Tale of Two Koreas

Some events are recorded in history as a rapturous culmination of world diplomacy & as a pre-cursor to lasting regional peace & progress. The North –South Korea thaw symbolises one such chapter.      


Not many were optimistic about the much hyped Trump – King Jon Un summit to fructify given the tempestuous run up to the event. Till even the last moment bets would have been wagering in almost all capitals on the even chance of the historic interface happening or not. But the unthinkable did happen & the tit for tat posturing by both the irrepressible Kim Jong un & the enigmatic Donald Trump ended with both the leaders shaking hands & almost hitting off instantly. Whether or not the newfound love & truce would hold, time alone will tell. However given the precarious economic state of the Northern peninsula & a deliberate loosening of its grip by China over North Korea, ostensibly to placate USA in its effort to restore tariff parity; such a calculus may have made this epic meeting possible. Diplomacy & politics they say is the art of the megalomaniacs & one must be prepared to think of the unthinkable.  

The recent groundbreaking ceremony for an inter-Korean project to modernise and reconnect roads and railways across their heavily armed border is indication enough that they mean business. Officials from the UN and neighbouring countries, including Russia, China and Mongolia, were also present as it could be the start of an ambitious plan to connect the inter-Korean railway to the Trans Siberian Railway so to create a route from Korea all the way to Europe. The ceremony started at Panmun Station in the North’s border town of Kaesong at around 10 a.m. with representation from both sides, Yonhap news agency reported. A special train carrying some 100 South Korean participants arrived at the station earlier to attend the event.Transport Minister Kim Hyun-mee, Unification Minister Cho Myoung-gyon, parliamentary leaders, and other road and railway officials and experts were among those who were on board the special train service.

The development was made possible after both sides realised the futility of hostility that has adversely impacted peace, progress & development of these neighbouring states in particular & the region in general. After the September summit, several joint inspections of the North’s railways and roads were conducted despite delays caused by concerns over possible violations of sanctions against Pyongyang. The groundbreaking ceremony is meaningful as it demonstrates the Koreas’ willingness to actively cooperate,” the ministry said. Ri Son-gwon, the chairman of North Korea’s state agency in charge of inter-Korean ties was also present.
The event would be followed by “track-linking”, signing a railway sleeper and unveiling a signboard at the station, the ministry said. Seoul earlier received sanctions exemptions from the US on materials and items needed to hold the event in the North.

This rail link would also mark the first time a South Korean train would run from Mount Kumgang to the Tumen River on the North’s east coast since the peninsula was divided following the 1950-53 Korean War. The actual construction would only start after the denuclearization issue and existing multilayered sanctions on North Korea were taken care of.

It is a known fact that South Korea had deliberately turned a blind eye to Pyongyang’s nuclear programme for a while in the hope that peace & trust are given one legitimate chance to prevail. President Kim’s eagerness to bury the hatchet was evident by his firm handshake of the North Korean leader after almost two years of dead pan silence on the issue. As neighbours with a beleaguered history, there could be no better thing to develop than the new found chemistry of the two. Not that there isn’t a huge political risk involved in such a bold move. One must recall the effervescent, blow hot, blow cold attitude of the North Korea’s military leadership that has in the past poured cold water over any of the overtures by the former President Kim Dae-jung. It has repeatedly hoodwinked its negotiating partners, be it Washington or Seoul. In the present context, one may be tempted to agree with the critics that both Trump & Moon have walked the extra mile to accommodate Kim & allow him manoeuvrability back home.

However there are sceptics who wouldn’t want us to believe that all is hunky dory. They say that the rapprochement between North and South Korea has nothing to do with rekindled friendship, De Telegraaf comments“. Everything points to North Korea simply needing money. The economic sanctions have weakened the country to such an extent that Pyongyang had no choice but to ask for help. And it’s easier to ask the older brother in South Korea for help than it is to ask the Yankees in America. Seoul seems ready to provide (financial) aid in the hope that this will finally lead to a real improvement in relations between the two countries. It’s also a good way to try to sideline the US in the conflict on the Korean Peninsula.”

Another expert Vitaly Kulyk, director of Kiev’s Centre for Civil Society, describes for news agency Unian the role China could have played in recent developments. It must be borne in mind that North Korea is not an independent global player. Clearly Beijing’s influence on Pyongyang has made an impact in the present case. Beijing wants to reduce tensions and improve its relations with Japan, South Korea and the US. Beijing and Washington have entered a new round of their trade war whose consequences China wants to limit by making certain concessions. One of these could be the talks between Seoul and Pyongyang.”

Regardless of how & why the glacier of hatred & animosity has begun to melt in the Korean Peninsula, we must all let peace to prosper. There has been enough of rancour, bloodshed & capriciousness for a prolonged period of history & that has deprived the innocent citizens’ fruits of modern day development. A world that has witnessed the fall of Berlin wall, strengthening of democracies & where trade & commerce hold sway over petty politicking & personal egos, it is time the two Koreas followed suit.