The Korean Peninsula is divided into two, the northern part is officially called The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, while the southern part is simply The Republic of Korea. Unofficially, the world knows these two respectively as North and South Korea.
North Korea is a ‘socialist’ state, with borders to the north with China, to the north-east with Russia; to the west is Korea Bay and the Yellow Sea; to the east is the Sea of Japan. Very asiatic. Separation from South Korea is provided by a demilitarized zone of 1,262 kilometres.
In the seventh century the Silla dynasty united the peninsula, and was then succeeded by the Koryo dynasty (935), and after that the Yi dynasty, ruling from 1392 to 1910 (518 years) as a vassal of China. But in 1910 Korea was annexed by Japan: following the Axis Powers’ defeat in 1945 it was partitioned along the 38th parallel (meaning latitude 38º), and occupied in the north by communist Soviet soldiers, and in the south by American non-communist forces. This meant serious future trouble, but the statesmen of the day did not appear to notice.
The Korean War lasted from 1950 to 1953; it was fought between these two armies, north and south, the United States assisted by British and Commonwealth troops and aircraft. Like all wars it was avoidable, bloody and useless, unless an intolerable reduction in the large civilian population can be considered useful. There were reunification talks in 1980, twenty-seven years after the ‘end’ of the War, though they were interrupted by North Korea’s walk-out. Further talks between north and south took place ten years later in 1990, and then again in 1997/9. They met again in the year 2000. This time more satisfactory conclusions were reached.
Power in the north lies in the hands of the Korean Workers’ Party (wholly Communist), whose leader is always the President. Kim-Il Sung was President from 1972 until his death in 1994, and his son Kim-Chong II occupied the presidency until 2011, when his youngest son Kim-Jong Un took over. There was wailing and gnashing of teeth after this ascendancy, as American and other powers look a little askance at this unpredictable young member of the new North Korean dynasty.
North Korea prefers spending its revenues on armaments and armies, and there is a permanent food shortage, thanks to economic mismanagement and natural disasters. The country frequently asks for and gets international aid, while she augments her nuclear arms programme. Naturally she assures helpful nations that she is ‘rationalizing’ the programme, but actually she is not. Mediated with tongue in cheek by China, talks take place often between the United States and North Korea. President Bush once memorably called the latter ‘the Axis of Evil’.
(Democratic) South Korea is bounded to the west by the Yellow Sea, and to the east by the Sea of Japan; to the south is the Korean Strait; to the north there is just North Korea. Her economy is among the world’s best, due to intelligent development of heavy industry, electronics and of course the production and massive selling of excellent motor cars. Tensions with North Korea are permanent because of her nuclear programme, and scares are frequent. American bases seem to be a permanent and costly fixture, but given the peculiarities of the actual North Korean Communist President, they will probably stay there – at least during the lifetime of Mr Kim-Jong Un.