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The unification of the two Koreas: how countries tried to agree on reconciliation

Joint declarations, the project of the confederation of Kim Il Sung and the performance under single flags at the Olympics.

Meeting of the leader of the DPRK Kim Jong-il with South Korean President Kim Dae-jung June 13, 2000. WTOP photo
Meeting of the leader of the DPRK Kim Jong-il with South Korean President Kim Dae-jung June 13, 2000. WTOP photo
On April 27, the leader of the DPRK, Kim Jong-un, and South Korean President Mun Zhe Ying agreed on the formal end to the Korean War, which began in 1950 and continued in a hot stage until 1953. The peace agreement, according to the heads of state, they will sign until the end of 2018.

This is not the first rapprochement between the two Koreas in the 65 years since the end of the war: the countries have several times tried to reconcile and even unite, but the relationship has constantly escalated again.  recalled the cases when South Korea and the DPRK were a step away from the world.

The first opportunity to unite

For the first time, North and South Korea held postwar negotiations in 1971, agreeing on the basic principles of reunification. According to the joint North-South communiqué of July 4, 1972, the union had to be achieved through the fulfillment of three points: the independent efforts of the two Koreas, peaceful means and the promotion of national unity overcoming differences in ideologies and systems.

To alleviate tensions and create an atmosphere of mutual trust between the South and the North, both sides agreed not to slander or insult each other, nor to commit armed provocations on a large or small scale, and take positive measures to prevent unintentional military incidents.

from the declaration “North-South” of 1972

Despite the enormous importance for later agreements, this attempt to negotiate failed due to the personal ambitions of each of the parties. North Korea, supported by the USSR, viewed the inter-Korean dialogue as a way to push South Korea away from its allies – the US and Japan. South Korean leader Pak Jong-hee saw the negotiations as a useful tool for strengthening his authoritarian rule.

Leader of the DPRK Kim Il Sung after talks with South Korean representatives, 1972. Photos Wilson Center
Leader of the DPRK Kim Il Sung after talks with South Korean representatives, 1972. Photos Wilson Center
Democratic Confederate Republic of Koryo

Even when North and South Korea did not speak, they offered to unite. In 1980, the leader of the DPRK, Kim Il Sung, at the Sixth Congress of the Korean Workers’ Party proposed the idea of ​​creating the Democratic Confederate Republic of Koryo in the image of a confederation. It should have been a country of two systems – two governments, two ideologies, but one nation, one ministry of defense, one foreign policy.

Preserving the name of a single state that existed in our country, widely known to the whole world, and reflecting the general political ideals of the North and the South – the desire for democracy, it would be very appropriate to call the confederative state the Democratic Confederation of the Republic of Korea.

Kim Il Sung
Kim Il Sung at the Sixth Congress of the Korean Workers' Party, 1980. Photos Tongilnews
Kim Il Sung at the Sixth Congress of the Korean Workers’ Party, 1980. Photos Tongilnews
The name for the confederation was taken from the early feudal Korean state of Koryo (X-XIV centuries). Thus, Pyongyang relied on the idea of ​​the “eternal president,” who “guides the nation from heaven.” But in South Korea, such a proposal did not even comment.

The end of the cold war as a way to build relationships

In the late 1980s, closer to the end of the Cold War, the confrontation between the two countries was temporarily interrupted. An important factor in this was the Olympic Games in South Korean Seoul in 1988, which became a catalyst for the country’s leadership to improve relations with the communist countries. Despite the boycott of the competition from the DPRK, 159 countries came to them – at that time a record amount for the entire Olympiad (in 1992 this achievement will be beaten by Barcelona).

