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Thursday, May 17, 2007

Trains from North and South Korea cross the border for Unity


“A wise man does not try to hurry history.”
-Adlai Stevenson.

TAG: The historic memory of the regional power of a single, great Korea, continues to transcend division into north and south.

TODAY IN THE NEWS: For the first time in over fifty years, trains from both Koreas are crossing the border to affirm hopes of unity, despite a heavily fortified frontier.

IN A NUTSHELL: North Korea, for one, has never lost sight of its mission to reunite the two Koreas since, historically, the Korean peninsula was usually conquered and united from north to south. In early centuries, the capital remained Pyongyang, in the north, as Korea waged an epochal struggle for survival in the face of China and Japan. By the 17th century this defensiveness had turned into a cult of diplomatic isolation and historical exceptionalism, gaining Korea the epithet “the Hermit Kingdom.” Four centuries later, on the occasion of the trains' departures, South Korean Unification Minister Lee Ji Joung talks about reconnecting "severed bloodlines" while North Korean cabinet councillor, Kwo Ho Ung implies that the United States is to blame for the division of the two Koreas. Much as medieval and early modern Korea blamed outside intervention for its problems, North Korea continues to hold foreign powers responsible for a divided Korea.

THEN AND NOW: Korea’s ancient, ‘Dangun’ founding myth (a bit like the people of Israel being the chosen of Yaweh) has been declared historical in North Korea, where it is still celebrated. Moreover, the great Joseon dynasty, which began in the 15th century, continues to have a large impact on North Korea. The Joseon were largely responsible for the Korean alphabet, ‘Hangul’, a phonetic adaptation of Chinese. The Joseon also developed the Yangban ruling class, whose form has endured in Kim Jong Il’s ruling elite. The Joseon inculcated the Confucian principles, which remain part of North Korea’s ‘Yangban’ principles of rule. Most important , perhaps, is ‘Chiche’, North Korea’s national ideology. Though wedded to Marxism, it incorporates a 17th century ideology of isolationist self-sufficiency with Yangban and Confucian principles of administration.

RECENT BACKGROUND TO THE EVENTS. Having begun to reinforce its regional status and ‘self-sufficiency’ by developing a nuclear weapon in the early nineties, North Korea was further provoked by US president Bush’s 2001 designation of the historically defensive nation as part of the axis of evil. After the failure of negotiations aimed at North Korea's nuclear disarmament, Pyongynag exploded its first nuclear device last fall. In February, after North Korea agreed to move toward dismantling its nuclear program, the two Koreas began to talk about the possibility of reunification.

DISTANT BACKGROUND TO THE EVENTS. After the division of Korea in 1945, the north adopted Soviet Communism and formally became the state of North Korea in 1948. Its invasion of south Korea, in 1950, was passively backed by Stalin but the attack was really North Korea’s own attempt to reunite and to dominate a historical Korea. The war ended in 1953, with North Korea’s failure to take the south and not long after, its great supporter, Stalin, died. With Khrushchev’s denunciation of Stalin’s legacy, Soviet support of North Korea receded and North Korea returned to the 17th century Korean ethic of self sufficiency. In the 1960s and 1970s a surge of internal development made it more prosperous than the south. But it was slow to engage with the outside world in obtaining technology and by the 1970s, the oil crisis was slowing down its economy. By the 1990s, its continuing isolation and historical ‘self sufficiency’ brought about a major famine and dependence on South Korea for relief.

REMOTE BACKGROUND TO THE EVENTS. Around 1600, when the Joseon dynasty was at its height, Korea suffered invasions by the Tokugawa of Japan and the newly triumphant Manchu of China. That’s when the roots of modern North Korea’s isolationism were born. Though Korea ejected Japan and managed to maintain a relatively calm, tributary relationship with China, it was in the 17th century that it adopted the polices of defensive isolation that earned it the sobriquet ‘The Hidden Kingdom’ It was also during this period that China developed an adeptness at handling Korea diplomatically that lasted throughout the Communist period and continues today in China’s stern yet protective relation to Pyongyang in the nuclear crisis.

