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Why Are North and South Korea Divided?

Why Are North and South Korea Divided?

North and South Korea have been divided for more than 70 years, ever since the Korean Peninsula became an unexpected casualty of the escalating Cold War between two rival superpowers: the Soviet Union and the United States.

A Unified Korea

For centuries before the division, the peninsula was a single, unified Korea, ruled by generations of dynastic kingdoms. Occupied by Japan after the Russo-Japanese War in 1905 and formally annexed five years later, Korea chafed under Japanese colonial rule for 35 years—until the end of World War II, when its division into two nations began.

“The catalyzing incident is the decision that was made—really, without the Koreans involved—between the Soviet Union and the United States to divide Korea into two occupation zones,” says Michael Robinson, professor emeritus of East Asian Studies and History at Indiana University, who has written extensively on both modern Korea and its history.

Why Was Korea Divided?

In August 1945, the two allies “in name only” (as Robinson puts it) divided control over the Korean Peninsula. Over the next three years (1945-48), the Soviet Army and its proxies set up a communist regime in the area north of latitude 38˚ N, or the 38th parallel. South of that line, a military government was formed, supported directly by the United States.

While the Soviet policies were widely popular with the bulk of the North’s laborer and peasant population, most middle-class Koreans fled south of the 38th parallel, where the majority of the Korean population resides today. Meanwhile, the U.S.-supported regime in the South clearly favored anti-communist, rightist elements, according to Robinson.

“The ultimate objective was for the Soviet Union and the United States to leave, and let the Koreans figure it out,” he explains. “The trouble was that the Cold War intervened….And everything that was tried to create a middle ground or to try to reunify the peninsula is thwarted by both the Soviet Union and the United States not wanting to give in to the other.”

In 1948, the United States called for a United Nation-sponsored vote for all Koreans to determine the future of the peninsula. After the North refused to participate, the South formed its own government in Seoul, led by the strongly anti-communist Syngman Rhee.

The North responded in kind, installing the former communist guerrilla Kim Il Sung as the first premier of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) in the capital of Pyongyang.

Korean War

The Korean War (1950-53), which killed at least 2.5 million people, did little to resolve the question of which regime represented the “true” Korea. It did, however, firmly establish the United States as the permanent bête noire of North Korea, as the U.S. military bombed villages, towns and cities across the northern half of the peninsula.

“They leveled the country,” Robinson says. “They destroyed every city.” The armistice that ended that conflict in 1953 left the peninsula divided much as before, with a demilitarized zone (DMZ) running roughly along the 38th parallel.

Unlike another Cold War-era separation, between East and West Germany, there has been extremely little movement across the DMZ between North and South Korea since 1953. Robinson describes the border as “hermetically sealed,” which helps to explain the drastically different paths the two nations have taken, and the continuing divide between them.

Hermit Kingdom

With continuing strong ties to the West (and an ongoing U.S. military presence), South Korea developed a robust economy, and in recent decades has made steps toward becoming a fully democratic nation.

Meanwhile, North Korea remained an isolated “hermit kingdom”—particularly after the collapse of the Soviet bloc in the early 1990s—and economically underdeveloped, as well as a virtual police state ruled by a single family for three generations.

The North’s dedicated efforts to develop a nuclear program have also greatly heightened tensions with South Korea and its allies, particularly the United States.

Korea Today

Despite recent efforts at diplomacy under South Korea’s new president, Moon Jae-in, the stark differences between the two Koreas were on full display in the run-up to the 2018 Winter Olympic Games. Even as South Koreans began welcoming athletes from around the world to the Winter Games, Kim Jong Un’s regime in the North put on a military parade in Pyongyang’s historic Kim Il Sung square.

As CNN reported, four of the country’s newest missiles, the Hwasong-15, were on display in the parade as Kim watched from a balcony, then spoke about the evils of imperialism.

Appropriately, the parade commemorated the day Kim’s grandfather, Kim Il Sung, formed the Korean People’s Army (KPA) in 1948—a fateful year in the history of Korea’s division.

“Starting in 1948, there are two established state organizations run by Koreans, each claiming to be the legitimate leaders of the people of the whole nation,” Robinson says. “And frankly, nothing’s changed since then.”

North And South Korea: A Quick History

The devastating Korean War left more than a million dead and tensions between the two neighbours continue to simmer.

Thursday 25 July 2013 13:48, UK

On the Korean Peninsula there are two versions of history. The version people learn depends on whether they are North Korean or South Korean.

Either way though, understanding both versions is key to understanding this most unusual of countries: its quirks, its people, its politics and its government's ability to survive against the odds.

There is no logical reason why the land that makes up the Korean Peninsula should be split into two countries.

The people either side of the border speak the same language and have the same ancestors.

But since 1945, it has been two countries: the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (North Korea) and the Republic of Korea (South Korea).

From 1910 until the end of World War Two, the Korean Peninsula was Japanese territory.

With Japan's defeat, America and the Soviet Union took control of the peninsula.

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They decided to split it in two: America didn't want the communist administration in Moscow to control the whole thing. Moscow felt the same about total American control.

And an agreement was reached between Washington and Moscow and an arbitrary line was simply drawn across the middle.

The North became The Democratic People's Republic of Korea. It adopted the communist ideology of its Soviet masters.

A young war hero called Kim Il-Sung became its prime minister.

The South adopted American-style democracy and became the Republic of Korea.

Just five years later though in 1950, Kim Il-Sung and his new army, backed by communist China and Russia, invaded the South.

Within months North Korean forces controlled almost the entire peninsula.

An American-led United Nations force fought back and the Korean War had begun.

Three years of fighting left well over a million people dead. Among them were soldiers from both Koreas, America, China, Russia and Britain.

But no side could claim victory. The border remained where it had been at the start - across the 38th Parallel - and to this day it is a heavily guarded and mined demilitarised zone.

