Kim Jong-un Addresses Reunification Issue With South Korea
What is the 9th Central Committee Meeting of the 8th Workers’ Party Saying?
North Korea held the Committee meeting from the 26th to the 30th of last month and published the resulting documents for distribution to the members of the party’s central leadership body, reporting this a day after the meeting concluded (Dec 31, 2023). The regular end-of-year meeting is important as it reviews the year’s work and sets goals for the following year, sometimes even replacing the Supreme Leader’s New Year’s address with its conclusions.
North Korea self-evaluated 2023 as a year of remarkable achievements in various sectors, such as exceeding grain production targets due to a rare bumper harvest, advancing people’s economy, successful ICBM launch training (implying operational deployment), successful reconnaissance satellite launch, and strengthening military power. They referred to it as a year that ‘brought vitality to the overall state projects’ (Dec 1, 2023, mentioned by Chairman Kim Jong Un at the Political Bureau meeting).
Meanwhile, it emphasized the need to work hard during the remaining two years of the <Economic Development 5-Year Plan (2021-2025)> period to prove the correctness of the struggle policy decided at the 8th Party Congress by summarizing the achievements of the past three years since the 8th Party Congress in January 2021.
At the 8th Party Congress, North Korea acknowledged the failure of <Economic Development 5-Year Strategy (2016-2020)>, and decided on the policy of strengthening nuclear forces and self-reliance, which was established immediately after the failure of the North-U.S. summit in Hanoi in February 2019.
North Korea recently held a summit with Russia and has already neutralized the pressure of additional sanctions against North Korea by the UN Security Council. It has been decided that this year will be the <The Year of Friendly Relations between South Korea and China>. North Korea is already showing enthusiasm for the next party congress, perhaps due to the flow of the external environment, such as holding a summit with Russia, and some achievements in self-reliance and others.
While the meeting is drawing attention in many respects, the most noticeable thing is Chairman Kim Jong Un’s remarks on the unification issue. On the last day of the party meeting, December 30, Chairman Kim analyzed the history of inter-Korean relations of mistrust and confrontation and said that a fundamental change in relations with the South is necessary and that unification with the ‘South Korean things’ pursuing absorption unification is impossible.
He then nailed the inter-Korean relationship as ‘a hostile relationship between two countries and a relationship between two warring countries during a war’, ordered the reorganization and reform of the anti-South business organizations such as the Unification Front Department, and instructed to prepare to ‘pacify the entire territory of South Korea’ by mobilizing all forces including nuclear weapons in case of emergency.
After the end-of-year meeting, North Korean media reported that Foreign Minister Choi Sun Hui held a consultation with officials in charge of inter-Korean relations, including Lee Sun Kwon, head of the Unification Front Department, and Chairman Kim encouraged the military’s key commanders.
What will change if inter-Korean relations change to state relations?
Throughout the history of inter-Korean relations, no political leader on either side has dared to mention that the relationship with the other is a hostile warring state relationship and cannot achieve unification together. Peaceful unification of the Korean Peninsula is an important part of the spirit of the Constitution of the Republic of Korea, and ‘liberating colonial South Korea and unifying the Korean Peninsula’ is the basis of the North Korean Workers’ Party’s regulations and the core of the North Korean regime’s identity.
North Korea has already deleted the expressions ‘liberation of South Korea’ and ‘unification’ through the amendment of the party regulations in January 2021, but it still maintains the expression that it primarily builds strong socialism in the ‘northern part of the republic’ and realizes independent and democratic development of society in a ‘nationwide range’, so it is difficult to see that it has decided a new identity to live separately in the ‘northern part’.
Although it is shifting the blame to the ‘South Korean things’, Chairman Kim’s remarks may be seen as acknowledging the reality that unification cannot be achieved under North Korean leadership, rather than expressing the will not to unify.
Of course, it is too early to define North Korea’s shocking and emotional mention of the ‘two-state theory’ as a ‘declaration of abandonment of unification’ or ‘declaration of North Korean independence’. North Korea’s intention will probably become clear at the 9th Party Congress to be held in two years. It will prepare for the major agenda of the 9th Party Congress while examining the repercussions of the ‘two-state theory’ in and out of North Korea and the gain-and-loss issues in reality.
Let’s briefly look at what happens if North Korea officially changes inter-Korean relations to state relations, that is, gives up unification.
