The relation between South Korea and North Korea is not simply in a situation of division, but it can be also seen as the field of conflicts between S.Korea-Japan-U.S. triple alliance and post-communist N.Korea-China-Russia. Then, how and why North Korea's recent land-mine provocation happened, and what are the backgrounds to all rapidly changing global situations in North East Asia? To find this out, understanding the circumstances in Korea and the neighboring nations are important.
South Korean President, Park, mentioned the unified Korea since January 2014. Considering the time period since her inauguration, it tells that President Park had planned and designed the unification of Korea since the beginning of her presidency. Starting from the remarks of the chief of the National Intelligence Service in late 2013, the new government revealed its plan slowly.
Seeing that the government had prepared for a long time for the unification, minor war or total war was fully expected. However, currently South Korean government does not want any war. In another word, there wouldn't be a unification by force. In addition to it, the U.S. State Department spokesman John Kirby welcomed the agreement announced by the two Koreas on CNN. This means that the U.S. also do not want any war between the Koreas.
President Park's fundamental keynotes for the unification is 'firm plans, decisive counterattacks on provocations, and cooperations on talks.' This is also why the recent tension resolved without any major military conflicts. Then, people may wonder, how will President Park unify the two Koreas? Let's go over one by one.
1. Kim Jung-un's System and Major Purges
Kim Jung-un's system suddenly started after the death of his father, Kim Jung-il. Because of his sudden death, the hereditary succession of Kim Jung-un ended up incomplete. A lot of experts in the area of political sciences and diplomacies predicted that the new system would be very unstable. As they expected, Kim started to purge people in large scale in order to harden the foundation of his unstable political powers. There, he started a 'La Terreur'.
When Kim Jung-il came to power, he purged about ten executives of the North Korean communist party for the first four years. Compared to this, Kim Jung-un purged about seventy executives, which is about seven times more than his father did. Among those purged people, Lee Young-ho and Byen In-seon were the core executives of North Korea. All these purged people were the hearts of running the North Korean communist party, and Kim strengthened the foundations of his system and rose as the supreme leader of North Korea.
Another matter to come in consideration is that these people purged were 'pro-Chinese' in North Korea. All of the previous leaders of North Korea kept a very close and strong relations with China, but Kim purged all of these 'major pro-Chinese personnel.' To understand this more, even more complicated internal Chinese political situation is related.
2. Relations between North Korea and Neighboring Nations
First of all, the current relation between North Korea and China is possibly the worst ever. After Kim arose as a new power, China quickly changed their thoughts toward North Korea. Let us see why.
The three people, Xi Jinping, Hu Jintao, and Jiang Zemin, were and still in power in China. Through the dictatorship in North Korea, to maintain a fine relation with China, North Korea placed several of pro-Chinese executives in their communist party. The purged pro-Chinese executives were among them. Lee Young-ho was pro-Hu Jintao; Byen In-seon was pro-Jiang Zemin; Jang Seong-taek was pro-Xi Jinping. Eventually, all of them and others were purged, resulting the crash down of the relations between China and North Korea.
First of all, on July of 2012, Lee Young-ho was purged. Lee was a person chosen by Kim Jung-il to support and to act as a guardian of Kim Jung-un if he comes to power. Lee had a lot of closeness with Chinese high-level personnel too. However, Lee was expected to be an obstacle for Kim as his guardian and will not obey his orders. Eventually, Lee was purged, and the connection between Hu Jintao and North Korea was lost. China expressed concern on this.
Second, on December of 2013, Jang Seong-taek was purged. China showed even more concerns and started to worry about losing their influences over North Korea. In truth, China needs North Korea to keep Western Forces off their border lines. Thus, although the behaviors of North Korea were unfavorable, it was beneficial for China to keep North Korea alive. Chinese government poured major efforts to keep pro-Chinese in North Korean government. So far, the closest and the most favorable person for China in North Korea was Jang Seong-taek. Xi Jinping had a picture of developing and improving the situation of North Korea under the help of Jang, but all the plans became useless after he was purged. Moreover, Jang was a great effort made by China to keep pro-Chinese in the core of North Korea for a long time.