In the decades that followed, the Soviet Union and China continued to prop up the North.

Inside the closed country, Kim Il-Sung's government controlled information and adopted their own version of history which states that the US-backed South Koreans invaded the North.

In 1991, the Soviet Union collapsed. North Korea had lost its main communist ally and trading partner.

The 1990s were dominated by a catastrophic famine in which millions died. A once strong country began to crumble.

And yet the country remained cut off, shunning most Western offers of help.

Kim Il-Sung, at his death in 1994, was declared Eternal President.

His son Kim Jong-Il ensured continuity and - on his death in 2011 - the leadership was assumed by his son, Kim Jong-Un.

And so through extreme control and isolation spanning 65 years, the Kim dynasty has cemented its cult of personality through which the state is still run.

When Japan conquered Korea

The story begins with the First Sino-Japanese war, which was fought between Japanese and Chinese forces for influence over Korea from 1894 to 1895.

Interestingly, this war had three other names: in Japan, it was known as the &lsquoWar of Jiawu&rsquo in China, it was known as the &lsquoJapan-Qing War&rsquo and in Korea, it was called the &lsquoQing-Japan War&rsquo.

The Japanese and Chinese troops mid-battle. (Photo Credit : Public Domain/Wikimedia Commons)

In 1870, Korea was China&rsquos most substantial client state, abundant in coal and iron, and located opposite to the Japanese islands. This proximity and resource richness caught Japan&rsquos interest. In 1875, it adopted revolutionary western technology and forced Korea to abandon its foreign relations with China.

Japan helped modernize Korea, which cultivated some pro-Japanese reformers that tried to overthrow the Korean government. However, the king was rescued by Yuan Shikai, a Chinese general, who killed many Japanese legation guards in 1884. This enraged both Japan and China, but war was prevented by both countries signing the Li-Itō Convention, but the peace would not last long.

A decade later, while Japan was busy expanding its kingdom and modernizing its programs, China was busy plotting revenge.

Now, remember those pro-Japanese revolts? They were led by Kim Ok-Kyun, who was then murdered in Shanghai by the agents of none other than Yuan Shikai. War was declared on August 1, 1894 and by March of 1895, the Japanese troops had overthrown the Chinese forces.

Finally, China had learned its lesson and recognized Korea as being independent of its assistance by signing the &lsquoTreaty of Shimonoseki&rsquo.


The Korean peninsula had been occupied by Japan from 1910. On 9 August 1945, in the closing days of World War II, the Soviet Union declared war on Japan and advanced into Korea. Though the Soviet declaration of war had been agreed by the Allies at the Yalta Conference, the US government became concerned at the prospect of all of Korea falling under Soviet control. The US government therefore requested Soviet forces halt their advance at the 38th parallel north, leaving the south of the peninsula, including the capital, Seoul, to be occupied by the US. This was incorporated into General Order No. 1 to Japanese forces after the Surrender of Japan on 15 August. On 24 August, the Red Army entered Pyongyang and established a military government over Korea north of the parallel. American forces landed in the south on 8 September and established the United States Army Military Government in Korea. [4]

The Allies had originally envisaged a joint trusteeship which would steer Korea towards independence, but most Korean nationalists wanted independence immediately. [5] Meanwhile, the wartime co-operation between the Soviet Union and the US deteriorated as the Cold War took hold. Both occupying powers began promoting into positions of authority Koreans aligned with their side of politics and marginalizing their opponents. Many of these emerging political leaders were returning exiles with little popular support. [6] [7] In North Korea, the Soviet Union supported Korean Communists. Kim Il-sung, who from 1941 had served in the Soviet Army, became the major political figure. [8] Society was centralized and collectivized, following the Soviet model. [9] Politics in the South was more tumultuous, but the strongly anti-Communist Syngman Rhee emerged as the most prominent politician. [10]

The US government took the issue to the United Nations, which led to the formation of the United Nations Temporary Commission on Korea (UNTCOK) in 1947. The Soviet Union opposed this move and refused to allow UNTCOK to operate in the North. UNTCOK organized a general election in the South, which was held on 10 May 1948. [11] The Republic of Korea was established with Syngman Rhee as president, and formally replaced the US military occupation on 15 August. In North Korea, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea was declared on 9 September, with Kim Il-sung as prime minister. Soviet occupation forces left the North on 10 December 1948. US forces left the South the following year, though the US Korean Military Advisory Group remained to train the Republic of Korea Army. [12]

Both opposing governments considered themselves to be the government of the whole of Korea, and both saw the division as temporary. [13] [14] The DPRK proclaimed Seoul to be its official capital, a position not changed until 1972. [15]

North Korea invaded the South on 25 June 1950, and swiftly overran most of the country. In September 1950 the United Nations force, led by the United States, intervened to defend the South, and advanced into North Korea. As they neared the border with China, Chinese forces intervened on behalf of North Korea, shifting the balance of the war again. Fighting ended on 27 July 1953, with an armistice that approximately restored the original boundaries between North and South Korea. [16] Syngman Rhee refused to sign the armistice, but reluctantly agreed to abide by it. [17] The armistice inaugurated an official ceasefire but did not lead to a peace treaty. It established the Korean Demilitarized Zone (DMZ), a buffer zone between the two sides, that intersected the 38th parallel but did not follow it. [17] North Korea has announced that it will no longer abide by the armistice at least six times, in the years 1994, 1996, 2003, 2006, 2009, and 2013. [18] [19]

Large numbers of people were displaced as a result of the war, and many families were divided by the reconstituted border. In 2007 it was estimated that around 750,000 people remained separated from immediate family members, and family reunions have long been a diplomatic priority for the South. [20]

Competition between North and South Korea became key to decision-making on both sides. For example, the construction of the Pyongyang Metro spurred the construction of one in Seoul. [21] In the 1980s, the South Korean government built a 98m tall flagpole in its village of Daeseong-dong in the DMZ. In response, North Korea built a 160m tall flagpole in its nearby village of Kijŏng-dong. [22]

Tensions escalated in the late 1960s with a series of low-level armed clashes known as the Korean DMZ Conflict. During this time North and South Korea conducted covert raids on each other in a series of retaliatory strikes, which included assassination attempts on the South and North leaders. [23] [24] [25] On 21 January 1968, North Koreans commandos attacked the South Korean Blue House. On 11 December 1969, a South Korean airliner was hijacked.

