in the region surrounding the LAC, fearing that the same infrastructure might be used by the Chinese to come into the Indian mainland. Since now New Delhi is ascertaining its regional and global power, it is constructing new roads and infrastructure along the LAC and China is clearly not happy with India changing the status quo. Previously, the status quo maintained gave Beijing a strategic advantage. One border issue had pinned India for decades, wasting a lot of India’s national power, and has allowed China to develop with peace of mind for decades.
Escalation of conflict between two Koreas: Why now and what could it lead to?
Observers worldwide signal a rapid deterioration of relations between two Koreas which began on June 9th, after North Korea’s authorities discontinued contacts with South Korea over the anti-Pyongyang leaflets circulated by North Korean defectors. While Seoul has announced readiness to take measures, the other party chose to ignore the announcement.
Pyongyang has blocked all communication lines with Seoul (except those between special services). North Korea has also blown up the building of the inter-Korean communication office in Kaesong, which was opened in 2018 for promoting cooperation between North Korea and South Korea. This is a precedent which sets one thinking: why is all this happening now and what could it result in?
Throughout the past few decades Pyongyang has repeatedly resorted to the “slam the door” tactic according to which it first broke contracts and then resumed them. There was a time when the participants in inter-Korean talks threw cookies at one another during a coffee break in a manifestation of mutual resentment. But no one blew up buildings.
Significantly, the measures in question have been reported by Kim Jong-un’s younger sister Kim Yo-jong, who described South Korea as a «foe». Deputy head of the propaganda department of the Central Committee of the Korean Labor Party, this pretty-looking lady with good manners were originally appointed to represent the North Korean regime with a “human face”. Now, she is playing the part of a “bad cop”.
So, why is it all happening now? The year 2020 began with radical changes about American-North Korean denuclearization talks, which ran into a deadlock. North Korea repeatedly voiced discontent over the US not lifting sanctions against Pyongyang and not calling off military exercises with South Korea despite the fact that North Korea has stopped nuclear tests, frozen intercontinental ballistic missile launches and closed nuclear testing sites. In response, Pyongyang chose to raise negotiation stakes by saying ‘no’ to talks on the lifting of some UN-imposed sanctions in exchange for major nuclear facilities of North Korea.
Apparently, North Korea considers it possible to repeat the same tactic in its relations with the South, which have been stalled, largely over the coronavirus pandemic. Despite Pyongyang’s expectations, North-South relations cannot enter the specific cooperation phase, first of all, over the position of Washington, which has been doing everything to thwart it.
When a chess game enters a deadlock, the angry party, like in the Ilf and Petrov classic, is tempted to overturn the chessboard, or worse, to crush it on the head of the other party. This is the logic that the North Korean party could be driven by at the moment; such a behavior seems quite sensible, because it has yielded good results many times before. The question is why torpedo the inter-Korean dialogue now, under President Moon Jae-in, who is widely known for his commitment to the North-South dialogue and has done a lot to promote it (and must have been getting ready to do more, thereby earning a credit for himself in history before he steps down from the post of president in 2022)?
It is not a secret that this dialogue has limits which are imposed by American-South Korean alliance. Since the North has always been against them, the current escalation could well be part of an attempt to “blow up” the existing system (or, at least, rock it out of balance). But this kind of move is hardly sensible and hardly feasible.
What will the current escalation which the North has been demonstrating so openly (“seven people hold me, or I break loose and crush everything”), lead to? What sounds alarm is Pyongyang’s intention to deploy troops in areas which have been deemed as demilitarized since 1953, when North and South Koreas signed an armistice agreement. After that the two sides saw a number of intermittent setbacks but they never touched the border zone in the 38th parallel. Seoul and Pyongyang never attempted to reconsider the zone’s demilitarized status. A violation of this “taboo” is fraught with danger – it could cause unintended military incidents on the demarcation line, particularly considering the fact that the 38th parallel has the world’s biggest concentration of military power and weapons.
Finally, what are external players to do? The UN secretary-general has urged the United States and South Korea to take joint efforts to normalize inter-Korean relations. After that the State Department issued a corresponding statement which ran into a rebuke on the part of North Korea. The day before the Trump administration extended sanctions against North Korea for another year, and the circle has been closed.
