While many believe that the Democratic Peoples Republic of Korea’s (DPRK) vision of a unified Korea is one where they take over and impose communism, in fact government policy is for a federalized state where both sides keep their economic and political systems. Said state was to be known as the Democratic Confederal Republic of Koryo (DCRK)
Yet while unification by any means has not been achieved yet, it does remain the goal, officially at least for both governments, with many now favoring some kind of federation, or customs union, rather than the “German Model”.
The Peoples Republic of Korea and the Korean War
Many do not realize that prior to the division of Korea into North and South there briefly existed a unified state known as the Peoples Republic of Korea.
The state was proclaimed from the ashes of World War Two and represented all facets of the political spectrum from nationalists to socialists and of course communists. Peoples committees were created that oversaw the surrender the Japanese from the end of August 1945, before the Peoples Republic was officially declared on September 6th.
Sadly as the USSR and the USA descended on the peninsula, the committees were coopted in the north by the Soviets, while being repressed in south, until the Peoples Republic was banned outright there on December 12th 1945.
The reason for its ban have been hotly debated, but many have concluded that had the Koreans been left alone to from there own nation, that the Peoples Republic of Korea would like have been a left-wing one, something the USA could simply not allow.
What followed of course was the proclamation of both the Democratic Peoples Republic of Korea and the Republic of Korea, two superpower sponsored states that would keep pushing each other until the Korean War started.
Who started the Korean War is still a question that is constantly debated, with both claiming it was the other side. In actuality it does not matter who fired the first shot, as both sides wanted not just a war, but a chance to reunify the country in their own image.
The war, which was initially almost won by the north was of course repelled by United Nations forces, before Chinese volunteers would ensure the stalemate that would lead to the armistice and the current state of affairs.
The Second Korean War
At the end of the Korean War both sides initially concentrated their efforts on rebuilding their respective countries, something that was arguable achieved faster in the north.
By the 1960’s though with both sides being in better shape, reunification by force was again back on the cards. This led to a number of low level clashes between north and south at the DMZ between 1966 and 1969, as well as a number of more overt actions.
These included the Blue House Raid, the capturing of the USS Pueblo, as well as the creation of the Revolutionary Party for Reunification in the south by the DPRK, an entity that still exists today as the Anti-Imperialist National Democratic Front.
Things though remained “cold”, with it soon becoming clear that neither side would win.
The North-South Joint Statement
Taking advantage of the visit of Nixon to China, South Korean President Park Chung Hee initiated what were initially low level talks between north and south, but would later involve Kim Il-Sung and result in the 1972 North-South Joint-Statement.
The statement put forth the Three Principles of Reunification: firstly, reunification must be solved independently without interference from or reliance on foreign powers; secondly, reunification must be realized in a peaceful way without use of armed forces against each other; and lastly that, reunification transcend the differences of ideologies and institutions to promote the unification of Korea as one ethnic group.
In essence the prelude to the Confederal Republic of Koryo
The Confederal Republic of Koryo
While the end of the so called Second Korean War came as Vietnam was reunified, as well as Laos and Cambodia to falling to communism, as the South Korean economy grew it became clear that a socialist revolution in the country was unlikely.
Initially touted by President Kim Il Sung in 1973, it was in 1980 that the finer points of the Democratic Confederal Republic of Koryo (DCRK) were put forward. Principal among these were that both sides would and should be allowed to keep their own political ideologies and institutions, while a unified Supreme National Assembly comprised of an equal number of representatives from north and south would form a nationally unified government.
This unified government would thus select a head of state to represent the new Koryo nation, while remaining politically neutral, meaning the removal of US forces from South Korea.
Of course nothing has since come of this plan, with other peace initiatives, such as the June 15th North-South Joint Declaration, as well as the Panmunjom Declaration for Peace Prosperity and Reunification of the Korean Peninsula have since followed, said proposal by President Kim Il-Sung remains the official government policy of the DPRK.
What might actual reunification look like?
While a Confederal Republic of Koryo as guided by the DPRK is unlikely any time soon, thoughts on reunification have moved far on from hopes that the north will simply fall and be absorbed by the south. Many scholars now propose some form of federalized government, even if the regime in the north were to fall, with the economic disparities now so vast that the south would arguably struggle to incorporate the north even if it wanted to.
But it is not just economics at play here, but also that over the last almost 80 years two very distinct cultures have emerged, meaning any unified state would have to respect these differences.
Therefore a unified Korea would at the start at least have to be done as some form of federation, or customs union that for a time at least would keep the status quo of there being two separate states operating on the peninsula. Not all that different to the Confederal Republic of Koryo, as proposed by President Kim Il Sung some 40+ years ago.