Thought you could navigate conversations about North and South Korea with a “knowing” eye roll or two? Think again. For the first time in a long time, relations between the two countries seem to be improving, with North Korea going so far as to say they’d be open to abandoning their nuclear weapons and halting testing. It all sounds too good to be true, and according to the New York Times, “President Trump reacted with guarded optimism to the news” (much like his team is guarding his Twitter account) but regardless of how this shakes out, it’s crucial you have a little context on the matter (which starts by finally getting North and South straight).
A quick history lesson, if we may. (We promise it’ll make everything so much clearer.) Up until 1910, North and South Korea were ruled by one dynasty, Chosŏn. Then, Japan annexed the peninsula and it fell under Japanese colonial rule. In 1945, when Japan surrendered to the Allies, the Korean peninsula was split into two zones: the Soviet-controlled North Korea and the U.S.-controlled South Korea, resulting in two totally separate governments, with very different influences. (Much like East and West Germany.)
In 1950, North Korean leader Kim Il-sung attempted to unite Korea under his communist regime, with aid from the Soviets. In defence, South Korea and the United States went to war against North Korea (also known as the Korean War — cue the MASH soundtrack), until an armistice agreement called for a ceasefire in 1953. Things have been awkward ever since.
North vs. South
So besides their differing allegiances to the United States and Russia, and a history of war, what’s the difference between North and South Korea? Culturally speaking, a lot. Both states have a strong cultural tie to history and traditions. But, South Korean culture has had the influence of global media to impact everything from fashion to food, political views and the construction of an individual identity. North Koreans, on the other hand, live under an authoritarian government where they have little say in, really, any aspect of their lives, and even less chance of scanning U.S. headlines.
The Current Sitch
Now that you know North from South, it’s high time you catch up on the latest dramz with the DPRK (Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, A.K.A. North Korea). (Scrolling Twitter doesn’t count!) We have the Soviets to thank for encouraging North Korea’s interest in nuclear weapons back in the 1950s, and since then it’s been a tense timeline of nuclear research, development and testing — and things have been ramping up recently. Throughout 2017, North Korea launched four ballistic missiles which landed terrifyingly close to Japan’s coastline. Thanks to Trump’s “fight fire with fire” mentality, it’s been a tense year of threats between Trump and Kim Jong-un. However, after the Pyeongchang Olympics went off without a hitch in South Korea, things seemed pretty chill. If this week’s news is any indication, we may be able to sleep a little easier soon knowing Kim Jong-un is slowly stepping away from that notorious nuclear button.