Jonathan Fryer

Peace on the Korean Peninsula

Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 27th April, 2012

The division of Korea and the tense military stand-off on the peninsula — which alas sometimes involves aggressive action from the North — is the last remaining manifestation of the Cold War. As was said by one of the speakers at a Korea seminar at the Universal Peace Federation (UPF) in Lancaster Gate last night, this belongs in the 20th century, not the 21st. North Korea remains a menacing mystery for many in the West, and a constant worry for South Koreans, and indeed Japan, given the range of North Korean missiles. Yet the situation is not completely bleak, nor entirely static. The coronation of Kim Jung-Un as the third generation of North Korea’s Communist dynasty was pretty surreal, but Pyongyang did allow quite a number of foreign journalists into the country to witness some of the ceremonies associated with his takeover and the 100th anniversary of his grandfather and creator of the ideology of Juche, Kim Il-Sung. Moreover there are more contacts with the North these days than used to be the case. At the gathering last night it was pointed out that one hotel (yes, just one!) in Pyongyang does have CNN in its rooms and some North Koreans are able clandestinely to watch South Korean TV, even though that is dangerous. Reportedly one million North Koreans also have mobile phones (though foreign visitors who go to the country have theirs temporarily confiscated). It is significant to remember that until 1971, North Korea had a stronger economy than that of the South. In the intervening four decades, South Korea has been one of the most successful Asian Tigers, while the North has languished and many of its citizens live in dire poverty, some even succombing to starvation. Yet the first shoots of a market economy have been allowed to emerge. And China has been urging the North to carry out economic reforms. Probably only after sweeping economic reforms will the reunification of Korea become feasible, though no-one believes that could happen as quickly or indeed as smoothly as in the case of reunited Germany. But in the meantime, all interested parties need to avoid the rhetoric of belligerency and the North needs to recognise that fundamental change is in its own interest.

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