Opening of the 1988 Olympics in Seoul. Photo Time
Opening of the 1988 Olympics in Seoul. Photo Time
It is noteworthy that participants from both blocks of the Cold War, including the teams of the USSR and China, came to the games. However, the DPRK remained a “headache” for the neighboring country. According to declassified documents of the CIA in January, the US leadership knew that North Korea plans to disrupt the competition, having committed a number of terrorist attacks in the country hosting the Olympics.
South Korean military with a gun patrols the stadium in Seoul, 1988. Holiday pictures AP
South Korean military with a gun patrols the stadium in Seoul, 1988. Holiday pictures AP

A year before the Olympics, on November 27, 1987, two North Korean spies, on the instructions of the DPRK government, installed explosives on board the South Korean airliner Boeing 707 of Korean Air Lines. The bomb worked on November 29 on Baghdad-Abu Dhabi-Bangkok-Seoul flight: 115 people were killed. Later the South Korean authorities have justified the 25-year-old girl, an agent of the DPRK Kim Honhi (Kim Hyon-hui), acknowledging the victim of the North Korean regime.

Kim Hyonghi. CNN Photos
Kim Hyonghi. CNN Photos
The growing international status of South Korea and its active diplomacy with the Soviet Union and China have borne fruit. Despite tense relations, Pyongyang eventually agreed to negotiations with Seoul.

By 1991, the DPRK and South Korea again came to the idea of ​​reconciliation and signed the so-called Basic Agreement. Its distinctive feature is that the countries defined themselves not as two separate states, but as one, but passing through a “special intermediate process towards a final reunification”. In 1992, the leaders of the states prepared a joint declaration on a nuclear-free zone on the Korean peninsula.

South Korean Prime Minister Chon Von Sik with the Prime Minister of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea Yong Hyon Muk after signing the pact on reconciliation, December 1991. Getty Images
South Korean Prime Minister Chon Von Sik with the Prime Minister of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea Yong Hyon Muk after signing the pact on reconciliation, December 1991. Getty Images
But by the end of 1992, inter-Korean relations were again seriously aggravated. North Korea refused to accept the inspection of the International Atomic Energy Agency and objected to the resumption of joint military exercises of the United States and South Korea.

The current stage of relations between the two countries

Another milestone in the attempt to negotiate between the two countries is considered to be the year 2000. June 15, North and South Korea signed another joint declaration “North-South”, in which both sides promised to seek peaceful reunification.

The North and the South agreed to resolve the issue of reuniting the country on their own thanks to the concerted efforts of the Korean country responsible for it.

from the declaration “North-South” of 2000
DPRK leader Kim Jong Il and South Korean President Kim Dae-jung after signing the declaration on reunification, 2000. Getty Images
DPRK leader Kim Jong Il and South Korean President Kim Dae-jung after signing the declaration on reunification, 2000. Getty Images
The signed agreement provided for reunification through inter-Korean cooperation on humanitarian, economic, political, social and cultural issues.

But this time too, no serious success was achieved: in 2013, North Korea unilaterally suspended the declaration on a nuclear-free zone, launching nuclear and missile tests of new types of weapons. In addition, she conducted several provocations against her neighbor. For example, in November 2010, North Korean artillery opened fire on the South Korean island of Yeonpyeong, killing two Marines.

The consequences of the attack on Yongpyeong Island. Getty Images
The consequences of the attack on Yongpyeong Island. Getty Images
At the opening ceremonies of the Olympic Games in 2000, 2004, 2006 and 2018, there was a united Korean team, but the teams from North and South Korea always competed separately. In addition, the combined hockey women’s team of Korea and the DPRK (23 hockey players from Korea and 12 from the DPRK) competed in a separate code mark of the IOC (KOR) at the 2018 Winter Olympics; in all other sports there was a separate North Korean team and a separate team from South Korea.
United hockey women's team of Korea and North Korea. Photos of PyeongChang 2018
United hockey women’s team of Korea and North Korea. Photos of PyeongChang 2018
In April, a historic summit was held with the participation of the leaders of the DPRK and South Korea: Kim Jong-un met with South Korean President Mun Zhe In in the demilitarized zone and discussed the possibility of reuniting the countries. They in turn crossed the line dividing the countries, thereby for the first time having visited each other’s territories.

The main event of the summit was an agreement on the official end of the Korean War. One of the topics of the next negotiations is a possible unification of the two countries. “I believe that the North and the South will unite in the future. We are one people, one blood. We can not be divided, ” Kim Jong-un saidafter the meeting.

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