During preparations for US President Nixon's visit to China in 1972, South Korean President Park Chung-hee initiated covert contact with the North's Kim Il-sung. [26] In August 1971, the first Red Cross talks between North and South Korea were held. [27] Many of the participants were really intelligence or party officials. [28] In May 1972, Lee Hu-rak, the director of the Korean CIA, secretly met with Kim Il-sung in Pyongyang. Kim apologized for the Blue House Raid, denying he had approved it. [29] In return, North Korea's deputy premier Pak Song-chol made a secret visit to Seoul. [30] On 4 July 1972, the North-South Joint Statement was issued. The statement announced the Three Principles of Reunification: first, reunification must be solved independently without interference from or reliance on foreign powers second, reunification must be realized in a peaceful way without use of armed forces against each other finally, reunification transcend the differences of ideologies and institutions to promote the unification of Korea as one ethnic group. [27] [31] It also established the first "hotline" between the two sides. [32]

North Korea suspended talks in 1973 after the kidnapping of South Korean opposition leader Kim Dae-jung by the Korean CIA. [26] [33] Talks restarted, however, and between 1973 and 1975 there were 10 meetings of the North-South Coordinating Committee at Panmunjom. [34]

In the late 1970s, US President Jimmy Carter hoped to achieve peace in Korea. However, his plans were derailed because of the unpopularity of his proposed withdrawal of troops. [35]

In 1983, a North Korean proposal for three-way talks with the United States and South Korea coincided with the Rangoon assassination attempt against the South Korean President. [36] This contradictory behavior has never been explained. [37]

In September 1984, North Korea's Red Cross sent emergency supplies to the South after severe floods. [26] Talks resumed, resulting in the first reunion of separated families in 1985, as well as a series of cultural exchanges. [26] [38] Goodwill dissipated with the staging of the US-South Korean military exercise, Team Spirit, in 1986. [39]

When Seoul was chosen to host the 1988 Summer Olympics, North Korea tried to arrange a boycott by its Communist allies or a joint hosting of the Games. [40] This failed, and the bombing of Korean Air Flight 858 in 1987 was seen as North Korea's revenge. [41] However, at the same time, amid a global thawing of the Cold War, the newly elected South Korean President Roh Tae-woo launched a diplomatic initiative known as Nordpolitik. This proposed the interim development of a "Korean Community", which was similar to a North Korean proposal for a confederation. [42] From 4 to 7 September 1990, high-level talks were held in Seoul, at the same time that the North was protesting about the Soviet Union normalizing relations with the South. These talks led in 1991 to the Agreement on Reconciliation, Non-Aggression, Exchanges and Cooperation and the Joint Declaration of the Denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. [43] [44] This coincided with the admission of both North and South Korea into the United Nations. [45] Meanwhile, on 25 March 1991, a unified Korean team first used the Korean Unification Flag at the World Table Tennis Competition in Japan, and on 6 May 1991, a unified team competed at the World Youth Football Competition in Portugal.

There were limits to the thaw in relations, however. In 1989, Lim Su-kyung, a South Korean student activist who participated in the World Youth Festival in Pyongyang, was jailed on her return. [45]

The end of the Cold War brought economic crisis to North Korea and led to expectations that reunification was imminent. [46] [47] North Koreans began to flee to the South in increasing numbers. According to official statistics there were 561 defectors living in South Korea in 1995, and over 10,000 in 2007. [48]

In December 1991 both states made an accord, the Agreement on Reconciliation, Non-Aggression, Exchange and Cooperation, pledging non-aggression and cultural and economic exchanges. They also agreed on prior notification of major military movements and established a military hotline, and working on replacing the armistice with a "peace regime". [49] [50] [51]

In 1994, concern over North Korea's nuclear program led to the Agreed Framework between the US and North Korea. [52]

In 1998, South Korean President Kim Dae-jung announced a Sunshine Policy towards North Korea. Despite a naval clash in 1999, this led in June 2000, to the first Inter-Korean summit, between Kim Dae-jung and Kim Jong-il. [53] As a result, Kim Dae-jung was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. [54] The summit was followed in August by a family reunion. [38] In September, the North and South Korean teams marched together at the Sydney Olympics. [55] Trade increased to the point where South Korea became North Korea's largest trading partner. [56] Starting in 1998, the Mount Kumgang Tourist Region was developed as a joint venture between the North Korean government and Hyundai. [57] In 2003, the Kaesong Industrial Region was established to allow South Korean businesses to invest in the North. [58] In the early 2000s South Korea ceased infiltrating its agents into the North. [59]

US President George W Bush, however, did not support the Sunshine Policy and in 2002 branded North Korea as a member of an Axis of Evil. [60] [61]

Continuing concerns about North Korea's potential to develop nuclear missiles led in 2003 to the six-party talks that included North Korea, South Korea, the US, Russia, China, and Japan. [62] In 2006, however, North Korea resumed testing missiles and on 9 October conducted its first nuclear test. [63]

The 15 June 2000 Joint Declaration that the two leaders signed during the first South-North summit stated that they would hold the second summit at an appropriate time. It was originally envisaged that the second summit would be held in South Korea, but that did not happen. South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun walked across the Korean Demilitarized Zone on 2 October 2007 and traveled on to Pyongyang for talks with Kim Jong-il. [64] [65] [66] [67] The two sides reaffirmed the spirit of 15 June Joint Declaration and had discussions on various issues related to realizing the advancement of south–north relations, peace on the Korean Peninsula, common prosperity of the people and the unification of Korea. On 4 October 2007, South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun and North Korean leader Kim Jong-il signed a peace declaration. The document called for international talks to replace the Armistice which ended the Korean War with a permanent peace treaty. [68]

