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Friday, December 10, 2010

To Own People or Land?

“The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea is an independent socialist state representing the interests of all the Korean people.”i Boldly and unabashedly, the DPRK constitution remains vehement testimony right there that the both Koreas claim legitimacy and even moral superiority over the entire peninsula. The ROK does not claim anything less: “The territory of the Republic of Korea shall consist of the Korean peninsula and its adjacent islands.”ii It comes as a surprise, then, that publicly South Korea and North Korea could pretend diplomacy in a hug when the two nations officially do not even regard each other as nations. The South claims all the land in the North and the North claims all the people in the South: the differences and similarities in these views set up the Korean paradox.

The Constitution of the DPRK focuses on representing the people because they consider the South Koreans as prisoners. Charles Armstrong explains that after the Korean War, Kim Il Sung capitalized on “the siege mentality” to further consolidate power, but more importantly, that Pyongyang really, actually believes that the United States wants to control the peninsula and started the Korean War.iii The expert who wrote that the “Republic of Korea president” reference in the KWP newspaper was more striking than the hug must have understood something fundamentally different about the way that Pyongyang views Seoul: as a puppet state of the US. While the South Koreans did consider the Kim dictatorship as puppet under the Soviets for a long time, as Shin explains that attitude changed during the period of Sunshine policy where a relationship began directly with North Korea,iv and now the South views the Kim dictatorship itself as actively controlling the people. Shin, writing in 2001, believed that North Korea had also ceased to view the South as an illegitimate puppet controlled by a foreign government; however, the recent military provocations indicate that Kim Jong Il still maintains his dedication to freeing the South Korean people from oppressive US control. Indeed, a recent documentary put out by National Geographic showed a man healed from blindness yelling to please Kim Jong Il that with his new eyes he would take a gun and rid the world of all Americans—not South Korean government tyrants. North Korea's enemy is not South Korea, but the US, and the Constitution thus claims the South Korean people.

The ROK Constitution focuses on the right to the peninsular territory because the South Koreans did not consider Pyongyang as passive fools but as active usurpers. Quite possibly Southern leaders felt betrayed upon finding that Kim Il Sung did NOT want unification—at any rate, in the Constitution tthe South Koreans do not want to “liberate” the Northern populace, but rather take back their country, almost as if from invaders. One could say that Kim Il Sung validated this view when he invaded South Korea in the Korean War, and it comes as little surprise then that people considered Kim Il Sung as an imposter of the legendary war hero.v When Kim preaches, he focuses on how “we” must defeat the US, as liberator offering guidance and rousing up the passive. In contrast, even back when Rhee considers North Korea a Soviet puppet he calls out in the second person, not “we” but “you” to the North,iv emphasizing the action of the other. Today, the peace talks and the aid attempts demonstrate that while the South Koreans no longer view the North entirely as an evil entity, they do continue to view the North Koreans as actors in their own destiny, not as pawns. They believe that the North Koreans can actually make a diplomatic decision to reason with them, while the North Koreans still believe that the South needs liberation from the US; hence, the recent North Korean military action, and the seemingly lax Southern response.

The Constitutions thus illustrate how the embrace and the article come into being as part of a paradox. Despite the diplomatic appearance, both nations officially recognize the other in some enmity or even as illegitimate, and Syngman Rhee did not refuse to sign the armistice for no reason. South Korea viewed and in some ways still views the North as an active danger, first as a Soviet pawn and now in its own right. North Korea viewed and definitely still views the South as a pawn of the US. Only time will tell how the paradox will resolve itself.

i. DPRK Constitution (1998), Article 1

ii. ROK Constitution (1987), Article 3

iii. Armstrong, Charles. “Necessary Enemies: Anti-Americanism, Juche Ideology, and the Torturous Path to Normalization.” Working Paper Series WP-O83, Columbia University: Department of History, 2008

iv. Shin, Gi-Wook. Ethnic Nationalism in Korea. (Stanford, California: Stanford University Press, 2001) 151

v. Ibid.
vi. Ibid, 153

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