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The Korean War is not yet over

What a pity!

The entire world eyes and ears are set in the direction of the Vietnamese Capital City, Hanoi, eagerly waiting for the North Korea leader Kim Jong Un and US President Donald Trump second summit harvest on the heels of the one held in Singapore last June.

The value tag of this event is clear. More than 2,600 members of the foreign press, alone, the world was told, had registered at the Hanoi International Media Centre ahead of the grand occasion.

The summit (opportunity) cost to the host people whose main source of livelihood depends on the 170-kilometre Dong Dang Chinese border High Way to Hanoi could be immense. Ten-toner and above trucks; nine-seater and above passenger vehicles have to be off the road for some hours facing a total ban on the summit day.

If the Vietnamese people’s daily pay working conditions on infrastructure projects are similar to the ones we have in my part of Africa, those living in Lang Son Province, where the Dong Dang railway is located, have to go for five days without work (pay)  under the order of the People’s Committee. What a “political task” plugging an income supply line to the sons and daughters of Ho Chi Min grassroots families!

What are the possibilities of the North Korea-U.S. talks delivering goods? In essence, while Pyongyang is more interested in the lifting of US-engineered and led sanctions, Washington wants to score on its North Korea’s nuclear disarmament agenda. Where is the meeting place for the two (rather parallel?) action lines? The panacea lies somewhere else, But where?

The world media needs to go beyond the ‘summits’. Kim and Trump can hold even a one-year summit. They can make agreements with agreements or pacts within pacts. But the Korea question, which is a more fundamental issue, would remain unanswered.

North Korean and US leaders have come and gone. This time round it is Kim and Trump. Both will rub their shoulders with it and leave it? But what the Korean question requires transcends the working frame of Pyongyang and Washington. The two cannot solve the equation. The following is what can create the miracle.

The first step is to revisit Panmunjom – site of the so-called demilitarized zone (DMZ). Why is it there? What led to its creation? How was it created? Are the conditions that led to its creation over? Are the people of Korea happy with it? When it comes to the kind of dialogue going on, do the US and North Korea constitute the only stakeholders? Why them alone? What could be the way forward?

Korea had been a part of the Japanese empire, and after World War II it fell to the Americans and the Soviets to decide what should be done with their enemy’s imperial possessions.  Would you believe it? In August 1945, it took the stroke of a pen oftwo young aides at the State Department. The Korean peninsula had been divided into two along the 38th parallel.  

Even so, the North Korean invasion came as an alarming surprise to American officials. As far as they were concerned, this was not simply a border dispute. It had overtones of a communist campaign to take over the world. For this reason, non-intervention was not considered an option by many top decision makers.

So in April 1950, a National Security Council report, recorded as NSC-68, had recommended that the United States use military force to “contain” communist expansionism anywhere it seemed to be occurring, “regardless of the intrinsic strategic or economic value of the lands in question.” A world prefect had been appointed to the present day. We have seen the US doing so in several parts of the world, including Cuba and Vietnam, which is hosting the Kim-Trump summit.

On June 25, 1950, the Korean War began when some 75,000 soldiers from the North Korean People’s Army crossed the 38th parallel, the boundary. This was the first military action of the Cold War.

 By July, American troops had entered the war they said was against the forces of international communism itself. After some early back-and-forth across the 38th parallel, the fighting stalled and casualties mounted with nothing to show for them.

Meanwhile, American officials worked anxiously to fashion some sort of armistice with the North Koreans. The alternative, they feared, would be a wider war with Russia and China–or even, as some warned, World War III. Finally, in July 1953, the Korean War came to an end claiming five 5 million military and civilians lives.

The Armistice was signed on 27 July 1953 to “ensure a complete cessation of hostilities and of all acts of armed force in Korea until a final peaceful settlement is achieved.” Signatories were the United Nations Command, Korea People’s Army (KPA) and Chinese People’s Volunteer Army (PVA). South Korea never signed the Armistice Agreement.  President Syngman Rhee did not support the division of Korea.

This is in respect of which the world must wake up in order to understand what is happening today. What sort of agreement was this which was not signed by all parties concerned? Did the United Nations Command also stand in for South Korea? How?

