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Using History to Address the North Korean Issue

The key to solving conflicts on the Korean Peninsula is to think about historical lessons. The political situation of early 20th-century Korea was volatile and the fate of Korea was decided by surrounding imperial powers. After successful modernization during the Meiji period, Japan’s colonial ambition over Korea was supported by Japan’s secret agreement with the U.S.–the Taft-Katsura Agreement in 1905.

Russia and the Qing dynasty of China were trying to use Korea as a base to acquire various imperial privileges. Eventually, Korea became a battlefield for these powers during the Sino-Japanese War in 1894 and the Russo-Japanese War in 1905. Since then, through their alliances, China and Russia along with North Korea have been competing with the U.S. for the political and military hegemony of the Korean Peninsula.

In other words, the root of the tensions between the two Korean nations–like the Korean War or the North Korean nuclear problem today–actually lies not on the uneasy relations between North and South Korea, but mostly on the power games played by these major powers.

This past Korean experience illuminates current Korean situations. American government, facing strong economic and military challenges from the rising power of China today, has been manipulating both North and South Korean governments to stir up “war fears” in the Korean Peninsula.

Naturally, many South Koreans are troubled by America’s insistence on the installation of Terminal High Altitude Area Defense System in the center of South Korean territory. One of the main reasons North Korea won’t give up her nuclear weapons is for fear of America’s “preemptive war.”

With that in mind, what would be the best scenario for the resolution of Korean conflicts? First, bilateral talks between the two Koreas or between North Korea and U.S. are better approaches than multilateral talks to resolve Korean problems.

For the past 100 years, Korean Peninsula issues have never been determined by Korea themselves. There should never be another proxy war on the Korean Peninsula.

To achieve this, South Korea and the U.S. need to work with the U.N. to encourage North Korea to become a trustful member of the international community through the provisions of economic and humanitarian aids. North Korea and the U.S. should then reduce their aggressive stances against each other and work together to bring a permanent peace treaty that would finally end the Korean War.

Based on the above principles, the President of South Korea Moon Jae-in utilized the 2018 Winter Olympics to deliver his plan for the reconciliation of the two Koreas. Through secret meetings with North Korea, the South Korean government successfully arranged summit meetings between China and North Korea on March 27, between North and South Korea on April 27 and between North Korea and the U.S. at the end of May.

It is such a bold move by South Korea: showing international communities that the Korean Peninsula’s fate should not be determined by anyone other than Koreans. It is my sincere prayer that the upcoming meeting between Trump and Kim would be a milestone event–not only bringing about the denuclearization of North Korea, but also creating a stepping stone for the peaceful reunification of the two Koreas.

Jaeyoon Kim, Ph.D. is a professor of history at PLNU.


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