Political Relations Between the Two Koreas: Past Footsteps and Where it is Headed

November 18, 2018 by Yejin Kim


Ensuing from the previous two rounds of the inter-Korea summits, South Korean president Moon Jae-In has visited North Korea this September for the third North-South Korea summit, which carried on the peaceful wave in the Korean peninsula and served as a cornerstone for establishing a peace regime in Korea. Accordingly, there has been increased anticipation towards the reunification of the Korean peninsula, as well as a sense of security and relief following the peaceful relationship between the two Koreas. Inspired by such movement, this article will go over the past footsteps that were taken in order to achieve the status quo and discuss the prospect of a renewed political relationship between North and South Korea.

Since the establishment of two separate governments of North and South Korea in 1948, the Korean peninsula has been divided for 70 years. Thereafter, there has been a great deal of fluctuation in the relationship between the two neighboring, once united nations. Not long after the official partition of the Korean peninsula, the Korean War broke out in 1950, caused by the surprise attack of the North Korean army, which lasted for longer than three years until it called for a truce in 1953, introduced by the military armistice agreement between the two governments of Korea. The war brought about frostiness in the Korean peninsula and created political tension between the two nations.  

The political effort for building stepping stones for reunification was initiated during the third and fourth Republic of Korea. Under the Park Chung-Hee administration, the July 4 South-North Korea Joint Statement was concluded in 1972, which contained the “Three Principles of Reunification” including the guarantee of independence, peace, and racial unity. This statement was the first official document agreed by both parties, which adds the historical significance of it in terms of political movements towards reunification. Following such movement, the Kim Dae-Jung administration reached the pinnacle of an inter-Korean cooperation peace policy. The government enacted the so-called “Sunshine Policy”, which set an extremely amicable attitude toward North Korea. As a result, the Kim Dae-Jung administration managed to host the first ever inter-Korea summit in 2000, which is considered to be a significant breakthrough in the history of North-South Korean relationship. The second inter-Korean summit was held during Roh Moo-hyun's presidency.

However, the relationship between two Koreas faced a dramatic deterioration in the 2010s, beginning from the Lee Myung-Bak administration. There have been continuous nuclear tests that were enforced even despite the sanctions decided by the international society, especially coming from South Korea. During the Park Geun-Hye presidency, mounting tension between North and South Korea filled the air of the Korean peninsula due to continued nuclear tests, missile installations, and several bombardments by North Korea into the South Korean territory. Such wave of discord and extreme political tension was bent under the Moon Jae-In administration. President Moon concluded three rounds of inter-Korean summits, as well as the U.S. North Korea summit, and has reached an agreement between the North and South Korea regarding the halt of hostile military actions that become the root cause for the military tension and crash in all territories.

In the current status quo, the Korean peninsula is propelled towards a peace regime and reunification through many cooperative efforts of both governments. In the first inter-Korean summit of 2018, the Panmunjeom Declaration for Peace, Flourishment, and Reunification of the Korean peninsula was pronounced. The Declaration includes their commitment to the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula, the establishment of a permanent peace regime, and the promise of a groundbreaking improvement in the inter-Korean relationship. It also includes the pledge between the two Koreas to declare the end of the war in 2018 and actualize the denuclearized Korean peninsula. Furthermore, it contains future plans for establishing a North and South communal contact office and hosting reunion events for separated families.

At the current state of the inter-Korea relations, it would be expectable for the Korean people to anticipate the establishment of a permanent peace regime, which will lead to reinforced security as well as strengthened national sentiment. North and South Korea are slowly taking their steps toward a denuclearized, warless, unseparated, and united nation.

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