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Eureka: Five phases of Korean government Eureka: Five phases of Korean government
by Jay Gutman
2017-11-30 08:41:04
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Since the end of the Korean war in 1953, I've identified five phases of inter-Korean relations. There was the first phase from 1953 to 1974 which was what I'll call the “attempt at unification” phase. Then there was the second phase, roughly from 1974 to 1997, let's call that the schizogenesis phase. Then there was the 1997 to 2007 phase, let's call it détente. Then there was the 2007 to 2017 phase, let's call that one the “war of words and propaganda war” phase. Then, now in 2017 there's what I'll call the question mark phase.

korea01_400_03Let me break these phase down for you. When the 1953 armistice was signed, both Koreas seemed to reflect heavily on unification. There were regular talks of holding national elections where candidates from both Koreas could run. General Kim Il Sung was confident he would win any election, while South Korea tried to negotiate a political system where the Communists would have to govern in coalitions and were trying to find ways to design a government where the Communists would be “swallowed” by a coalition. North Korea wanted a Presidential system, South Korea wanted more of an Italian or Israeli system, perhaps with a president as a symbolic figure with limited terms and a strong Prime Minister but who would be weakened by loose coalitions.

During the 1953 to 1974 phase, North Korea was actually doing better than the South by all indicators. North Korea made it clear it was not a Soviet sattelite and did not take orders from the Soviet Union, but had decent trading partnerships with China and the USSR and experienced decent economic growth. South Korean on the other hand, with virtually no natural resources, had to sell hair (for wig purposes), babies (for adoption purposes) to gain hard currency. Thank God organ transplants were not the medical norm back then.

There were three “mini-phases” during the 1953 to 1974 phase. There was the Syngman Rhee phase from 1953 to 1960 which had radical anti-Communist views. Syngman Rhee did not read Korean and mainly corresponded in English, but spoke Korean fluently and was trying to think of a way of unifying Korea, at one point contemplating a return to the Monarchy, perhaps a parlimentary Monarchy. Then there was the 1960 “revolution” in South Korea, where Rhee was ousted and a coalition government was formed, with Yun Po Sum as president and Chang Yong as Prime Minister. Initially the idea was to establish coalition-led governments for a few years before North Korea would accept to play the game. But, South Koreans being notorious for their impatience, saw students marching “for peace” toward North Korea in 1961 in the hopes of quickly organizing unified elections. Any election would have been a landslide win for the Communists, until the Army in the South decided to act on May 16, 1961 by establishing a stronger Presidential system and outing the coalition government.

The third “mini-phase” was 1961 to 1974, where South Korea had a strong nationalist government, the economy started growing at a faster pace, industrialization was in place, but North Korea was still interested in holding national elections. There were several talks for unification, but both North Korea and South Korea had hardline approaches on governence and there were few moderates at the time. There were talks of a Federal government but in the end the hardliners often seemed to disagree. Rumors of national unified elections were frequent between 1971 and 1974, until the assassination attempt on Park Chung Hee by a North Korea sympathizer, which led to talks to collapse.

The second phase was the 1974 to 1997 phase. This is a phase where both Koreas increasingly adopted a hardline approach against the other regime and there were frequent rumors that a war could break out between the two sides. Communist or socialist sympathizers were frequently arrested in South Korea, along with anyone who opposed authoritarianism or nationalism. This phase also has what I would call three “mini-phases”

The first “mini-phase” was 1974 to 1979 and was the ultra-natioanlist phase on both sides. Both North Korea and South Korea adopted hardline propaganda measures. In both countries people had to stand any time the national anthem would play, be it in a movie theater, in a café or even at home. In both countries nationalist music was played in the streets. Any music album had to contain at least one song honoring the nation or the leader. South Korea eventually experienced industrial riots in 1979 when workers were fed up with stagnating wages, long working hours and an increasing number of cruel and unusual punishments for any worker who would protest.

In 1979 Park Chung Hee was assassinated by one of the heads of his spy agency, allegedly for instructing the spy agency to repress riots in Masan, near Busan, when the head of the spy agency was from Masan and took the order personally. The second phase was the Chun Doo Hwan and Roh Tae Woo phase, two generals, childhood friends, best friends, who succeded each other at the presidency. There were few talks of unification at the time and occasioanal rumors of war. But economic development became the driving force in South, along with dealing with the frequent student demonstrations in South Korea. Students were allegedly manipulated by North Korean propaganda that came in the forms of radio jamming, and if you were a university professor in South Korea between 1980 and 1990, you probably never taught a class.

The third “mini-phase” was the South Korean democratization phase from 1993 to 1997, as the government was mainly focused on calming the youth, including by providing very generous loans and credit advantages, which led to the 1997 near-collapse of the South Korean economy. North Korea meanwhile dealt with its own economic tragedy, but acquired the nuclear weapon.

 The third phase is what could be called the “détente” phase or a phase where the two Koreas attempted reconciliation. A softer diplomatic approach was held, Presidents from North and South Korea had frequent talks, information channels were established, and South Korea helped the North overcome its economic tragedy. The “Sunshine policy” was instituted starting the year 2000, where the goal was economic and political cooperation between the two Koreas. The idea was to gradually rid both sides of hardliners and gradually build governments with moderates, which would lead to a peaceful unification.

2007 was the year a hardliner was elected to power in South Korea with a landslide victory, as hardliners criticized North Korea for stockpiling weapons and were increasingly dubious of North Korean intentions. That's when a war of words and propaganda wars started. North Korean propaganda included promoting a stress free environment and a country with “0 suicides” when the suicide rate in South Korea was among the highest in the world. South Korea promoted “opulence and economic power” in North Korea. South Korean film, music and entertainment productions increasingly had North Korea in mind, while North Korea tried to promote films and documentaries where “women don't need plastic surgery to be pretty or to go to Kim Il Sung University to make their families proud.” South Korean demonstrations of military power were met with North Korean nuclear tests.

The war of words became increasingly brittle and the threats gradually became delusional. That is until South Korean president Park Geun Hye was removed from office and Moon Jae In was elected president. Now we have entered to question mark phase. Some talk about two independent states with mutual recognition and diplomatic relations. Others talk about a unified federal state. Some talk about increased economic cooperation in exchange for a denuclearized state. But the main question remains the hardliners. Over the last year, several hardliners were voted out of office, and South Korea has several domestic issues it needs to graple with. Hardliners in South Korea are increasingly associated with corruption and abuse of power in domestic politics. My recommendation? All I can say is I would play the multilateral diplomacy card. The end.

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