This week’s edition of the Pyongyang Times contains an editorial praising what the author sees as clear changes in the regional as well as geopolitical alignment of South Korea. The North Korean editorial also praises a positive shift in the public attitude among South Koreans regarding the value placed on certain foreign partnerships as well as the overall mentality among South Koreans in favour of a robust and irreversible peace process. As the Pyongyang Times is a DPRK state-operated publication printed in English and French, it can be surmised that elements of the DPRK government have used the editorial in order to convey Pyongyang’s own rapidly changing feelings about South Korea to a wide international audience that ought to include foreign diplomats concerned with the Korean peace process. Therefore, the article requires close examination as it is indicative of Pyongyang’s stance vis-a-vis Seoul going into 2019.
The entire editorial can be read below as it is important for observers to understand the full tone, context and political positions conveyed in the deeply important piece:
“South Koreans’ enthusiasm for national independence has bubbled up to an unprecedented level this year.
Their will to reject foreign interference and put an end to national division in the spirit of “By Our Nation Itself” stood out conspicuously after the adoption of the historic September Pyongyang Joint Declaration.
The South Headquarters of the Pan-National Alliance for Korea’s Reunification, headquarters of the movement for conclusion of peace agreement, youth and students headquarters of the South Committee for the Implementation of the June 15 Joint Declaration (June 15 South Committee), students’ alliance for progress and other social organizations and people conducted various activities such as rally, demonstration, distribution of handouts and signature-collecting campaign as they denounced the US for placing an obstacle to the internal affairs of the Korean nation in every way while clamouring for “speed control” in north-south relations.
South Koreans from all walks of life said that there is no justification for outside forces to interfere in the internal affairs of the nation, strongly urging them to work for durable peace in the Korean peninsula, rather than hampering the development of inter-Korean relations and national reunification.
They underscored the need to cooperate with the north on the principle of national independence and unity even though foreign intervention and meddling get more intensive. A south Korean news agency recently called for holding north-south dialogue and cooperation independently, saying inter-Korean relations should not fall prey to the “alliance” with foreign forces.
The June 15 South Committee, the students’ alliance for progress and other reunification-oriented and students’ organizations launched a pan-national signature campaign in demand of the US lifting of anti-DPRK sanctions and adoption of a declaration of termination of war, saying the relinking of north-south railway is the symbol and start of peace on the Korean peninsula and it is a precious dream of students to go to Pyongyang aboard a “reunification” train.
The Confederation of Democratic Trade Unions, the solidarity for people’s sovereignty and other civil society organizations said in comments and interviews that a new era of peace and prosperity is being ushered in thanks to the publication of the Panmunjom Declaration and the DPRK-US Joint Statement, there will be no reason for US troops to remain in south Korea when the declaration of termination of war is adopted, and September 8 when the US occupied south Korea must be the day of GI withdrawal.
It is quite natural that the south Korean people want to go along the road of national independence, rather than depending on and following outside forces.
As the issues of inter-Korean relations and national reunification are the internal affairs of the Korean nation at all points, there is no justification for outside forces to interfere in them.
The path ahead of the Korean nation was, is and will be the road of ‘By Our Nation Itself’ in which all compatriots share the same intention and join efforts”.
Notably, while the vast majority of DPRK approved articles about South Korea have historically ranged from the highly critical to the hostile, this editorial praises both the people of South Korea as well as the political decisions that the Blue House has taken during Moon Jae-in’s first full year in office.
This is symptomatic of several things. First of all, the DPRK is clearly attempting to foster ever closer fraternal feelings with the South by so publicly declaring Pyongyang’s official enthusiasm for the changes that Moon Jae-in has made in terms of creating an atmosphere of openness with the DPRK after responding positively to Kim Jong-un’s 2018 new year message when he called for improved relations and connectivity with the South. As the article was printed in a DPRK publication aimed at non-Koreans, it can be further extrapolated that the article is meant to emphasise matters that are becoming increasingly self-evident to Koreans themselves, but which have not yet penetrated the wider international consciousness.
Beyond this, the editorial’s author is attempting to encourage South Koreans to stay the course in respect of supporting Moon Jae-in’s administration that has called for a virtually immediate reduction in sanctions against the DPRK (notably Moon has joined Russia and China in making this call). Likewise, the editorial expresses the DPRK’s approval of the fact that Seoul has largely defied the US by going ahead with funding and building a new modern railway that will link North to South, thus indicating long term infrastructural plans to solidify an atmosphere of openness in a new era of peace.
While some right-wing South Koreans might feel upset at the “presumptuous” tone taken in the editorial, the reality of both Pyongyang and Seoul’s policies is portrayed with remarkable accuracy in the piece, thus challenging the knee-jerk international reaction to label all official writings from the DPRK as little more than propaganda. While Seoul has not advocated the complete withdrawal of US troops from Korea as the article’s lone critical paragraph demands, as the US has already rolled back the extent of its military exercises in Korea, while Donald Trump has indicated a long term possibility of withdrawing troops from Korea, even this section of the editorial does not stray too far from realism into idealism (or fantasy as some would say).
