The three Koreas

Conference by Patrick Maurus, professor emeritus of Korean language and literature at INALCO.

Patrick Maurus begins his presentation with an unexpected last-minute announcement: North Korea (DPRK) and South Korea (DRC) have submitted a joint bid for the 2032 Olympics.

This underlines that relations between the two countries are in the process of normalization since the signing of a non-aggression agreement, the 27 April 2018. For a year now and in all discretion, the two Koreas have entered a phase of negotiations and decision-making that is changing the policy of Kim Il-sung (1912-1994) and the South Korea-US relationship. shaking the yoke of the big protector brother. Both countries now seem able to overcome multiple contradictions and work together. The presidents, Kim Jong-un (born in 1984) and Moon Jae-in (born in 1953) are young and have time before them to realize their projects. It must also be taken into account that the powerful South Korean business promotes trade with the DPRK. The special economic zones are in full development and are being filled with Chinese, Russian and many Asian-Pacific countries.

Since partitioning into 1953, North Korea belonged to the Soviet socialist world even though it was ruled for Marxists or Socialists in an unorthodox way. What has happened in the DPRK over the past 30 years to explain the development of relations with South Korea and the extraordinary growth experienced by Chinese Korea in a deafening silence on the part of the great powers?

North Korea, up to 1975, was significantly richer than South Korea, but the wear of power led to catastrophic decisions. As a result, the socialist countries (USSR, East Germany, China) that had helped rebuild it, finding that it was becoming a bottomless pit, decided to reduce or stop their support. The country has taken the opportunity to gain some political independence but has sunk into an economic slump. At a time when the whole world is celebrating the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, Kim Il-sung is organizing the World Student and Youth Festival, which will bring all the students and youth of the countries for the last time socialists, but definitely ruin the country. From 1990 to 2005, the DPRK experienced famine, called "the hard walk", amplified by years of drought or heavy rains. Kim Jonj-il (1941-2011), son of Kim Il-sung, inherits this disaster in 1994. Hated by the whole world, he was rather appreciated in his country because he began to make important and structured reforms. Kim Jong-un continues the reforms of his father but without changing anything officially. The large, useless ministries, with the bloated bureaucracy, are maintained, but the president creates small entities which, in the shadows, are the work of the former: agriculture is managed by the Office for the Preservation of Water and Forests (64 people ). Large kolkhozes (2000 to 5000 people) have disappeared to be replaced by small structures or groups of villages (300-350 people) and these villages are divided into teams of four or five people. Tasks are scheduled for each day and productivity has risen dramatically. It must be remembered that mechanization is still in its infancy and all the work is manual. For Kim Jong-un, his grandfather created the country, his father put an end to the famine but he wants to transform the country totally. It seems that today there are privatized companies; trade between China and the DPRK is intense; likewise, North Koreans pass to Russia without a visa or passport. The development of seaside sites on the East Coast is one of the major projects to attract Chinese or Russian holidaymakers. While electricity is not yet available everywhere, many North Koreans have a mobile phone from China. North Korea is extraordinarily patient in international negotiations because of its geological and geological location, which gives it countless advantages: huge beaches that neither Northeast China nor the Russian Far East possess; a subsoil full of rare metals that the industry will need more and more. As Kim Jong-un has time as an ally, he does not really rush things.

It is interesting to note that trade relations between the DPRK, Russia and China are flourishing, these two countries having voted sanctions at the UN! There are quite a few maritime connections between North Korea and Vladivostok. In 2014, the Russian Duma voted to cancel 90% of the 11 billion DPRK debt. There is a plan to extend the Trans-Siberian to the Korean peninsula. This is also of interest to South Korea because it would allow it to no longer be isolated and to be able to receive Russian coal directly. Another project could see the light of day, the creation of a giant gas pipeline that would cross North Korea to feed the South.

During the famine of the 1990 years, only the cadres of the army and the state were favored but the guards posted on the Chinese-Korean border let pass crowds, as hungry as them, who were going to barter. The eastern part of the country was abandoned and the big loser of this situation was the Workers Party. Farms were set up with a communitarianism program and agriculture left without tractors, without fertilizer and with a colossal need for seeds which generated traffic with China. The large administrative and popular structures have disappeared on this occasion. For the thirtieth Party congress, all the most anti-North Korean media were invited and continued to say that the country was still ruled by it. Outside, following the intervention of Kim Jong-un, the Workers Party became the Leader Party. The DPRK is governed today by the Party, the Army and a Council of Ministers. The latter, made up of about thirty people independent of major structures, makes all the new economic decisions and really makes the country work. The education system encourages scientific careers to develop the country with the reward of a very high standard of living for scientists. There is now an urban class (average) facing the peasants and the poor of the big cities have more means than the rich of the countryside. The army, which is a state within the state, has its own economic system, its universities, and so on.

Ji'an, a city in China's Jilin Province, is connected by a railway bridge to Manpho in North Korea. Former capital of the kingdom of Goguryeo (37 BC-668), it houses fortresses and many tombs classified as World Heritage by UNESCO. But the region also lives to the rhythm of the creation of many factories and various businesses. North Korea does for China what it once did for South Korea and Japan: outsourcing. China is using Korea as a spearhead to take care of the two Koreas but will never let the three countries reunite.

North Korea is open to development. It has become the most environmentally friendly country on the planet for obvious reasons of technological backwardness. The nuclear threat is essentially used to negotiate and the DPRK, which does not want to be told what to do, maintains close relations with South Korea, under the nose of the US. The political evolution of the DPRK suggests that Kim Jong-un is finally able to impose his political line even on irreformable bureaucrats. We are not applying new rules to old situations, we are only applying them to new situations, which gives the impression of not calling into question the old system to which the bureaucrats owe everything.

The evolution of South Korea and Chinese Korea will determine that of the DPRK and for Patrick Maurus, it is the institutional and political empowerment of these three entities that will facilitate their economic and cultural convergence.


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