The Chinese Foreign Ministry and Russian State Duma coordinator for cooperation with North Korea Kazbek Taisaev have expressed hope that peace will be preserved. But this is not enough. Russian and Chinese diplomats have been acting in line with a consolidated position of China and Russia on the situation around the Korean Peninsula, which was enshrined in the Joint Statement of the two countries’ foreign ministers of July 4, 2017. Action for action, a step-by-step lifting of sanctions depending on progress at the talks is what Russia and China propose for a settlement. This principle, however, proceeds from the fact that North Korea is interested in such progress, not vice versa. For this reason, our countries’ foreign ministries may have to streamline their strategy with a view to make it easier to implement and boost its effectiveness.
From our partner International Affairs
Will There Be an End to the Korean War?
The Korean War began 70 years ago, on June 25, 1950. This was not just a standoff between neighboring states. The Korean War, in fact, began as a civil war between the two Korean camps (the North, that sought to build the future of Korea according to the Soviet model, and the South, committed to American attitudes). In the context of the Cold War, it immediately developed into a large-scale military conflict. Great powers were directly or indirectly involved. This includes the USA, Great Britain, USSR, PRC, as well as the UN, which sent an international military contingent to Korea under its own flag to help the South.
Military Confrontation on the 38th Parallel
The inter-Korean confrontation continues to this day. Today, on both sides of the 38th parallel — the latitude line that roughly demarcates the two Korean states — military fortification is piled up, and thousands of troops with modern weapons and military equipment target each other. Moreover, in accordance with the Mutual Defence Treaty between the U.S. and South Korea, the latter is hosting a group of U.S. troops of 28.5 thousand people, subordinate to the ROK/U.S. Combined Forces Command (CFC).
And if Seoul does need the U.S. military presence in Korea in order to protect South Korean economic prosperity from the hypothetical encroachment of Pyongyang, then for Washington, it is only an element of the global system for ensuring “American leadership.” The Korean Peninsula is the only continental element of the U.S. military presence in East Asia. In addition, South Korea, as an ally of the United States, significantly strengthens American military power in the Pacific, doing so to a much greater extent than Japan, still fettered by Article 9 of its Constitution.
In the 1990s, the tangle of security problems on the Korean peninsula was supplemented by the North Korea nuclear crisis. North Korea, in violation of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, announced the development of a nuclear missile program. Pyongyang remembered the calls of the American General Douglas MacArthur, who led the United Nations Command in the Korean War, to use the atomic bomb, and believed that the DPRK’s own nuclear weapons could prevent a potential strike from the United States in the event of a new inter-Korean war.
The United States confronted the North Korean nuclear missile program with a sanctions war and aggressive military rhetoric. This included direct threats of President Trump in 2017 to physically destroy the DPRK should it decide not to give up nuclear missile development. However, common sense prevailed. Mutual accusations gave way to dialog. Three inter-Korean and two North Korea-the U.S. summits took place in 2018–2019.
Inter-Korean dialog was facilitated by two circumstances. On the one hand, having created long-range nuclear missile weapons, the North Korean leader Kim Jong-un decided that the main strategic goal to ensure the security of the DPRK from the United States had been achieved, and that the nuclear-missile race could be suspended by putting more funds into economic needs. On the other, it was the behavior of South Korea that promoted a thaw in the relations. And this is not only due to the fact that from the very beginning, the current President of the Republic of Korea, Moon Jae-in, went to the polls under the slogans of restoring dialog with Pyongyang. The aggressive rhetoric of Donald Trump in 2017 regarding the DPRK also played its role. For the first time in several decades, the world was faced with the real threat of a new war on the Korean Peninsula at the initiative of the United States. South Korea would be the main victim of it, suffering a powerful blow from the North. Therefore, if Washington’s victory in the war would be the liquidation of the North Korean state in its current form, then for Seoul, the only option for victory would be to prevent the war.