During this period political developments were reflected in art. The films Shiri, in 1999, and Joint Security Area, in 2000, gave sympathetic representations of North Koreans. [69] [70]

Lee Myung-bak government Edit

The Sunshine Policy was formally abandoned by the new South Korean President Lee Myung-bak in 2010. [71]

On 26 March 2010, the 1,500-ton ROKS Cheonan with a crew of 104, sank off Baengnyeong Island in the Yellow Sea. Seoul said there was an explosion at the stern, and was investigating whether a torpedo attack was the cause. Out of 104 sailors, 46 died and 58 were rescued. South Korean President Lee Myung-bak convened an emergency meeting of security officials and ordered the military to focus on rescuing the sailors. [72] [73] On 20 May 2010, a team of international researchers published results claiming that the sinking had been caused by a North Korean torpedo North Korea rejected the findings. [74] South Korea agreed with the findings from the research group and President Lee Myung-bak declared afterwards that Seoul would cut all trade with North Korea as part of measures primarily aimed at striking back at North Korea diplomatically and financially. [ citation needed ] North Korea denied all such allegations and responded by severing ties between the countries and announced it abrogated the previous non-aggression agreement. [75]

On 23 November 2010, North Korea's artillery fired at South Korea's Yeonpyeong island in the Yellow Sea and South Korea returned fire. Two South Korean marines and two civilians were killed, more than a dozen were wounded, including three civilians. About 10 North Koreans were believed to be killed however, the North Korean government denies this. The town was evacuated and South Korea warned of stern retaliation, with President Lee Myung-bak ordering the destruction of a nearby North Korea missile base if further provocation should occur. [76] The official North Korean news agency, KCNA, stated that North Korea only fired after the South had "recklessly fired into our sea area". [77]

In 2011 it was revealed that North Korea abducted four high-ranking South Korean military officers in 1999. [78]

Park Geun-hye government Edit

On 12 December 2012, North Korea launched the Kwangmyŏngsŏng-3 Unit 2, a scientific and technological satellite, and it reached orbit. [79] [80] [81] In response, the United States reployed its warships in the region. [82] January–September 2013 saw an escalation of tensions between North Korea and South Korea, the United States, and Japan that began because of United Nations Security Council Resolution 2087, which condemned North Korea for the launch of Kwangmyŏngsŏng-3 Unit 2. The crisis was marked by extreme escalation of rhetoric by the new North Korean administration under Kim Jong-un and actions suggesting imminent nuclear attacks against South Korea, Japan, and the United States. [83]

On 24 March 2014, a crashed North Korean drone was found near Paju, the onboard cameras contained pictures of the Blue House and military installations near the DMZ. On 31 March, following an exchange of artillery fire into the waters of the NLL, a North Korean drone was found crashed on Baengnyeongdo. [84] [85] On 15 September, wreckage of a suspected North Korean drone was found by a fisherman in the waters near Baengnyeongdo, the drone was reported to be similar to one of the North Korean drones which had crashed in March 2014. [86]

According to a 2014 BBC World Service poll, 3% of South Koreans viewed North Korea's influence positively, with 91% expressing a negative view, making South Korea, after Japan, the country with the most negative feelings of North Korea in the world. [87] However, a 2014 government-funded survey found 13% of South Koreans viewed North Korea as hostile, and 58% of South Koreans believed North Korea was a country they should cooperate with. [88]

On 1 January 2015, Kim Jong-un, in his New Year's address to the country, stated that he was willing to resume higher-level talks with the South. [89]

In the first week of August 2015, a mine went off at the DMZ, wounding two South Korean soldiers. The South Korean government accused the North of planting the mine, which the North denied. After that South Korea restarted propaganda broadcasts to the North. [90]

On 20 August 2015, North Korea fired a shell on the city of Yeoncheon. South Korea launched several artillery rounds in response. There were no casualties in the South, but some local residents evacuated. [91] The shelling caused both countries to adopt pre-war statuses and a talk that was held by high level officials in the Panmunjeom to relieve tensions on 22 August 2015, and the talks carried over to the next day. [92] Nonetheless while talks were going on, North Korea deployed over 70 percent of their submarines, which increased the tension once more on 23 August 2015. [93] Talks continued into the next day and finally concluded on 25 August when both parties reached an agreement and military tensions were eased.

Despite peace talks between South Korea and North Korea on 9 September 2016 regarding the North's missile test, North Korea continued to progress with its missile testing. North Korea carried out its fifth nuclear test as part of the state's 68th anniversary since its founding. [94] In response South Korea revealed that it had a plan to assassinate Kim Jong-un. [95]

According to a 2017 Korea Institute for National Unification, 58% of South Korean citizens had responded that unification is necessary. Among the respondents of the 2017 survey, 14% said 'we really need unification' while 44% said 'we kind of need the unification'. Regarding the survey question of 'Do we still need unification even if ROK and DPRK could peacefully coexist?', 46% agreed and 32% disagreed. [96]

In May 2017 Moon Jae-in was elected President of South Korea with a promise to return to the Sunshine Policy. [97] In his New Year address for 2018, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un proposed sending a delegation to the upcoming Winter Olympics in South Korea. [98] The Seoul–Pyongyang hotline was reopened after almost two years. [99] At the Winter Olympics, North and South Korea marched together in the opening ceremony and fielded a united women's ice hockey team. [100] As well as the athletes, North Korea sent an unprecedented high-level delegation, headed by Kim Yo-jong, sister of Kim Jong-un, and President Kim Yong-nam, and including performers like the Samjiyon Orchestra. [101] A North Korean art troupe also performed in two separate South Korean cities, including Seoul, in honor of the Olympic games as well. [102] The North Korean ship which carried the art troupe, Man Gyong Bong 92, was also the first North Korean ship to arrive in South Korea since 2002. [103] The delegation passed on an invitation to President Moon to visit North Korea. [101]