Third, on January of 2015, Byen In-seon was purged. Byen was a conventional military power executive who had numerous influences from Jiang Zemin since Kim Jung-il's system. He was purged because he refused the Kim's order, which was to cut all military hotlines with China and mainly focus on the military relations with Russia. Byen told Kim that as long as South Korea is allied with the U.S., the military helps from China is desperate. After the purge of Byen, North Korea slowly started to buy crude oils from Russia instead of China.
All of these prove that the relations between North Korea and China are as low as possible. Russia maybe the answer for North Korea, but Russia is also in trouble and busy to deal with decreasing WTI and the economic sanctions by the U.S. It can be said that North Korea is in a total diplomatic isolation.
3. Xi Jinping, Park Geun-hye, and the land-mine provocation.
After the inauguration of Xi Jinping in 2014, he visited South Korea first instead of North Korea. Also, he met President Park about six times at several international affairs and summit conferences. Thinking that President Park met President Obama only twice meanwhile, it is very clear that President Park is showing a pro-Chinese attitudes. Then, has Xi Jinping ever visited North Korea? He never did so far, which is a totally opposite of what all previous Chinese leaders have done.
Even more, China sent the invitation to their Victory Day parade to South Korea first in March and then sent one to Kim in April. Whether or not because North Korea had a bad relation with China, North Korean official announced that Kim will not attend the Victory Day parade. On August 20th, President Park accepted the invitation and announced that she will attend the 70th anniversary WWII Victory Day parade that will take place on September 3rd in China.
The U.S. State Department announced that the U.S. respects and understands such decision. The U.S. has made several positive opinions on President Park attending the Victory Day parade. Is this a way to show displeased feeling to South Korea? Personally, I do not think so. The U.S. has announced such statements probably to show that the relation between the U.S. and South Korea is still firm and strong even though it seems like South Korea and China are closer.
The U.S. and South Korea alliance is very, no, extremely important. I personally think the alliance between the U.S. and South Korea is more important and crucial. As blood allies, if the U.S. really was concerned about President Park visiting South Korea, the U.S. must have, at least, officially showed concerns. Then, why would the U.S. let South Korea act favorable to China? I am sure that the U.S. and South Korea already came into an agreement far beforehand.
Diplomacy is fundamentally 'give and take.' The U.S. will have a better opportunity to hold against China if the two Koreas are unified by the lead of South Korea. This will also solve the most bothering North Korea's nuclear problem. For China, South Korea is an essential nation to stand against the U.S.; South Korea is possibly the only Western side's nation that China can stay close.
At the parade, Xi Jinping, Park Geun-hye, and Vladimir Putin will be seating all together at a same platform, at a same line. As a military parade, all personnel at the parade will salute to the summits at the parade, and President Park will be one of the people getting the salutes. This will be recorded and broadcasted all over the world. What does that mean?
It potentially represents that China is no longer going to point their guns toward South Korea. In addition, it is an announcement to the world the end of the relation between China and North Korea.
This will be absolutely threatening for pro-Chinese in North Korea. North Korea had to do something to stop President Park from attending the parade. In the end, they provoked by planting landmines and firing artilleries. North Korea thought making South Korea dangerous and chaotic will disrupt the order of South Korea, and eventually making President Park unable to attend the parade. North Korea threatened South Korea by revealing their military on purpose, such as disappearing 50 of submarines, moving numerous artilleries and rockets, and dispatching several warships. In the response to the provocation, South Korea and the U.S. military prepared for any further attacks.
China, soon after, noticed North Korea's such tactic, and Chinese media (環球時報) on August 24th published saying, "there will be no tolerances if anyone tries to interfere the Victory Day parade." This can be interpreted as a direct warning to North Korea. And in the early morning of the following day, August 25th, both two Koreas agreed on agreements to stop the tensions.
4. The Future?
For sure, as long as China and North Korea do not come in interest agreement, China and South Korea may become closer and closer as 'strategic supporters' while North Korea will be isolated from the world even more. There are not so many solutions or alternatives Kim can use to maintain his system. Without China, it is a matter of time for North Korea to come to a downfall. Also, always remember that the need for a stronger relation between South Korea and the U.S. will grow even more as the time for the unification of the two Koreas is getting closer.
The peak of the current complicated and rapid changing international situation will be made on September 3rd after the Victory Day parade in China. Because there will be several unofficial negotiations under the table. No one knows what will happen in the future.
Whatever the end will come to Korean peninsula, the fact that one day North Korea will come to the end is unavoidable.