As usual, with the beginning the current year and all year-round, North Korea has been stepping up its calls for peace with South Korea in a style common to the past. Pyongyang’s dialogue is coming in spite of the escalating tensions on the Korean Peninsula like, for example, the missed North Korean missile launch which took place in mid-April. he actual transition of power in North Korea and the last events between North and South Korea represent, therefore, a vulnerable time for North Korean elites. Authorities are increasing their grip on society to prevent potential riots. Meanwhile, the nomination of Kim Jong Un as next North Korean leader and the new elites may give a new stimulus impulse to relations between North Korea, North-Eastern Asian countries and the United States. Therefore, we are coping with crucial events in the Korean Peninsula which may determine the future of the Korean issue.
- How defuse tensions on the Korean Peninsula?
Relations between both Koreas are getting worse since the Cheonan incident which took place in 2010. North Korea has since reiterated its favorite policy threatening South Korea with a total war. The United States, Japan and the European Union are of course supporting actions taken by South Korea. The Americans and the Japanese are also urging China to cooperate with them to coordinate a potential solution to the North Korean issue. The problem lies on the fact that there is no cooperation between the USA and China. The problem is also dealing with the Chinese basic stand which has not changed in a few years, unlike the United States which is trying a set of different policies concerning North Korea. We can, however, hope that Beijing may change its position — especially with a generational shift within Chinese elites. Up until now, Beijing has been neutral or quasi-neutral as far as it has served the best interests of China in Northeast Asia. This is due to a fear of domestic instability in North Korea and in the entire region of North-Eastern Asia.
In my opinion, South Korea’s hard-line policy toward North Korea should be modified. Seoul should stop or at least reduce the warfare operations against North Korea (stopping use of psychological weapons, stopping criticism of Pro North-Korean organizations, etc.). It would lead to an improvement of relations between both Koreas and would avoid a dangerous head-on collision which may destabilize not only both Koreas but also other countries of this region.
The American policy should also practice not only a policy of “strategic patience” but also a proactive policy of discussing with the new heads of North Korea and not with the same negotiators as 20 years ago. American negotiators are changing but North Korean diplomats remain the same. I’m referring to Kim Kye Kwang and Ri Gun here.
The mediating role of China is crucial here, but due to it stoical mind, another key player should be more involved in the Korean Peninsula issue. I’m thinking of Russia which is increasing its position in North Korea (in April, a new freight transport between Khasan and Rajin was inaugurated and will make large contributions to the economic exchange between Russia and North Korea).
Therefore, the year 2012 is crucial for the future of the Korean Peninsula. Various political events are being held in North Korea: new elites are emerging at the head of North Korea. They may be the solution to the Korea Problem and may bring a brighter and softer future for the North Korean nation.
- A splitted Korea is the solution to the Korean issue?
Speaking about the unification of the Korean Peninsula is a never-ending story, and most of the debate has now definitely centered on China’s position in the Korean Peninsula. China heavily invests in North Korea and, therefore, the Chinese authorities refuse the idea of the collapse of North Korea. That’s why various joint ventures are being created within North Korea. A lot of foreign companies are also investing in North Korea. These entities are not only Chinese but also Russian, Egyptian, British, Italian and Malaysian. All these countries are not only sharing the „North Korean cake” but strongly believe that North Korea won’t be reunified with South Korea.
The problem is, however, more complicated: taking into account the economical reality, nobody wants the reunification, but considering humanitarian matters, everybody wants the collapse of North Korea. Then how to cope with this huge challenge? According to the interviews that I conducted with defectors and with people, those interested in the Korean Unification are mainly persons whose families are on both sides of the peninsula. Only these families, divided by the border between both countries, really have a need for the unification. However, they are too few, and that’s why nothing is being done in order to find a solution to their problem. I think that a first solution may be the creation of a Reunification Center within Kaesong or a historical point where reunions may occur more often than in the past. Taking into account a possible softening of relations between both Koreas, we can really imagine the creation of an institution.
Taking into account the new realities of North Korea and the impossibility of unification, what are the prospects for the country? The first scenario which we can take into account is a quick satellization in any aspects of North Korea by China. Not only Chinese companies are present in this country but also the Chinese army. We can even imagine that at the beginning some Chinese troops may protect Chinese invested facilities. On the other hand, it really does not mean that North Koreans would trust the Chinese. Hostility has always been there, interrupted by brief periods of détente. Cooldown periods take place only when one of the sides needs the other for whatever reasons.
Another possible scenario is the disappearance of North Korea. United Nations may attack North Korea, but that requires the permission of China, a permanent member of the UN Security Council. In case of victory, the North Korean territory will be occupied for a while by United Nations Troops. If North Korea then disappeared as a sovereign state, it could still be a country in a geographical sense, divided into various occupation zones. The situation may be similar to the one, which happened within the Balkans, where peacekeepers were sent. In the case of North Korea, the United Nations would be going to maintain a presence, with the acceptance of China and South Korea. The Chinese may accept such a deal if they could use the North Korean population as a source of cheap labor and if the population of North Korea would have limited access to China. China would also prohibit migration from North Korean people to access to China because China is afraid that this population would commute with the Korean minority living already in China and together would have some whims of independence. What’s more, the North Korean population would not have access to South Korea either, or the access would be strictly limited. It is due to the fact that South Korea cannot even manage a population of 22 thousand defectors and surveys shows that their economic livehood is improving but still poor.
After a period of adaptation, a new country may emerge with a new economical infrastructure. New persons would also be at the head of this country but who would they be? Potential future North Korean elites should be mainly found out of North Korea , because North Korean who are living in the country still have neither political nor economical education. The potential new elites are mainly in South Korea, which is a base for the majority of defectors. The problem is, nevertheless, that the majority of defectors are lower class people and they cannot be viewed as potential next leaders of the new North Korea. However, there is also a group of people who created a movement for the democratization of North Korea like, for instance, The National Salvation Front for the Democratic Reunification of Korea. It is an exiled organization which is constituted of former North Korean government leaders. Interestingly, it may be the case that new North Korean elites may also be found in North Korea at the new Pyongyang University of Science and Technology. This school is to boost the North Korean economic development. It is to be the place where business capacities and foreign languages are to be taught. We should also warmly welcome the initiatives realized by the Choson Exchange Group. This is an institution focusing on economic policy, business and legal training for young North Koreans in North Korea. Programs realized by this institution cover economics, company management, fiscal policy and financial sector development.
The North Korean leadership knows for sure that the best solution to rebuild the economy of their country is to take a true path of opening and to continue reforms with or without the help of the international community. First steps should be taken with its closest allies, China and Russia. In the long run, the international community should also be involved in the reconstruction of North Korea. On the other hand, these elites also have good reasons to fear that a potential opening may be dangerous for them. The consequences would be a downfall of their centrally controlled economy due to some uncontrollable forces. A generation of new elites, not only in North Korea, should find a solution to this huge problem. The Choson Exchange Group is, in my humble opinion, setting the example to follow.
 North Korea rocket launch fails, „BBCNews.com”, 13th April 2012.
 Shin Hae In, Ex-S. Korean envoys demand China stop repatriating N. K. defectors, “Asian News Network”, 11th February 2011.
 Sarah Lee, North Koreans learn lessons in Singapore, „Joongang Ilbo”, 22th October 2011.