Following the Olympics, authorities of the two countries raised the possibility that they could host the 2021 Asian Winter Games together. [104] On 1 April, South Korean K-pop stars performed a concert in Pyongyang entitled "Spring is Coming", which was attended by Kim Jong-un and his wife. [105] The K-pop stars were part of a 160-member South Korean art troupe which performed in North Korea in early April 2018. [106] [107] It also marked the first time since 2005 that any South Korean artist performed in North Korea. [107] Meanwhile, propaganda broadcasts stopped on both sides. [22]

On 27 April, a summit took place between Moon and Kim in the South Korean zone of the Joint Security Area. It was the first time since the Korean War that a North Korean leader had entered South Korean territory. [108] North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and South Korea's President Moon Jae-in met at the line that divides Korea. [109] The summit ended with both countries pledging to work towards complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. [110] [111] They also vowed to declare an official end to the Korean War within a year. [112] As part of the Panmunjom Declaration which was signed by leaders of both countries, both sides also called for the end of longstanding military activities in the region of the Korean border and a reunification of Korea. [2] Also, the leaders agreed to work together to connect and modernise their railways. [113]

On 5 May, North Korea adjusted its time zone to match the South's. [114] In May, South Korea began removing propaganda loudspeakers from the border area in line with the Panmunjom Declaration. [115]

Moon and Kim met a second time on 26 May to discuss Kim's upcoming summit with Trump. [116] The summit led to further meetings between North and South Korean officials during June. [117] On 1 June, officials from both countries agreed to move forward with the military and Red Cross talks. [118] They also agreed to reopen an Inter-Korean Liaison Office in Kaesong that the South had shut down in February 2016 after a North Korean nuclear test. [118] The second meeting, involving the Red Cross and military, was held at North Korea's Mount Kumgang resort on 22 June where it was agreed that family reunions would resume. [119] After the summit in April, a summit between US President Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un was held on 12 June 2018 in Singapore. South Korea hailed it as a success. [ citation needed ]

South Korea announced on 23 June 2018 that it would not conduct annual military exercises with the US in September, and would also stop its own drills in the Yellow Sea, in order to not provoke North Korea and to continue a peaceful dialog. [120] On 1 July 2018 South and North Korea have resumed ship-to-ship radio communication, which could prevent accidental clashes between South and North Korean military vessels around the Northern Limit Line (NLL) in the West (Yellow) Sea. [121] On 17 July 2018, South and North Korea fully restored their military communication line on the western part of the peninsula. [122]

South Korea and North Korea competed as "Korea" in some events at the 2018 Asian Games. [123] The co-operation extended to the film industry, with South Korea giving their approval to screen North Korean movies at the country's local festival while inviting several moviemakers from the latter. [124] [125] [126] In August 2018 reunions of families divided since the Korean War took place at Mount Kumgang in North Korea. [127] In September, at a summit with Moon in Pyongyang, Kim agreed to dismantle North Korea's nuclear weapons facilities if the United States took reciprocal action. In Pyongyang, an agreement titled the "Pyongyang Joint Declaration of September 2018" was signed by both Korean leaders [128] The agreement calls for the removal of landmines, guard posts, weapons, and personnel in the JSA from both sides of the North-South Korean border. [129] [130] [131] They also agreed that they would establish buffer zones on their borders to prevent clashes. [132] Moon became the first South Korean leader to give a speech to the North Korean public when he addressed 150,000 spectators at the Arirang Festival on 19 September. [133] Also during the September 2018 summit, military leaders from both countries signed an Agreement on Reconciliation, Non-Aggression, Exchanges and Cooperation" (a.k.a. "the Basic Agreement") to help ensure less military tension between both countries and greater arms control. [134] [135] [136]

On 23 October 2018, Moon ratified the Basic Agreement and Pyongyang Declaration just hours after they were approved by his cabinet. [137]

On 30 November 2018, a South Korean train crossed the DMZ border with North Korea and stopped at Panmun Station. This was the first time a South Korean train had entered North Korean territory since 2008. [138]

2019 Edit

On 30 June, Kim and Moon met again in the DMZ, joined by US President Trump who initiated the meeting. [139] The three held a meeting at the Inter-Korean House of Freedom. [139] Meanwhile, North Korea conducted a series of short–range missile tests, and the US and South Korea took part in joint military drills in August. On 16 August 2019, North Korea's ruling party made a statement criticizing the South for participating in the drills and for buying US military hardware, calling it a "grave provocation" and saying there would be no more negotiation. [140]

On 5 August, South Korea's president Moon Jae-in spoke during a meeting with his senior aides at the presidential Blue House in Seoul, discussing Japan's imposed trade restrictions to Korea as a result of historical issues. [141] Moon then withdrew South Korea from an intelligence-sharing agreement with Japan, seeking a breakthrough with North Korea in the process, but opted against it at the last minute. [142] In a meeting at Seoul's presidential Blue House in August 2019, amid an escalating trade row between South Korea and Japan, Moon expressed his willingness to cooperate economically with North Korea to overtake Japan’s economy. [143] [144]

On 15 October, North and South Korea played a FIFA World Cup qualifier in Pyongyang, their first football match in the North in 30 years. The game was played behind closed doors with attendance open only to a total of 100 North Korean government personnel no fans or South Korean media were allowed into the stadium, and the game was not broadcast live. No goals were scored. [145] Meanwhile, Kim and Moon continued to have a close, respectful relationship. [146]