CROSS-CENTURY SUMMARY: Three themes seem to dominate Korean history: dominance arising from the north, where the Korean peninsula joins Manchuria; difficulties in maintaining internal unity; and the combined threat and influence of outside powers- mainly China and Japan as well as, more recently, Russia and the United States. A Korean state ‘begins’ in the Manchurian north in the first century BCE. In the following, early centuries, CE, it is dominated by the Han Chinese. With the fall of the Han, the Japanese become the new invaders. After Japan is driven out in the 7th century, an internally divided Korea is finally united from the north in the 10th century.
By the 14th century, receding Mongol rule had left the new state intact and the Joseon dynasty rrose triumphant. Over the next two hundred years of struggle with China and Japan, Korea, though a tributary of China, developed a defensive national identity, and a successful practice of playing off great powers against one another. Repeated occupation by Japan from the late 19th century up until World War Two only strengthened national identity. Japan industrialized Korea and Korea continues a tradition of adopting the best in culture and technology from both friends and enemies. It is Communist North Korea’s effective abandonment by the Soviet Union and isolation by the West, that has caused it to fall back on the old, Joseon traditions of wariness, isolation and self-sufficiency.

MOST RECENT BACKGROUND. In 1998, South Korean president, Kim Dae Jung inaugurated his "Sunshine Policy" which declared a policy of cooperation with the north on the condition of mutual non-aggression as a prelude to eventual reinification. It held that threats and sanctions on the North from South Korea and the US did more harm the good. On June 13-15, 2000, the leaders of Noerth and South Korea held historic unification talks in Pyongyang and produced the "North-South Joint Declaration'. For its part, North Korea envisions a federal structure which would leave separate leaderships intact. And increasingly, unified Korean teams began participating in the Olympics. Meanwhile, progress was set back when US President Bush named North Korea as part of the "Axis of Evil. " In 2003, North Korea defiantly announced that it had enough plutonium for a bomb and withdrew from the Non-Proliferation Treaty. Between 2003 and 2005, negotiations between North Korea and the international community went nowhere. By the summer of 2006, it had test-fired a ballistic missile. In October, North Korea tested its first nuclear weapon. In November, the United Nations imposed sanctions.

PRESENT SITUATION : In the wake of nuclear sabre-rattling by North Korea, the success of international community's disarmament talks with Pyong Yang have resulted in a resumption of food aid from South Korea and the improvement of prospects for eventual reunification.

PLUS CA CHANGE: Korea has tended to be reunited either from the south or from the north, after the recession or explusion of foreign influence or occupation. In 668, after Japan was driven out of Korea, the region was re-united under the southern kingdom of Silla. In 935, northern states overwhelmed Silla and unified Korea as the state of Koguryo. In 1392, after the expulsion of the Mongols, Korea was united and ruled by the Joseon dynasty. After the end of the Cold War and the domination, respectivey of North and South by the Soviet Union and the United States, the recession of competing foreign influences has allowed for the the re-emergence of the prospect of unification.

CURIOSITY: In the 1990s, a mausoleum reputed to date to the ancient ” Dangun” dynasty of Korea’s founding myth, was discovered near Pyongyang,. But North Korea has so far refused to allow objective archeological testing, by an outside nation, to verify the mausoleum’s Dangun heritage.


108 BC- the Chinese Han occupy Korea, bringing Buddhism and Confucianism.

57 BC Koguryo founded in northern Korea and Manchuria. Paekche was the southwest (Seoul) and Silla the SE

-3-4th cent. Collapse of the Han- Japan moves into Korea- initiating Japanese contact with China

7th century- Japanese-held territories are liberated as Japan is driven out of Korea.

668- Korea is unified under Silla who found a paid aristocracy and bureaucracy.

-internal divisions, due to a national parliament's restriction on monarchical power, open Korea to Chinese Tang suzerainty.

-900- South Korean state of Shilla is destroyed by the states of Paekche and Koguryo.

-935- a unified state is restored by diplomatic marriages, conquest and alliance and named Koryo after a royal principality. It is ruled by a Confucian administration Korea faces China’s Sung dynasty as more of an equal.

-1170- General Cho Chung-hon stages a military coup. Rule by warlords ensues.

1238- Koryo falls to Mongols but never successfully controlled.

