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New Year Greetings from the Korean antics: reunification

North Korea´s Kim Jong-un and South Korea Park Geun-hye

North Korea´s Kim Jong-un (r) and South Korea Park Geun-hye

by Vaagisha, Political Analyst, Thierry Apoteker Consulting .- Reunification is one of the most multidimensional sentiments that runs within North and South Korea, most sought after by the political and apolitical alike on both sides of Korea. Varying in degrees for those directly related to historical Korean War (1953) and to the present young Koreans attached to it through history textbooks and political campaigns. Reunification is an aftermath thought for all. To feature this prominently in the New Year’s message by both North’s Leader Kim Jong-un and South’s President Park GeunHye is not a surprise and even expect to materialise by the summer seems preposterous, but a mention is quite a hope that both countries want to play out to its publics.  

To begin with, the Korean peninsula stability is a key security concern for all the regional players to keep the region stable as it is fraught with possibilities of nuclear war mongering and North Korea is the epitome of modern century economic aid extortionist. In spite the leadership change in late 2012, the arrival of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has mostly played to create a military cult image so as to consolidate his legitimacy within the domestic environment and pose a tough challenge to the US’s constant intimidation in the region. South Korea whose initial olive branch to the North was thwarted through a series of successful and failed missile test fires, and functioning under a new President whose ideals teeters on a relatively cooperative and independent foreign policy toward North Korea seems to have found a golden mean of economic cooperation in the demilitarized zone between both the nations.  

Both the entities have had a fair share of political scandals and faux pas directly or indirectly related to shaping policies toward each other since the time both new leaderships took chair in 2013. It began with North Korea’s detonation of third nuclear device in a week’s time of President Park’s officiating as President. As known to Korean politics, President Park has been pro-engagement with the North, and this detonation was Kim Jong-un’s method of announcing its presence on a level headed ground with the President. These provocations have earned ire from the South leading to more deployment of U.S. military troops in the region and defensive drills. To top all, the December execution of the Uncle of Kim Jong-un  who was alleged to have been planning regime toppling and selling land and natural resources to American and South Korean companies, added further uncertainty and certainly culting up Kim Jong-un’s image as a strong headed person, it was a purge on the lines of purging personal ambition. But the New Year address seems to suggest that both the parties are in favour of opening up chances to renegotiate on matters of unification and economic trade. Though South Korea’s proposal for reunion of families from both sides of border separated during the Korean War was dismissed by the North, the latter has dubbed South’s initiative as “confrontational acts” and urged to “create a mood” for improved inter-Korean relations.  

The address by both the leaders have urged for continued and enhanced economic engagement on demilitarized zone as well as North’s desire to set up more special economic zones. South Korea’s increased fiscal expenditure budget allocation for unification ministry and President’s agenda for unification also stands cemented in the fact of building strengthened productivity and growth in South Korea to absorb the economic shock. And perhaps it can be the reason behind a quick closure on Park’s economic creativity of expanding medium and small enterprises (election manifesto), because larger conglomerates called chaebols established during Army regime could only sustain such sudden influx of human resource. On the northern front, KCNA has reported that Kim Jong-un’s visits to economically associated regions have significantly increased, and he sincerely would like the country to push economic growth. In his New Year address, he emphasised on upping the standard of agriculture techniques in the country besides innovation and technology. 

However, both the countries have been sending mixed signals to one another and more so from the South Korea. Recent case in point,  on account of President Park’s proposal of reunion of Korean families from both sides which was later rejected by Kim Jong-un, seemed to be a consequence of mixed statements coming from the President, National Intelligence Service and Foreign Ministry. Just few days before the proposal of reunion, Foreign Ministry had stated that North Korea cannot be trusted in any of its dealings on economic or humanitarian grounds. Moving ahead on that North Korea still reiterates greater economic cooperation and engagement between both the Koreas.  

Asia Security News.- Vaagisha is a Political Analyst at Thierry Apoteker Consulting, a leading European Macroeconomic and Financial Research Consultancy. She covers political risk for emerging economies and writes structural geo-economic, geo-strategic analysis and supports TAC economists with relevant information. Her personal interest lies in Korean Peninsula, conflict resolution, ethno-national conflicts and peacemaking. She has completed her MSc in Comparative Politics (Asia) from London School of Economics and Political Science and has past journalism experience.

Asia Security News.- Vaagisha is a Political Analyst at Thierry Apoteker Consulting, a leading European Macroeconomic and Financial Research Consultancy. She covers political risk for emerging economies and writes structural geo-economic, geo-strategic analysis and supports TAC economists with relevant information. Her personal interest lies in Korean Peninsula, conflict resolution, ethno-national conflicts and peacemaking. She has completed her MSc in Comparative Politics (Asia) from London School of Economics and Political Science and has past journalism experience.

Also, there are certain spoilers persisting on both sides of the Korean politics that would prefer the status quo and prevent unification. There are most likely pro and anti-sides operating in both countries in covert alliance with power plays by other actors (China and the U.S.) involved in the Korean peninsula region. For the North, with the purge of his Uncle’s Jang Song-taek and his “Fictional Filth”, has not only consolidated power with the supreme leader but has also sent a signal that outside actors including China cannot determine North’s politics. Kim Jong-un’s facsimile address to his Southern counterpart on ending the propaganda of pursuing public security politics and fanning anti-North politics is a directive toward the expected course that North has clearly indicated. As with the arrival of President Park certain dysfunctionalities of democracies are coming to fore themselves in South Korea which right on the basis of democratization claims to be superior over its Northern sibling? Opposition parties in South Korea that are even slightly left of the Conservatives (ruling party) are labeled threat to the country by insinuating pro-North politics. Though on a background, it cannot go unnoticed that President Park’s lineage draws from General Park Chung-hee of Korean War and liberal progressive parties/activists  who are even remotely not in agreement with South-US alliance are increasingly being dealt in 50s and 60s fashion.  

Therefore, the tone of the North is portending to deepening relation on condition of independent policy of engagement but if economic cooperation is pursued without denuclearization talks, it is possible that other actors like the US, China and Japan would themselves alienate from economic progress especially from participating in special economic zones envisaged by the North to drive the economy and therefore it would be tough to see other strategic US allies to invest in the same. But for the South Korea, this matter is not just any more between two sister nations as North would like; it is a quest for establishing superiority backed with her democratic allies. And hence, reunification is still a farther goal let alone improving ties.—–EXCLUSIVE GUEST POST FOR PACIFIC SECURITY NEWS.