There were a lot of expectations from inter-Korean summits. But these expectations were only met, perhaps, by the fact that there will be no nuclear or other war in Korea in the near future. The declarations adopted in Panmunjom and Pyongyang by Kim Jong-un and Moon Jae-in set a number of tasks to promote cooperation between the two Korean states. However, for the most part, these documents looked more like statements of intent. Many political and legal obstacles stood in the way of fulfilling these intentions.
Therefore, the inter-Korean dialog that pompously started in 2018 began to stall by the end of 2019. At the beginning of June of the current year, it even reached a dead end. Under the pretext that the South Korean authorities did not prevent various public organizations from sending balloons with leaflets wording the attacks on the North Korean regime, Pyongyang blocked all communication channels with Seoul. In addition to this, Kim Jong-un’s sister, Kim Yo-jong, who now oversees relations with the South and, in general, has practically become the second most influential figure in the DPRK power structure, promised Seoul to destroy the inter-Korean liaison office in Kaesong in the near future (which was done — Ed. note.), the next step to be made by the military of the North.
The point was not, of course, in sending the balloons with leaflets to North Korea, especially since many of them had not reached the DPRK. The reasons go deeper. On overcoming the coronavirus pandemic, the DPRK economy is in dire need of economic support, and Pyongyang makes it clear that they are dissatisfied with Seoul’s lack of any steps aimed at restoring inter-Korean economic cooperation. This was stipulated by the agreements reached at the summits of Kim Jong-un and Moon Jae-in. This is primarily about the Kaesong Industrial Complex (KIC) and the Kumgangsan tourist region. The KIC, located in the DPRK near the border with the Republic of Korea, was the largest and most successful inter-Korean project. It housed the production of more than a hundred South Korean small and medium-sized enterprises, which employed about 50 thousand North Korean workers. By 2015, through the work of the Kaesong complex, inter-Korean trade turnover reached USD 3 billion, which made South Korea the second most important trading partner of the DPRK after China. The Kumgangsan tourist region was open to South Korean citizens for ten years, from 1998 to 2008. During this time, almost 2 million South Koreans could visit it, giving the DPRK government an additional source of income.
Pyongyang seems to be counting on the large victory of the ruling Democratic Party in the parliamentary elections in South Korea in April this year, which might create new prerequisites for restarting the inter-Korean peace process. This is all the more since immediately after the elections, the Office of President Moon Jae-in stated that normalization of relations with Pyongyang remained a priority for the country’s leadership and the resumption of negotiations between the North and the South might occur in May-June.
However, the initiator of rapprochement with the North, President Moon Jae-in, found himself in a critical situation. The most important asset of his party in the elections was not an inter-Korean settlement program, but the successful actions of the South Korean authorities in the fight against the pandemic. Now that the unrest around the pandemic has more or less subsided, the economic problems in the country, aggravated by the pandemic and corruption scandals involving people close to Moon, are again coming to the fore in the public consciousness of the South Koreans. So today, the President of the Republic of Korea is clearly not up to talking with Pyongyang.
The pressure of the big ally certainly plays its role. Before the results of the U.S. presidential election, Washington will not only be unable to take any action on the Korean vector, but will also disallow Seoul to take the initiative.
Do all of Korea’s Neighbors Want the Reunification?
In the current alignment of forces near the Far Eastern borders of Russia, the establishment of Korea as a single independent neutral and nuclear-free state would be in its interest. The question, however, is that at this stage, neither North nor South Korea is ready for reunification. The partners of the two Korean states are not ready for this either.
Seoul is concerned that reunification will come at a very high cost, pulling it out of competition at the regional and global levels for a long time. Pyongyang, in turn, does not intend to surrender to the South. They examined the experience of Germany, where the capitalist West brought the socialist East to heel, making former GDR citizens “second-class” and subjecting members of the former East German power elite to all kinds of persecution, including imprisonment. The new young generation of the North Korean elite is actively blending in with the emerging North Korean business under Kim Jong-un. We have already seen something similar in Russia. Both of these classes — the current military party elite and the North Korean nouveau riche — have a vital common interest in preserving a separate North Korean statehood. The unification of Korea under the leadership of Seoul is equally dangerous for both, because in this case, the elite will lose power, and local business will simply be crushed by the South Korean chaebol monopolies.