The 2019 South Korea Defense White Paper does not label North Korea as an "enemy" or "threat" for the first time in history. While not explicitly calling North Korea an enemy, the paper mentions that North Korea’s weapons of mass destruction threaten peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula. [147]

2020 Edit

On 9 June 2020, North Korea began cutting off all of its communication lines with South Korea. This came after Pyongyang had repeatedly warned Seoul regarding matters such as the failure of the South to stop North Korean expatriate activists from sending anti-regime propaganda leaflets across the border. The Korean Central News Agency described it as "the first step of the determination to completely shut down all contact means with South Korea and get rid of unnecessary things". [148] The sister of Kim Jong-un, Kim Yo-jong, as well as the Vice Chair of the Central Committee of the ruling Workers' Party of Korea, Kim Yong-chol, stated that North Korea had begun to treat South Korea as its enemy. [149] A week prior to these actions, Kim Yo-Jong had called North Korean defectors "human scum" and "mongrel dogs". The severing of communication lines substantially diminished the agreements that were made in 2018. [150] On 13 June, Kim Yo-jong, warned that "before long, a tragic scene of the useless North-South joint liaison office completely collapsed would be seen." On 16 June, the North threatened to return troops that had been withdrawn from the border to posts where they had been previously stationed. Later that day, the joint liaison office in Kaesong was blown up by the North Korean government. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the South Korean delegation had departed from the building in January. [151] On 5 June 2020, the North Korean foreign minister Ri Son-gwon said that prospects for peace between North and South Korea, and the U.S., had "faded away into a dark nightmare". [152] On 21 June 2020, South Korea urged North Korea to not send propaganda leaflets across the border. The request followed the North's statement that it was ready to send 12 million leaflets, which could potentially become the largest psychological campaign against South Korea. [153]

On December 14, 2020, the South Korean parliament passed a law which criminalized the launching of propaganda leaflets into North Korea. [154] This ban applies to not only the large amount of balloon propaganda leaflets which have been sent into North Korea of the years, but also leaflets that have been sent in bottles in rivers which run along the Korean border. [154] Violators of the law, which went into effect three months after it was approved, [154] face up to three years in prison or 30 million won ($27,400) in fines. [154]

2021 Edit

In February 2021, South Korea continued to omit North Korea's "enemy" status from the South Korean military's White Paper after downgrading the status of Japan. [155] [156]

Crash Landing on You (Korean: 사랑의 불시착 RR: Sarangui Bulsichak MR: Sarangŭi pulshich'ak lit. Love's Emergency Landing) is a 2019–2020 South Korean television series directed by Lee Jeong-hyo and featuring Hyun Bin, Son Ye-jin, Kim Jung-hyun, and Seo Ji-hye. It is about a South Korean woman who accidentally crash-lands in North Korea. It aired on tvN in South Korea and on Netflix worldwide from 14 December 2019 to 16 February 2020. [157] [158]

Ashfall (Korean: 백두산 Hanja: 白頭山 RR: Baekdusan), also known as: Mount Paektu, is a 2019 South Korean action film directed by Lee Hae-jun and Kim Byung-seo, starring Lee Byung-hun, Ha Jung-woo, Ma Dong-seok, Bae Suzy and Jeon Hye-jin. The film was released in December 2019 in South Korea. [159] [160] In the film, the volcano of Baekdu Mountain suddenly erupts, causing severe earthquakes in both North and South Korea.

The King 2 Hearts (Korean: 더킹 투하츠 RR: Deoking Tuhacheu) is a 2012 South Korean television series, starring Ha Ji-won and Lee Seung-gi in the leading roles. [161] It is about a South Korean crown prince who falls in love with a North Korean special agent. The series aired on MBC from 21 March to 24 May 2012 on Wednesdays and Thursdays at 21:55 for 20 episodes.

But despite the continuing state of war, many of the South Koreans we spoke to expressed their hope that relations would get better one day. The best future for many would be a reunited Korea.

Human rights, personal liberty and falling out with the West

Nowadays, North Korea is a Stalinist state and keeps between 80,000 and 120,000 state prisoners, most of whom are held for political, not criminal, offenses. In a 2011 report the US State Department stated “systematic and severe human rights abuses occurred” in North Korea’s prisons.

North Korea received the lowest press freedom score on the 2013 press freedom index and is seen as one of the world’s most corrupt countries, according to Transparency International’s 2014 corruption perception index. Its nuclear programme is also a concern for South Korea and western nations.

The border that separates both countries is said to be one of the most dangerous and heavily militarized in the world

Life in South Korea is fuelled by an unashamedly loud and proud style of capitalism. The country is also officially a constitutional democracy. However, it does have its own political prisoners. South Korea’s controversial National Security Law makes it an offense to express sympathies with North Korea the government even kicked out a foreign national for ‘aiding North Korea’ just this month.

But South Korea ranks as far less corrupt than its northern neighbour. And it’s a key ally for western powers - particularly the United States, which still carries out military drills there.

The size divide, and suicides

Despite a similar geographical size, South Korea’s population (49 million) is almost twice as large as North Korea’s (25 million).

Due to the poor diet of North Koreans, people there tend to be smaller than South Koreans. This is most visible among school children. Daniel Schwekendiek from Sungkyunkwan University in Seoul estimated the height difference to be “approximately 4 cm (1.6 in) among pre-school boys and 3 cm (1.2 in) among pre-school girls.”

The difference in life expectancy is similarly large: while South Koreans on average live to the ripe old age of 79, North Koreans die ten years younger at 69.

It may come as a surprise for some that both countries have severe problems with suicide.

In South Korea, weddings are momentous occasions: people tend to splurge on dresses, venues and honeymoons

South Korea has seen the most suicides in the “industrialized world for eight consecutive years” with 14,160 suicides in 2012.

