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Preparing for the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics and Cooling a Century of Korean Tensions

By Denis Bright

Cheers to the voters of South Korea who elected Democratic Party President Moon Jae-in to office in May 2017 with a convincing majority. This historic vote made the current peace initiative at Panmunjom possible despite pressure from the Trump Administration and the Abe Government in Japan. After Japan’s occupation of the entire Korean Peninsula in 1910, progressive Korean leaders no longer look to Japan for diplomatic tutelage.

President Moon has pulled off the diplomatic coup of the century through delicate prior negotiations with the DPR Korea to achieve a well-choreographed media event at Panmunjom.

CNN gave favourable coverage to the event with the DPRK delegation arriving ahead of time by motorcade and striding across the military demarcation line to meet an equally impressive delegation from the Republic of Korea at the adjacent Peace House.

Chief negotiator Ri Son Gwon from the DPRK chose to refer to the winter weather to break the ice on intra-Korean relations after an overnight minimum temperature of -7oC and a gentle breeze from the north over a light dusting of snow.

“Entire rivers and mountains are frozen,” Ri Son Gwon, the chief North Korean negotiator, told reporters. “It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that compared to nature’s weather, the inter-Korean relationship is even more frozen.”

The positive short-term outcomes of this event at Panmunjom have been favourably reported in the mainstream media. The possibility of a peaceful winter olympics at Pyeongchang with a united Korean delegation at the opening ceremony has come in the nick of time according to the Business Insider Australia:

“The Trump administration is debating a “bloody nose” attack on North Korea, recent reports say, with the president’s inner circle split and apparently teetering between endorsing a strike and holding out hope for diplomacy.

Both The Telegraph and The Wall Street Journal have portrayed Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Secretary of Defence James Mattis as trying to caution President Donald Trump against a strike, and the national security adviser, H.R. McMaster, as advocating it.

The reports come after months of mixed messages and dozens of shifts in the US’s stance on North Korea.

The bloody-nose strategy, which calls for a sharp, violent response to some North Korean provocation, puts a lot of weight on the US’s properly calibrating an attack on North Korea and Pyongyang’s reading the limited strike as anything other than the opening salvo of an all-out war.”

The timely success of South Korean Diplomacy shocked the Abe Administration in Japan and the White House.

Another political twist in South Korea was the capacity of President Moon to raise the sensitive issue of compensation for the comfort women in both parts of the Korean Peninsula. The previous centre-right government of Park Guen-hye had brokered a less than satisfactory deal with Japan that offered just $A11.3 million in compensation to South Korea and nothing for the DPRK.

This was a light penalty for decades of Japanese occupation of the entire Korean Peninsula after 1910 until the so-called temporary Cold War Divide descended on the Korean Peninsula after 1945.

The right-wing government of President Syngman Rhee (1948-60) continued the martial law of the Japanese colonial era with the summary execution of dissidents. After the April Revolution in 1960, the 84-year old Rhee was whisked to safety from the Presidential Blue House in Seoul by a CIA air-lift to Hawaii.

After his death in comfortable exile in 1965, Rhee was buried in the Seoul National Cemetery with the blessing of another far-right South Korean administration of President Park Chung-hee (1963-79).

The tentative diplomatic achievements at Panmunjom on 9 January 2018 stand in start contrast to the saber-rattling at this site by federal LNP ministers at the height of the Korean Missile Crisis in October 2017.

Image from ABC News Online 15 October 2017

Federal LNP ministers Marise Payne and Julie Bishop looked quite comfortable with a Churchillian view of Korean history as they posed at Panmunjom for the benefit of the Australian news media.

Prior to this Eve of Destruction event, the federal LNP had done its best to play a minor supporting role for the Trump Administration:

“Defence Minister Marise Payne told the ABC just over two dozen ADF members would take part in the annual Ulchi-Freedom Guardian war games.

Chief of Army Angus Campbell last week denied there would be any risk to the Australian military personnel participating in the war games.

The Ulchi-Freedom Guardian exercises are scheduled to run from August 21 to August 31 and involve tens of thousands of American and South Korean troops on the ground and in the sea and air.