As for the United States, it is not really in its interest to have Korea reunited rather than having status quo on the Korean peninsula, maintaining tensions there. This is the most convenient way to keep and, if necessary, strengthen the U.S. military-political presence in Northeast Asia.
China is considering the alignment of forces on the Korean Peninsula primarily through the prism of its confrontation with the United States. Beijing will support the reunification of Korea only if it is sure that a united Korea will be pro-Chinese. There is no certainty about this: Korea, united under Seoul conditions, will, at best for China, become a powerful independent state with strong ties to the United States, and at worst, like Japan, the outpost of Washington’s deterrence of China in the region.
The Japanese, in turn, say that the main question for them is who will get the North Korean nuclear weapons. Tokyo will support the reunification of Korea, only being sure that these weapons are destroyed or withdrawn. In fact, the Japanese are simply afraid of the emergence of a united Korea as a powerful competitor in the regional and world arena, similar to the way England and France tried to delay the unification of Germany in the late 1980s.
Therefore, speaking about the reunification of Korea in the current conditions is at least premature. It should be a matter of inter-Korean reconciliation, building bridges between the two Korean states.
Trump and Pyongyang
In 2018 Donald Trump’s transition from the threat of a military attack on Pyongyang to a dialog with Kim Jong-un was largely forced. Both the insistence of South Korean President Moon Jae-in on the issue of inter-Korean detente and the general international attitude against the risk of a nuclear war against North Korea played a role. Special attention should be given to, firstly, the “road map” for settling the nuclear issue on the Korean peninsula put forward on July 4, 2017, by the Ministries of Foreign Affairs of Russia and China. And, secondly, to the unwillingness of the U.S. allies to engage in new American adventures in Korea, which was clearly shown in January 2018 at Vancouver meeting of the foreign ministers of those states whose troops fought in the Korean War of 1950-1953 on the side of the South as part of the so-called UN forces in Korea.
In dialog with Donald Trump, Kim Jong-un voiced the new relations between the DPRK and the U.S. as the main condition for the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. These relations should be based on mutual trust and free from mutual demonization. It is clear that this is not an easy task for Pyongyang and Washington. But there are examples of how similar challenges were solved in due time in China-the U.S. and Vietnam-the U.S. relations. The future relations of the DPRK and the U.S. could reach the level of today’s communication between Vietnam and the U.S., when they still remember the war, but the memory of the past does not prevent them from working together in the present.
Pyongyang could stop the development of ICBMs, freeze the production of nuclear materials, and open its nuclear facilities for international inspections. And Washington, in return, would officially recognize the DPRK, establish diplomatic relations with it, exchange diplomatic missions, limit military activities at its borders, reduce and ultimately lift sanctions, and provide economic and energy assistance to the North.
The problem, however, is that at least for the coming year, any progress in the U.S.-North Korea dialog is ruled out. Trump is concerned about preparations for the presidential election, the extremely unfavorable situation in the country due to racial unrest, and not about Korea. Both now and in case of winning the elected position, there will be more important issues — China, Europe, Russia, the Middle East. Korea will not be among the U.S. foreign policy priorities even if Biden wins the election (all for the same reasons).
Inter-Korean Reconciliation Matter is in the Hands of Koreans Themselves
The main result of the inter-Korean summits was Seoul being reconciled with the existence of the DPRK and adopting the policy of peaceful coexistence with respect to it. The urgent need for the Republic of Korea today is to recognize the status of the DPRK as a sovereign state, the rule of law and constitutionality of its leadership, and shift the relations between the two Koreas into a bilateral format.
The UN is called upon to play its role in this situation. It has been dealing with the “Korean issue” from the moment it arose in the late 1940s. Yet after the approval of two resolutions on this issue at once during the 30th session of the General Assembly in November 1975 (one initiated by the USA and the other by the USSR (both remained unfulfilled)), it basically removed the issue of a political settlement in Korea from the agenda.
