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The Challenges of Trustpolitik in North-South Korean Relations

Ryu Gyung Ah


Yonsei Institute for North Korean Studies

As a result of the conferences in the midst of the confrontation between North Korea and South Korea, a joint statement was produced by the two sides on August 25th 2015. Having temporarily resolved the crisis, it was anticipated that there would be a change for the better in North-South relations. Shortly thereafter, however, tension arose between the two countries. While measures of the joint statement were being implemented, on September 14th North Korea threatened a rocket launch. There were already predictions that this would occur on October 10th, the 70th anniversary of the Workers’ Party of Korea. In Kim Jong Un’s 2015 New Year’s Speech, affirming his position as chairman of the National Defense Commissions, he expressed that as the 70th year since national liberation and founding of the Workers’ Party of Korea, it would be a year of revolutionary occasions. Regarding the industry of national defense, he proposed the duty to develop cutting-edge munitions production and step up the scale of national defense. It was emphasized that the Party’s four-point strategic line and three major tasks would increase military strength.

Strengthening Kim Jong Un’s system has displayed a shift from the “Songun” (military first) era. However, the army, is to implement the Party’s ideas and safeguard its policies, as it was prescribed as infrastructure for establishing the monolithic command system. The Party and military’s dualistic power in the Songun policy, introduced during Kim Jong Il’s era, changed to a system where the Workers’ Party, alone, had power. Furthermore, the Party’s formal system of decision making was used to announce Kim Jong Un’s legitimacy. The 70th anniversary of the Workers’ Party of Korea is significant to the power of Kim Jong Un’s system and reestablishing the authority of the Party. To show the people North Korea’s national development, and its opposition to the imperialism of South Korea and the United States, the rocket launch was made official. But South Korea, the United States, Japan, and even China are concerned about the rocket launch. Rocket launching has previously led to a vicious cycle resulting in UN Security Council sanctions, followed by nuclear tests. North Korea already adopted a law on consolidating its position as a nuclear weapons state for self-defense back in 2013. Through cooperation, South Korea, the United States, and Japan are strengthening the response to North Korea. Nevertheless, there has been no effective method to prevent North Korea’s rocket launch. There does not seem to be a tool for resolving domestic politics through international affairs.

On the contrary, human rights, which has become an issue in North Korea-South Korea relations once again, has been thoroughly limited to international affairs. However, there has been a change in North Korea’s response. On September 16th and 17th 2015, officials from the North Korean Embassy disrupted a seminar on human rights in North Korea by the Citizens’ Alliance for North Korean Human Rights and Indonesian human rights organization ELSAM at Universitas Indonesia. Although there are events on human rights regarding North Korea all over the world, this is the first time that North Korean authorities have attended and responded aggressively at an NGO event. In the aftermath of the event, the North Korean ambassador in Indonesia was replaced. In the 70th UN General Assembly, President Park Geun-Hye asked for the active response of the international community regarding nuclear and human rights issues in North Korea. After a report from the Commision of Inquiry on Human Rights in the DPRK was announced, the international community has taken action to improve the North Korean human rights situation. The UN opened an office for investigating North Korea’s human rights violations in June, as North Korea’s loss of dignity on an international level due to human rights issues can lead to domestic problems in the country. What was once considered an echo from the international community has become a threat in North Korea. This is due to government efforts and years of work from many organizations towards giving North Korean human rights violations greater attention in the international society.

The Park Geun-hye administration’s policy to establish trustpolitik in North Korea has various obstacles. The main one being North Korea’s repeated military threats. Also, breaking the August 25 2015 Inter-Korean agreement has been detrimental to building trust. Failure to comply with an agreement throws away mutual trust. Furthermore, what is even more important, is to build trust in numerous ways. There are currently many limitations on building trust from agreements by high ranking officials. Through a variety of issues such as economics, culture, sports, education, labor and the environment, regarding regions and civilians, there must be an increase in opportunities for interactions. This does not simply refer to economic assistance. The first sector of the nation, the second sector of the market, and the third sector of civil society should all participate in North Korea-South Korea relations and cooperation. The diversion and pressure will create a window of shared connection to solve North Korea’s domestic and international affairs. Small changes from the market and civil societies will be slow but gradual in the international society and market. In areas the government cannot influence, other relevant sectors will participate using a method other than political power. This may become the tool that ultimately links domestic issues with international affairs.

Translated by Hyunju Ban

***The views herein do not necessarily represent the views of North Korean Review, YINKS, or Yonsei University.

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