One North Korean refugee, Shin Dong-Hyuk, has expressed his bewilderment at these cases. In the documentary “Camp 14”, Dong-Hyuk said he had never heard of a suicide taking place in his notorious prison camp, while an average of 39 people choose to die every day in South Korea. “They have everything. They have food, clothing, a home and still kill themselves!”, he said.

K-pop, rice cakes and banned mini skirts

North and South Koreans enjoy many of the same types of food, as recipes were passed on from generation to generation long before the divide. For instance, Dduk (ricecake) and Yeot (a type of confectionary) are eaten by all students before exams and are said to bring them luck.

Cultural celebrations are similarly deeply ingrained in Korean society on both sides of the border. Some of the most important dates are New Years Day, Thanksgiving Day and Daeboreum - the day of the year’s first full-moon. New Year’s Day is traditionally celebrated with a bowl of Ddukguk (rice cake soup).

Parents are also served food by their children and addressed with polite titles, regardless of where they live in Korea.

But cultural differences now clearly outweigh the similarities.

The success of “K-Pop” music prompted US network CNN to declare South Korea the “Hollywood of the East”

South Korea is said to have turned into the Hollywood of the East, “churning out entertainment that is coveted by millions of fans stretching from Japan to Indonesia”. There are about 400 independent studios producing content for the entertainment market, helping South Korea to export its special brand of pop music (“K-pop”), television dramas and video games to countries across Asia.

As for North Korea’s hit records. well you just need to take a look at the charts.

Things look similarly polarised on the fashion front. North Koreans refrain from experimenting because the government strictly bans skinny jeans, mini skirts and even particular hairstyles, while their southern neighbours are free to don whatever outfit takes their fancy.

From daring mini skirts to something borrowed, something blue: weddings also look decisively different. Couples in South Korea may splurge on a beautiful dress for the bride, a glitzy ceremony and a spectacular honeymoon, while those tying the knot in North Korea tend to take a simpler approach all round, usually celebrating in a restaurant or at home.

Religion and wifi tourism

Due to its Communist worldview, the North is officially atheist. However new movements like Cheondoism are gaining in popularity.

In the South, Protestantism and Catholicism have won many new followers in past decades, their ranks swelled by Christians from North Korea who have fled persecution.

South Korea’s capital, Seoul: North Korean refugees are often overwhelmed by the opportunities, wealth and culture there

As for the modern-day “religion” of the internet, its influence is unbounded and users’ access unhindered in South Korea, where 81 out of 100 people were online in 2012.

In the north, only members of public and educational services are allowed to surf the world wide web - and then only under strict controls. One phenomenon occurring as a result is wifi tourism: North Koreans buying properties close to foreign embassies in a bid to access their wifi. Housing prices in Pyongyang have shot up as a result.

North Korea does have its own intranet, called Kwangmyong. It’s not connected to the rest of the world and was primarily built to browse fan pages of the leading Kim dynasty, North Korea’s ruling party.

Will reunification ever be on the cards?

Both Koreas were in “high-level” talks in early October, but the details haven’t been disclosed.

Sue Mi Terry, research scholar at Columbia University’s East Asian Institute, thinks a reunification would turn Korea into the “Germany of Asia”.

South Korea’s finance ministry claimed it would cost $80 billion every year for at least ten years, but the long-term economic and educational benefits may still outweigh financial losses.

For Ka-yeon, the thought of reunification - of one day being able to share Korean traditions with her family again - is what keeps her alive.

The Korean War never technically ended. Here’s why.

Seventy years ago, conflict erupted over who would control the Korean Peninsula. It stoked tensions that still roil today—and changed how wars are waged.

On June 25, 1950, North Korea’s surprise attack on South Korea sparked a war that pitted communists against capitalists for control of the Korean Peninsula. Fought between 1950 and 1953, the Korean War left millions dead and North and South Korea permanently divided.

But though it was dubbed the “forgotten war” in the United States due to the lack of attention it received during and after the conflict, the Korean War’s legacy is profound: Not only does it still shape geopolitical affairs—it technically never ended—but it also set a precedent for American presidents to wage wars without consent of Congress.

The war had its roots in Japan’s occupation of Korea between 1910 and 1945. As World War II came to an end and the Allied powers began dismantling Japan’s empire, Korea’s fate became a bargaining chip between the United States and the U.S.S.R. The former allies distrusted each other, and in 1948, as a check on one another’s influence, they established two separate Korean nations demarcated by a border at the 38th parallel, the line of latitude that crosses the Peninsula. North Korea would be a socialist state led by Kim Il-sung and backed by the U.S.S.R., and South Korea a capitalist state led by Syngman Rhee and backed by the United States. (Here's how a National Geographic map helped divide the peninsula after WWII.)

The hope was that the two nations would balance power in East Asia, but it quickly became clear that neither state saw the other as legitimate. After a series of border skirmishes, North Korea invaded its southern neighbor in June 1950. This invasion set off a proxy war between the two nuclear powers—and the first conflagration of the Cold War.

The U.S. pressed the newly created United Nations Security Council to authorize the use of force to aid South Korea, and President Harry Truman committed troops to the cause—without seeking the approval of Congress, which alone has the power to declare war. It was the first time the United States entered a large-scale foreign conflict without an official declaration of war.

“We are not at war,” Truman told the press on June 29, 1950. “[South Korea] was unlawfully attacked by a bunch of bandits which are neighbors of North Korea.” Despite questions about whether Truman overstepped presidential authority, U.S. involvement in the conflict was officially chalked up to a “police action.”

The U.S. had assumed the war would be quickly won, but that notion was soon proved wrong. In the early days of the conflict, UN forces pushed into North Korea and toward the border of communist China, which responded by deploying more than three million troops to North Korea. Meanwhile, the U.S.S.R. supplied and trained North Korean and Chinese troops, and sent pilots to fly missions against UN forces.

