Thursday, 28 January 2010

North, South and the bomb

The cold knocks me off but I can't sleep so I decided to write.

Albert recently asked me if the North Korean nuclear project is seen by South Koreans as a common Korean weapon which might be used against Japan.

I have read Huntington articles in Foreign Affairs, but I didn't get hold on his book so far. I cannot really refer in detailed way to what was written about North - South Korea relations in that book, but nevertheless I understand the idea.

There is a certain borderline between generations in Korean society. Young people in their 30's usually consider North Korea as a non-friendly state, or at least totally different country. Some of my Korean friends being asked that question give the very same answers, admitting though that despite anything they are aware that the language there is the same and people think similar as well.

But those who set the course of South Korean foreign affairs are people in their 50's and 60's. They are as well supported by their entire generation. That generation hoped for reconciliation and reunification of two countries after the collapse of the Soviet Union and end of the Cold War between USA and USSR. In both countries Japanese occupation left scars which need a lot of time to be healed. Children of people who experienced that invasion were raised with hatred in their minds and hearts.

The very same generation shares the attitude to historic Koguryeo land which is acclaimed by Poeple's Republic of China as historically chinease and which partially is situated in modern North Korea and China. Considering the possibility of reunification with the North, South Korea calls for recognition of historic Koguryeo as a part of long term foreign policy strategy. If it happens one day that the country is unified, it is better to protect interests of the northern sister.

Korea was the first state affected by Japanese colonial system, with it's economy not rich, but the closest. From Pusan to Simonoseki there is only 120 miles, when to Singapore 2800. The country's resources, labor force, agriculture and whatever else has been engaged into war machinery of occupant from the very beginning ( see more at Andrew Grajdanzev, Modern Korea, New York 1941). Korean climate was another reason for military action. It is rather friendly climate, not much struck by typhoons which very often attacked other territories conquered by Japan, with short monsoon season and large number of days with sunshine during the year.

That hatred was even bigger as the pre-occupation Choson state didn't really develop navy or merchandise. It's glory time passed away. Waclaw Sieroszewski says in his book Korea. Land and People. that the ethnic self perception of Koreans was close to none. In 1905 it was the agricultural society dominated by feudal beurocratic aparatus and the rulers either didn't want or had no possibilities to built the modern state. There wasn't any Korean marine, the trade was served by Japanese merchants and boats, and the city of Pusan was by that time divided into rich Japanese settlement and Korean poor ghetto.

That might be partially the reason why the hatred towards Japan is so big, and why the history books say both true and untrue stories about the eastern neighbor from the islands. Both North Korean and South Korean history books. Helplessness of own rulers is not an issue to consciously consider and noone would speak about it loud.

Common sense tells that time would heal every wound if only people don't stop it's influence. Current generation considers Korea on the global map with reasonable aproach. Korean wave makes quantities of Japanese people coming to Korea to study language and culture. Also in Japan, people around 30 think differently and have no Korean resentiments.

It depends on who will take over the political power in two countries within 20 years from now. There is a huge chance that at least South Korean - Japanese bilateral relations will settle down and become if not friendly than at least normal.

With recent fire exchange over the questionable coastline between two Korean states and fierce embrace of communism in the North and not welcoming attitude among the South, two Korean sister states will drift away from each other and definately will not become one within predictable time.


  1. I'd like to point out 3 things:
    1. Firstly, the firing incidents recently. I think it is an attempt to gain an upper hand in the negotiation process. A way to distract the ROK Govt which might be trying to anticipate North's stance in the negotiation process. This (firing artillery) is an insane move and makes the work of ROK Govt more difficult.
    2. The hatred against the Japanese is justified when you look at the inhuman atrocities committed by the Imperial army on Koreans. This will reduce when the people who suffered these atrocites and those immediately related to them pass away. (The same with the Chinese but in China it is a sensitive political issue as well).
    3. The feeling of oneness after partition of a country exists till people who saw the partition are alive. People who grew up in the divided fail to feel the 'oneness'. I've seen the same thing in my grandparents (who witnessed partition of India and Pakistan), to a much lesser degree in my parents and almost non-existence in my generation.

  2. Yeah, actions of the North don't make it easier for the South. It's a constant blackmail, and in my opinion that blackmail uses and abuses the friendly attitude of current genaration in rule, and as well lack of real American interest.

    And it was not my intention to say that Japanese occupation wasn't cruel, it was one of the worst occupations ever. I only wonder what was the reason that Korea ( Choson/ Joseon) didn't develop any resistance and allowed that Japanese economic takeover and settlement long before actual occupation. I am looking for sources, but not much I can find about that so far...

    And the third thing you pointed out. That's the key to the peace process... work of time.

  3. Thank you for your explanations, but then appears a new question, if the divide between the two Koreas persist, and NK remains a closed country for many more years, will it become a new nation, with a new set of core values?. Despite their confrontation, China and Taiwan are getting closer trhough economic, commercial and cultural relations, but nowadays NK probably is the only country radically self-excluded from the trends of globalization, without any contact to the rest of the world. Maybe now the reunification still could be possible but, will Koreans recognize each other as compatriots once the old generation be out of power?. The Poles know something about partitions and reunifications, but probably the life of a Polish peasant under Russian rule wasn't so different from the life of a Polish peasant under Prussian rule, as can be the life of a young boy in Seoul and a young boy in Pyongyang. NK is an unique social experiment, and their poor citizens the "guinea pigs".

  4. Dear Albert :) I am in process of digesting of what you've just said. I think that there will not be such feeling of compatriotism among them.
    I will publish my full answer soon.

  5. Maybe.Gone with the old and in with the new...
    But NK being dirt poor and SK being not...Can SK absorb NK into SK's economy? I don't think it's possible any time soon.
    I think it's more about the money than the generation of people who are in power. Think about what would happen if the borders were to open right now. Millions of people will flood to south with devastating consequence. Until the economic powers equalize some what only thing NK has is playing these ridiculous games to get help and save face to people in NK.

    Albert has a good point. Let's say if North open up their doors and become economic "power house" in short time, who's going to absorb who? It is a new nation already.
    And the experiment will continue at the expense of the people.

  6. I do find this subject fascinating as we don't get much exposure on this in the UK.
    Frank @ Home Loans


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