Crucially, the overall tone of the article is one of fraternal solidarity with the South. This is based largely on the fact that for a country seen as under the thumb of American policy markers, under Moon Jae-in, South Korea has quietly and incrementally defied the US in seeking to pursue economic and cultural openness with the North during rather than after the de-nuclearisation process. At the same time, as Seoul’s relations with both China and Russia reaches all time highs while simultaneous to this, Seoul has found Washington to be less than amendable to its long standing ally in respect of offering tariff exemptions in the midst of Donald Trump’s global trade war, the idea that South Korea is slowly pivoting towards a more independent position in the world is not just wishful thinking on the part of the DPRK – it is a manifest reality, albeit one that is far more subtle than it is overt.
Below is Eruasia Future’s assessment that Kim Jong-un and Moon Jae-in should both be named as joint “men of the year” due to the peaceful progress they have made together – often in defiance of external pressures. While Kim’s emergence as a major international figure has captured the global imagination, Moon has likewise moved political mountains to achieve a Korean owned, authored and executed peace process. Clearly , official DPRK journalists realise this fact even though many in the wider world have yet to apprehend it.
It has become increasingly common for media outlets to name a “person of the year” every December. Such an individual’s achievements should be consistent with that of someone who has positively impacted world events either at a local, regional, national or most commonly, at an international level. This year has been filled with many larger than life individuals doing larger than life things, but on the whole, it is clear that two individuals should share the title of person of the year: Kim Jong-un and Moon Jae-in.
First of all, there is Kim Jong-un. The DPRK (North Korea) leader began 2018 by extending an olive branch of peace to Seoul in his New Year’s message. What has followed has been an unprecedented year of peace, human connectivity and positive political and diplomatic exchange between the artificially divided Korean people. After decades of hostility following the Armistice of 1953 which ended one of the most devastating wars of the modern era, the young Kim Jong-un made the history changing decision to embrace patriotic minded reforms which will help to open the DPRK to new forms of prosperity guided by the power of peace which will simultaneously protect the dignity of the Korean people from far away interference in their national life, all the while safeguarding their unique cultural characteristics.
Throughout the year, Kim Jong-un has had to strike a balance between defending his nation against traditional American intrigue while also looking to open up new diplomatic avenues throughout the world, but most importantly to the South. During his historic meeting with Donald Trump in Singapore, it became clear that the Kim Jong-un era would be one of unexpected surprises – all of which have been deeply positive in so far as they have promote a spirit of peace, optimism, genuine hope and enlightenment.
The man whose leadership was once highly enigmatic has proved himself to be a passionate, dignified and affable diplomat whose tireless engagements with multiple nations including all three superpowers has come to author a new chapter in the pages of pan-Asian history, one which looks to usher in a golden era of Korean peace through prosperity.
But while Kim Jong-un was the first to extend an olive branch to the South, the peace minded, level headed, intelligent and moderate South Korean President Moon Jae-in deserves an equal amount of credit for not just grabbing Kim’s olive branch but for running with it along side his fellow Korean leader. Moon’s rise to power was not an easy one. It has been revealed that in 2012, the far-right Park Geun-hye colluded with the domestic intelligence agencies to rig the Presidential election in her favour. Yet Park’s gross corruption resulted in the largest ever peaceful anti-government demonstrations in Korean history.
Park was eventually impeached and imprisoned which lead to a special election in 2017 which saw the rise of Moon to the Blue House. While Park once wickedly conspired to assassinate the leader of the DPRK, Moon inspired Kim Jong-un to think about building a better and brighter future on a collective and fraternal basis. As Moon ended his predecessor’s policy of hostility towards fellow Koreans, Kim responded in kind and the result has been nothing short of breathtaking.
From North and South Korean soldiers embracing as brothers while laying down their arms in the DMZ (demilitarised zone), to Kim and Moon signing friendship agreements in the Panmunjom peace village and the arrival of a joint Korean team at the Olympic Games and Asian Games – this has been a year of supreme success for the Korean people.
Based on the progress made by Kim and Moon, both Korean states are now standing united in opposition to anti-Pyongyang sanctions while both countries look with optimism to the Belt and Road initiative that can help to economically unify Korea on a people-centred, respectful and rational basis. Seoul’s contribution to a new trans-Korean rail system as well as joint projects in Korea spearheaded by neighbouring China and Russia look to positively transform the future for millions of Koreans. Throughout this process, Kim and Moon have weathered many a storm and confronted many challenges with grace and a superior sense of purpose.
And yet at this time last year, many felt that nuclear war would break out in Korea. With this in mind, it feels as though the adage “what a difference a year makes” could have been specifically authored to describe the difference between Korean politics in 2017 and 2018. Of course, it has been the positive mentality and hard work of both Kim Jong-un and Moon Jae-in that has made the difference.
While 2018 was filed with important events led by important individuals, 2018 was above all, the year when peace prevailed in Korea. This is why Kim Jong-un and Moon Jae-in are the joint winners of Eurasia Future’s “person of the the year”.