Both the US and South Korea have said the war games were defensive in nature and crucial to maintaining a deterrent against North Korean aggression.

According to the US Department of Defence, the annual activity involves about 40,000 troops, along with civilian South Korean Government personnel who train their civil defence responses.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull last week confirmed Australia would join the US in any conflict with North Korea if it carried out its threat to fire missiles towards the strategic American territory of Guam in the Pacific.”

With the change of government in South Korea in May 2017, wiser counsels have prevailed to control the excesses of the Abe Government in Japan and the White House itself.

Progressive South Korean leaders have not lost that spark of independence that was forged during Japanese occupation of the entire Korean Peninsula between 1910 and 1945. The Japanese occupation of Taiwan after the First Sino-Japanese War of 1894-95 was quite acceptable to the Churchillian spirit of that era. Efforts were made to build up the Japanese Navy under the guidance of Great Britain. The Diplomat records the militarization games played by Japan in some detail.

Against Churchillian efforts to air brush history with a new generation of Darkest Hours movie scripts, the spirit of independence is alive and well in the administration of President Moon who has emerged as the latter-day Gough Whitlam of East Asia with a message that all progressive leaders from responsible middle-powers should follow.

Denis Bright is a registered teacher and a member of the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance (MEAA). Denis has recent postgraduate qualifications in journalism, public policy and international relations. He is interested in promoting discussion to advance pragmatic public policies that are compatible with contemporary globalization.



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  1. Zathras

    The Ulchi-Freedom Guardian exercise isn’t a response to recent North Korean nuclear testing – probably more the other way around.

    These exercises have been happening annually for about the last 40 years and it’s no wonder the North Koreans feel paranoid about being invaded.

    I imagine that if Indonesia and China had been carrying out large military maneuvers off the coast of Sydney every year since Malcolm Fraser was PM we’d probably feel the need to make significant defensive arrangements of our own and also be quite nervous about the future.

    Diplomacy is always worth trying rather than aggressive posturing, threats and name-calling.

  2. diannaart

    Thank you South (and North) Korea, the clock will not sound midnight just yet.

  3. Mia

    Hopefully January 2018 will be the start of an epic era for nearly 80 million Koreans. The road ahead is a difficult one but the President of Fire and Fury has not assisted in consensus building so maybe it should be left to the two countries directly involved – North and South Korea – to solve their differences.

  4. Milo

    Excellent to see the dialogue is taking place between north and south!

    How are all problems of the world solved – taking it out! Communication is the key to peace.

    Thanks for sharing this Denis.

  5. Lalnama

    We can only hope for peace in this sector & let the 2 Countries continue in dialogue without outside interference
    Maybe this is what should happen elsewhere

  6. Tessa

    President Moon has achieved a real place in positive internal relations. It is easy to overlook macro-events like the Japanese occupation of Korea.

  7. Jim

    Cheers to President Moon. A positive start to the year to see these two countries in dialogue.

  8. Stella

    Thank you Denis for an interesting article on Korean relations. Some positive steps made by President Moon towards peace on the peninsula.

  9. Phil

    Congratulations to the people of South Korea on taking the road less traveled.

    The US weapons manufacturers will not be happy. Peace and diplomacy are not good for their hugely profitable arms industry.

    Expect America to be working feverishly behind the scenes to undermine President Moon’s plans.

  10. Patrick@Non-Alignment

    Movie scripts like Darkest Hours do nothing to promote the Peace Train on its future route from Pusan to Pyongyang and beyond. I am sure it will be up and running soon.

    Our conservative politicians also take up the War Agenda with their criticisms of weak-kneed leaders.

    Malcolm Turnbull is a master of this commitment to strong and decisive leadership: Sending the working class off to war in an old agenda.

    Winston Churchill learnt his trade in the siege of Khartoum in Sudan as a protected officer. Just what right the British had to take-over Sudan and later Egypt was never asked by such patriotic leaders.

    But there is a more outrageous question.

    How many years of service have Tony Abbott and Malcolm given to their armed services in their youth when there were wars to fight near and far in the Reagan Phases of the Cold War.

  11. Chris

    A welcome peace initiative from the Presidential Blue House in Seoul.

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