Come the Geneva Conference in the next year, legendary Chinese Premier and Foreign Minister Zhou Enlai (then globally known as Chou En-Lai) suggested a peace treaty should be implemented on the Korean peninsula. US secretary of State, John Foster Dulles, threw it out of the window. Until today, a final peace settlement has never been achieved. What we have instead is the DMZ.  The Korea peninsula is still divided today.

In 1992, China normalized relations and signed a peace treaty with South Korea. Two years later it withdrew from the Military Armistice Commission, literally leaving North Korea and the UN Command (US?) as the only participants.

The question now arises: in the circumstance where the Korean War is not yet over. How can the two warring forces in a live volcano like situation genuinely discuss the level of each other’s military might regulation? And the whole world media turns around to witness ‘the cordial” talks!

Solution to the Korean question demands an innovative and considerate approach. Although politically and ideologically divided, North and South Korea have a shared history, language and culture. I have the 1990s, South Korean president Kim Dae-jung Sunshine Policy targeting the improvement of inter-Korean relations towards the eventual reunification easing tensions and fostering  inter-Korean connections.

This gave birth to the Kaesong Industrial Complex (KIC) hosting economic development projects located in North Korea but operated by South Korean companies whereby economic investment benefits would go to the North while the South accesses cheap labor. As fate would have it, the venture collapsed in 2016 due to a wide range of challenges, including political tension. It had to be closed down over the 2004-2016 period.  

 Over the past five decades or so, the two Koreas have gone through events painting the ups and downs of their unification. In early July 1972, they issued a joint communiqué spelling their determination for eventual unification. The next year saw a communications breakdown that could not be rectified until the mid-1980s that saw first family visits and cultural exchanges take place since their 1948 border separation.

 In between the North and the South made several impacts of global magnitudes. My country, Tanzania, was among the witnesses of the opening of an impressive Democratic People’s of Korea (DPRK) embassy in Dar es Salaam plus a cultural centre.

 I remember having been on a press delegation invited to visit North Korea. With my western-oriented media training, I did not feel comfortable to sit in front of a six-band radio receiver that could only access local news outlets. My camera was taken away on arrival at Pyongyang Airport together with my passport and given back on the departure day.

 We combed the whole country. We made interviews. We were free to ask for photographs taken by our guides cum interpreters. We had photographs taken even with President Kim Il Sung, “the most beloved and respected leader of the entire Korean people.”

Throughout our countryside visits, I established that people knew that their country had been divided into two and that the Americans were to blame. The Armistice Agreement sounded a bit strange. It was not until we visited Panmunjom that I got the feel of it.

We were lucky there was a North-South meeting taking place on that day. We got a sort of screening within a screening until we could get into the conference room – the first at the DMZ entrance where we were given Red Cross armbands and the second before entering the conference room.

Inside that room there was a rectangular ‘conference’ table with a line drawn between depicting the division line between North and South Korea cutting through the DMZ. On both sides sat delegates who could not cross over. Delegates from the North were under the US personnel supervision.  I could read faces of disgust on the separated brothers, and uncles.

This is what life is among the Koreans on both sides of the DMZ. And their real problem is not denuclearization of North Korea. It is their unity. This cannot be attained until they are left to sort out their own problems. This cannot take place until the Korean War ends. Otherwise, so long as the Korean War continues, like Africa’s tourist attraction active volcano sites, reasons for US holding on to Korea affairs will always be there.

The people on both sides share common language, culture and identity. That is already one up for reunification. The only problem is that the Korean War is not over yet. It is still raging in the offices of the UN Security Council.

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Felix Kaiza is a Tanzanian journalist with more than 50 years of experience currently working as an independent media consultant. Learned in agriculture, journalism, political science and international relations, his main fields of consultancy, besides the media, are good governance, nature conservation, tourism and investment. He was the first Tanzanian Chief Sub-Editor of an English daily newspaper in 1970, he has been behind the establishment and growth of the national independent media since the early 1990s. He is UNFAO Fellow Journalist since 1975 and has wide experience on regional integration. He worked on the Information Directorate of the original East African Community on whose ashes survive the current one. His ambition is to brand Tanzania in the inbound market with made-in-Tanzania brands, including information, almost all of which is currently foreign brewed.


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