First of all, it is worth changing a completely unnatural situation when, formally it is not the Republic of Korea, that is in the military confrontation with the DPRK, but the UN. To assist South Korea during the Korean War, in accordance with UN Security Council Resolution No. 84 of July 7, 1950, the United Nations Forces in Korea were created — the multinational armed forces of 16 states led by the United States. Since these forces participated in the Korean War under the UN flag, and the 1953 Korean Armistice Agreement was signed on the behalf of these forces opposing the Korean People’s Army and Chinese People’s Volunteers (and in fact on behalf of the UN), the latter is still formally at war with the DPRK, that since 1991 is a full member of the UN.
It is time to adopt the UN Security Council declaration and to declare that the Korean War was a page of the past, that the UN Security Council turns this page and, accordingly, there is no need for the UN Command in Korea.
As for the American troops in South Korea, their presence should be regulated exclusively by interstate agreements between the Republic of Korea and the United States. In this case, it would be worthwhile to decide on the issue of Operational Command (OPCON) by the ROK/US Combined Forces Command. Now, under bilateral agreements, in peacetime on the peninsula, South Korea commands both its own troops and the U.S. military contingent. However, with the outbreak of war, the command automatically transfers to the United States, which means, in fact, that the President of the Republic of Korea, as the Supreme Commander-in-Chief of the country’s armed forces, becomes subordinate to the Lieutenant General of the U.S. Armed Forces.
The question about the need to replace the 1953 Armistice Agreement in Korea with a peace treaty repeatedly arose in connection with the inter-Korean summits. At the same time, there is a wide range of opinions expressed as to which states should be parties to this treaty.
The Armistice Agreement of 1953 was not an interstate document. It was an agreement between the commanders-in-chief of the warring parties on the suspension of hostilities, the withdrawal of troops and establishing a demilitarized border between them. Neither the Republic of Korea, nor the United States, nor China in state capacity were involved in the armistice agreement. Moreover, the United States and China did not participate in the Korean War as states.
The peace treaty on the Korean Peninsula should be the treaty of two sovereign independent states — the DPRK and the Republic of Korea. There are certain preconditions for this. A joint communique of the Republic of Korea and North Korea was issued on July 4, 1972, calling for an independent and peaceful reunification of the divided country, without depending on foreign powers and without foreign interference, on the basis of “great national unity.” In December 1991, the heads of government of the North and South for the first time formally recognized the equal existence of two Korean states by signing the Agreement on Reconciliation, Non-aggression and Exchanges and Cooperation. Five inter-Korean summits took place from 2000 to 2018, joint declarations being adopted at each of them — a program for the development of bilateral relations aimed at a gradual shift from confrontation to reconciliation and phased rapprochement. None of these documents provided for the participation of any third states in inter-Korean communication. It was and should be about the interaction of the two Koreas exclusively in a bilateral format.
It is noteworthy that during the 2018 Pyongyang Summit the Agreement on the Implementation of the Panmunjom Declaration in the Military Domain was signed by the Ministers of Defense of the DPRK and the Republic of Korea. This is a fundamentally new and, most importantly, a practical step towards reducing military tension. Confidence-building measures between the military are being strengthened, communication channels are opening up, the parties are going to take all measures to prevent any clashes and conflicts with the use of military force in any territory. This is all the more important, firstly, since the ROK in its own capacity did not sign the Armistice Agreement in Korea in 1953. Secondly, the leaders of the two states announced that they would pursue a joint bid to host the 2032 Olympic Games. That is, the ROK recognized that it did not expect, as in the previous years, the regime to fall in the DPRK and that the North and South would exist separately even in 15 years.
The Korean War that started 70 years ago, has not ended yet. The Korean crisis today is one of the main threats to international security. This crisis has two components: the division of the Korean nation over decades into two separate states and the DPRK nuclear missile program.
These two components of the Korean crisis are interconnected, but their impact on each other is unequal. Pyongyang’s refusal from nuclear development alone will not end the confrontation between North and South. At the same time, normalization of inter-Korean relations is a prerequisite for ending the Korean War matters and solving the denuclearization issue of the Korean Peninsula.
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