By summer 1951, troops had settled into a dangerous stalemate around the 38th parallel. Casualties mounted. Negotiations began in July, but both sides faltered at the negotiating table over the fate of prisoners of war. Though many POWs captured by American forces did not want to go back to their home countries, both North Korea and China insisted on their repatriation as a condition of peace. During a tense series of prisoner exchanges ahead of the armistice in 1953, more than 75,000 communist prisoners were returned over 22,000 defected or sought asylum.

On July 27, 1953, North Korea, China, and the United States signed an armistice agreement. South Korea, however, objected to the continued division of Korea and did not agree to the armistice or sign a formal peace treaty. So while the fighting ended, technically the war never did.

It is still unclear how many people died in the Korean War. Nearly 40,000 American troops, and an estimated 46,000 South Korean troops, were killed. Casualties were even higher in the north, where an estimated 215,000 North Korean troops and 400,000 Chinese troops died. But the vast majority of the dead—up to 70 percent—were civilians. As many as four million civilians are thought to have been killed, and North Korea in particular was decimated by bombing and chemical weapons.

Many troops were also unaccounted for at the end of the war. About 80,000 South Korean troops were caught in North Korea when the war ended. Though the North has denied taking them prisoner, defectors and South Korean officials report that the trapped soldiers were put to work as forced laborers. The whereabouts of the remains of most of those POWs will never be known. In June 2020, however, the U.S. identified and returned 147 South Korean POWs whose remains had been handed over by North Korea in 2018. Meanwhile, more than 7,500 U.S. troops are still missing.

Seventy years after the war began, the two Koreas are still divided. Hopes for reunification briefly flickered in 2000, when both nations issued a joint declaration that they would make “concerted efforts” to reunify, and again in 2018 after a summit in which the countries’ leaders shook hands and hugged. But those hopes have slowly faded, and in June North Korea blew up a joint office that served as an embassy between the embattled nations. (See why the border between North and South Korea is normally packed with tourists.)

How were people selected for this week’s reunions?

Millions of Koreans were separated by the 1950&ndash1953 Korean War, and since the first reunion was held in 2000 more than 130,000 southerners have signed up to take part in similar events &mdash more than half of them have reportedly died in the decades since. The South Koreans meeting relatives this week were selected by lottery from about 57,000 of the survivors.

South Korea bussed about 330 people from 89 families across the 38th parallel into the North, many of them in wheelchairs. There they met with 185 North Koreans for the three-day event facilitated by the Red Cross, Reuters reports. Originally, 93 North and South Korean families were supposed to meet over the course of the three days, but four from the south pulled out for health reasons.

Hwang tells TIME that although he received confirmation his daughter was alive on July 25, the controversy that arose around 12 North Korean waitresses that may have been forced to defect and talk that the National Assembly was reconsidering the reunions made him question whether it “was really going to take the place until the last minute.”

A further 300 Koreans and 83 North Koreans are expected to travel to Mount Kumgang for more reunions Friday, according to South Korea’s Yonhap news agency.

&ldquoIt is a shame for both governments that many of the families have passed away without knowing whether their lost relatives were alive,&rdquo South Korean President Moon Jae-in told presidential secretaries. &ldquoExpanding and accelerating family reunions is a top priority among humanitarian projects to be carried out by the two Koreas.&rdquo

Shin Dong-hee (born September 28, 1985), better known by his stage name Shindong (lit. meaning: “prodigy”), is a South Korean rapper, singer, dancer, MC, and radio personality. He is best known as a member of the K-pop boy band Super Junior and its subgroups Super Junior-T and Super Junior-H.

Shindong said that people think that he is married and some even think that he has a child. He shared that he did have a girlfriend and was about to get married but it did not work out eventually. Somewhat willingly and unwillingly, Shindong publicised about his relationships twice….

Huge, colorful demonstrations of military might

Every year, hundreds of thousands of soldiers and citizens roll through the streets of the capital Pyongyang to take part in the North's military parades. Preparations for the rallies often begin months in advance, and the parades usually mark important anniversaries linked with the Communist Party or Kim Jong Un's family.

Religion and Wi-Fi tourism

Due to its communist worldview, the North is officially atheist. However, new movements like Cheondoism are gaining in popularity. In the South, Protestantism and Catholicism have won many new followers in past decades, their ranks swelled by Christians from North Korea who have fled persecution.

As for the modern-day "religion" of the internet, its influence is unbounded and users' access unhindered in South Korea.

In the North, only members of public and educational services are allowed to surf the World Wide Web — and then only under strict controls. One phenomenon occurring as a result is Wi-Fi tourism: North Koreans buying properties close to foreign embassies in a bid to access their Wi-Fi. Housing prices in Pyongyang have shot up as a result.

North Korea does have its own intranet, called Kwangmyong. It's not connected to the rest of the world and was primarily built to browse fan pages of the leading Kim dynasty, North Korea's ruling family.

Nuclear tests, international pressure and thawing tensions

North Korea's current leader initiated the so-called "byungjin policy" in 2013, which simultaneously pursues a powerful nuclear deterrent and economic growth.

He has carried out an unusually large number of weapons tests in an attempt to develop an effective nuclear arsenal that is capable of striking targets on the US mainland. Four of the North's six nuclear bomb tests happened during his rule.

The tests spiked tensions between Pyongyang and the international community, particularly the United States, with President Trump warning that he would respond the North's nuclear threat with "fire and fury like the world has never seen."

Following a war of words between Trump and Kim, things changed dramatically this year, with the North Korean leader sending his sister Kim Yo Jong and athletes to the Winter Olympics in the South and agreeing to hold talks with the South Korean president, Moon Jae-in.

Moon later also brokered a meeting between Kim and Trump set for May or early June.

In the lead-up to the historic summits, Kim Jong Un even announced that his country will suspend nuclear and missile tests indefinitely and shut down a nuclear test site, prompting Trump to tweet: "This is very good news for North Korea and the world - big progress! Look forward to our summit."