1392- After the fall of the Mongols, General Yi Song0gye overthrows the Koryo. Litan of Korea’s new and greatest Joseon dynasty, sets up an administrative system which will last until the 20th century. He makes Confucianism and Chinese higher education universal. Korea opens relations with the Ming dynasty and will be protected by China for the next 200 years.

1400s- Korean ‘Hangul’ alphabet is formed under the Joseon

1419-1450- the Josean reaches its height under Sejong the Great.

-the Joseon develop the powerful Yangban ruling class.

16th cent. during Joseon period Korea reaches her height in cultural development, science, technology and Confucianism and successful use of Chinese ideas. This period has a profound effect on modern Korea- even its cultural, social ad political attitudes.

-1592 —under Hideyoshi, Japan’s Tokugawa dynasty invades and occupies Korea, looting Korean art.

1598- Japan is finally expelled from Korea by the Joseon. Korean admiral Yo Shun Shin, using the world's first armoured ships, beats the Japanese at sea. But Korea will be in Japan’s zone of influence until 1790. A historic hatred develops.

-1627-1636- The Manchu take Korea as they overthrow Ming China. Korea becomes a vassal state of the Manchu.

17th cent. As a consequence of the Chinese and Japanese invasions, the Joseon dynasty forms the Hermit Kingdom, by building fortresses, limiting contacts with other nations, enforcing stricter border controls, and controls in trade. This period is one of the sources for the CHUCHE ideology.

19th cent. Europe’s use of punitive expeditions against Korea for its mistreatment of missionaries and adventurers only hardens the sense of isolation that began with the Hermit Kingdom.

-1894-5- Japan invades China, overrunning Korea. Now Japanese influence replaces Chinese while the Japanese insist on “civilizing” reforms. But Korean absolutism returns quickly.

1910- After defeating Russia at Port Arthur, Japan formally takes Korea and begins systematic industrialization.

1945- Korea gains independence from Japan

-1945- As with Berlin- Korea is divided between communist east and democratic west. The. Industrial north is occupied by Russia while the agricultural south is occupied by the US.

1950- Backed by Stalin, North Korea invades US-occupied South Korea.

1953- end of the Korean War.

1955- North Korea proclaims its Chiche ideology.

1970s- North Korea’s Communist dictator Kim Il Sung grooms his son Kim Jong Il for the succession. They live like the secluded royalty of the medieval Confucian Yangban class- even though feudalism and Confucianism have been repudiated.

1991- the two Koreas agree not to develop nuclear weapons.

-early 1990s- North Korea working on a nuclear program.

1994- death of Kim Il Sung.

1997- Succession of Kim Jong Il as supreme commander of the military and de facto head of state.

-1998- floods, crop failures, food shortages result in famine in North Korea.

-South Korean president, Kim Dae Jung inaugurates his "Sunshine Policy" which declares a policy of cooperation with the north on the condition of mutual non-aggression as a prelude to eventual reinification. It also holds that threats and sanctions on the North from South Korea and the US do more harm the good.

-June 13-15, 2000- the leaders of Noerth and South Korea hold historic unification talks in Pyongyang and produce the "North-South Joint Declaration'.

-increasingly, unified Korean teams participate in the Olympics.

2001-2002- US President Bush declares North Korea part of the ‘Axis of Evil’.

2002- North Korea is discovered to be developing a weapons program and expels UN weapons inspectors.

2003- North Korea withdraws from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and reports that it has enough plutonium to build a nuclear bomb

2003-2005- meetings with the international community to retrain North Korea from developing a weapons program. No agreement is reached.

2006- after missile tests, North Korea tests a nuclear device in October. The UN imposes sanctions.

Oct 31- North Korea agrees to return to nuclear talks.

Feb 12-19 2007- North Korea agrees to give up its nuclear arms program in return for oil.

March 28- after North Korea shows signs of reconciliation with the international community, South Korea resumes food aid to the north.

April 13- North Korea is silent on a promise to close a nuclear facility.

May 10- the North Korean military agrees to a test run of rebuilt north and south Korean cross-border railway lines.

May 17- North and South Korea sun ceremonial test runs oc cross-border railway trains.
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