First, if the relationship with the South becomes a state relationship, there is no reason for a pre-emptive attack on the South to recover the unrecovered area (South Korean colony). The so-called ‘unification war’ loses its basis. It is defined as an invasion of a sovereign state subject to international law, and it is not a civil war, so third countries cannot claim non-interference in the war. The reason for demanding the withdrawal of U.S. troops stationed in the Republic of Korea, which is defined as another country, also disappears. Therefore, from our point of view, the possibility of North Korea’s southward invasion may be lower than the current unstable armistice system, which may rather help our security.
However, as long as North and South Korea continue to be in a state of extreme distrust as they are now, the risk of war on the Korean Peninsula will not decrease at all because North Korea can start a war first under the pretext of preventing a war or a pre-emptive war.
And if South Korea is not a counterpart of reconciliation and unification, there is no need to treat the relationship with the South as a special relationship, and even if there is an exchange, it will not be an import/export within the nation but an import/export, so it will deal with the issue at the level of a general country. In the future, North Korea is likely to treat the South Korean issue as part of the work of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Second, it would be difficult to erase the unification ideology and sense of mission instilled in North Korean residents over the past 70 years at once, and it would be a concern to have to change the ideological system and logic that has supported the North Korean system. We remember the appearance of North Korean residents as ideological prisoners who almost reflexively shed tears whenever the word ‘unification’ was mentioned through civilian inter-Korean exchanges.
If someone talks about unification with the Republic of Korea in an emotional dimension, can it be punished as ‘treason’? There may be awkward real situations where the natural outflow of national sentiment, ‘Our wish is unification’, becomes the seed of democratization.
Even in our society, the layer that is indifferent to unification is greatly increasingly centered on the young MZ generation. Even the established generation is expanding negative thoughts about inter-Korean reconciliation and exchange because they are fed up with North Korea’s nuclear issue and poor human rights situation. Despite the impulse to live separately rather than fighting or interfering with each other, the nation does not become two with the declaration of the authorities’ policy. In the past, East Germany even claimed a two-nation theory by changing the definition of the nation beyond the ‘two-state theory’, but it eventually failed.
In this respect, the part that North Korean authorities need to examine most carefully in order to raise the ‘two-state theory’ at the next party congress is part of the domestic effect.
Third, even if North Korea defines inter-Korean relations as state relations, there will be no major impact on the international community, as South and North Korea are already recognized as separate states and are both members of the United Nations. However, North Korea is likely to try to change its existing image by changing its English name (DPR Korea). For example, Korea (Korea) can be changed to Chosun (Chosun).
Just as North Korea has begun to call South Korea not South Korea (South Korea) but the Republic of Korea (RO Korea), it may ask the international community to call it not North Korea (North Korea, or DPR Korea) but Chosun (Chosun, DPRC). Then, the term ‘North Korean Nuclear Problem’, which has been a headache for the international community for the past 30 years, will naturally disappear, as if a new country, ‘nuclear-armed Chosun’, may appear.
Evaluation of Chairman Kim Jong Un’s Remarks on Unification Issues and the Government’s Inadequate Response
Chairman Kim Jong Un’s remarks on ‘unification issues’ are very regrettable. It is disgusting to prepare for a ‘major disaster’ to pacify the entire territory of South Korea, even though it is based on the premise of a ‘possible nuclear crisis situation’, and it is regressive to insist that we must recognize the reality that inter-Korean relations are hostile relations between warring states, denying the efforts for inter-Korean reconciliation and exchange and cooperation so far. It is very disappointing that he made such remarks as a result of a thorough review of the 70-year history of inter-Korean relations.
The past leaders of North and South Korea have not forgotten that they are hostile warring (ceasefire) parties, but have made efforts in their own way to change that relationship. The need for inter-Korean exchange and cooperation to change hostile relations and ultimately aim for unification as one nation has written the history of inter-Korean relations, not because hostile relations have ended. Chairman Kim’s anti-unification remarks this time will be a wrong point in the history of inter-Korean relations for a long time to come.
It is also regrettable that our government has not made a single mention of North Korea’s ‘two-state’ claim, other than issuing a not-so-new comment from the Ministry of National Defense that it will ‘respond strongly to North Korea’s provocations’. Peaceful unification is the spirit of our constitution and a major duty of the president.
By. Pyung Hwa Organization