Korean Unification: The Case for ‘One Country–Two Systems’

The North Korean government has produced a statement calling for the political unification of the peninsula. Notably, the statement was addressed not only to citizens of the DPRK, but also those of the South, as well as Koreans abroad.

Due to the deeply important nature of the statement, an English translation is reproduced below in its entirety:

“Let us turn out as one in the nationwide drive to improve the north-south relations and make a breakthrough for independent reunification, true to the noble patriotic intention of the peerlessly great man!

It is the steadfast will of all Koreans who have turned out for implementing the noble intention of the peerlessly great man to bring great changes to the north-south relations as early as possible and make a new history of independent reunification.

Let us rapidly improve the north-south relations and pave a wide avenue to rosy future of the nation which will be reunified, strong and prosperous!

Let us make the whole land of Korea seethe with hot wind for independent reunification and courageously advance the north-south relations along the way indicated by the June 15 joint declaration and the October 4 declaration!

Let us decisively smash all sophisms and attempts to slander the nuclear treasured sword of the nation and justice and brand it as a hurdle in the way for the improvement of the north-south relations!

Let us wage an energetic drive to defuse the acute military tension and create a peaceful climate on the Korean Peninsula!

Let all Koreans at home and abroad turn out to decisively oppose and reject all hostile acts and war moves aggravating the situation and wrecking peace!

Let all Koreans become shields and strong castle walls in the struggle to defend security of the nation and peace on this land!

Let all Koreans rise up in the peace-keeping struggle against war to baffle the reckless nuclear war moves of the U.S. which brings disaster to this land, setting dangerous flames!

3. Let us promote contact, travel, cooperation and exchange between the north and the south on a wide scale and actively create a climate for national reconciliation and reunification!

Let us promote contact, travel, cooperation and exchange between the north and the south on a wide scale to remove mutual misunderstanding and distrust and make all the fellow countrymen fulfill their responsibility and role as the driving force of national reunification!

Let the people of all strata in the north and the south bring down the barrier of national division and share kindred feelings by freely traveling by air and sea and overland and actively promote the trend of reconciliation and unity.

Let’s reenergize inter-political party, inter-strata and inter-sector contacts and dialogues and activate cooperation and exchange at home and abroad to stir up the climate of reunification.

Let all compatriots wage a more vigorous struggle to get rid of anachronistic legal and institutional mechanisms harassing the fresh tide of national reconciliation and unity and prevent hostile actions!

We will courageously smash all challenges going against the nation’s desire for reunification, hold with splendor joint events of the nation involving political parties and organizations and personages at home and abroad on the anniversaries of north-south declarations, the 73rd anniversary of national liberation and other occasions this year and thus demonstrate the nation’s will for independent reunification to the world.

4. Let us smash the moves of the separatist forces at home and abroad and dynamically usher in a fresh phase of national reunification, holding aloft the banner of national independence and By Our Nation Itself!

Let all the fellow countrymen at home and abroad subordinate and aspire everything to the great objective of national reunification, pan-national cause, from the stand of prioritizing the nation and attaching importance to it and achieving national unity!

Let us maintain the firm stand and viewpoint to solve all the issues arising between the north and the south on the principle of By Our Nation Itself!

Let all the fellow countrymen more dynamically promote the grand march for independent reunification to bring earlier a new morning of the 3 000-ri land of Korea, reunified and prosperous, by pooling their efforts!”

The statement comes from a North Korea that is increasingly confident about its security situation, ever since achieving what Pyongyang calls nuclear parity with the US. As I recently wrote,

” ….the key event in prompting the wide ranging meetings held in early 2018 between officials from the two Korean states was the Eastern Economic Forum in Vladivostok. During the meeting in September of 2017, Russian President Vladimir Putin proposed a tripartite economic/energy cooperation scheme which would involve both Korean states. At the time Moon, who was present at the summit, embraced Putin’s proposals without reservations while the DPRK delegation stated that they would sign up to the proposals in due course once various regional security concerns were met.

When taken together with statements from the DPRK which always made it clear that Pyongyang will be happy to negotiate with Seoul once nuclear parity with the US is reached, it is self-evident that Putin’s proposal along with subsequent diplomatic visits by Russian politicians and Foreign Ministry officials to the DPRK have paid off.

Now that North Korea and most objective military experts are confident in the fact that Pyongyang can deliver a nuclear warhead anywhere on US territory, Kim Jong-un’s government will be satisfied with the fact that nuclear parity has been reached. In the context of North Korean statements, nuclear parity means that the DPRK will be able to deliver a nuclear weapon to the US with comparative ease vis-à-vis that which the US could deliver to Korea. Because this important threshold has been reached, North Korea is ready to take the preliminary steps towards rapprochement with the South. As North Korea always stated, its caution with the South has never been out of hostility to fellow Koreans, but due to the overwhelming presence of US military hardware in South Korea. Now that North Korea has achieved nuclear parity, this worry is clearly diminishing.

North Korea’s confidence in its ability to defend itself against US intimidation, Seoul’s revived Sunshine Policy towards the North, Russia’s good relations with both Korean states, combined with Russia’s realistic attitude towards East Asian matters, has resulted in Seoul and Pyongyang agreeing to march under a single ‘unity flag’ at the forthcoming Olympic Games in PyeongChang”.

A serious statement that should not come as a surprise 

Because the DPRK is following its own frequently discussed road-map towards wider regional engagement, the unification statement is not as surprising as some have suggested. The following is true

–Under Kim Jong-un, the DPRK has always stated that the enemy is the United States and not fellow Korean people south of the DMZ.

–The DPRK has consistently stated that its weapons are meant as a deterrent against a US invasion and not a treat to the South (RoK).

–DPRK officials openly told their Russian hosts at the Eastern Economic Forum that once Pyongyang feels certain security concerns are sufficiently addressed, they will happily begin to engage with the tripartite economic cooperation proposals laid out by Russian President Vladimir Putin, calling for joint trading, energy and long term inter-connectivity projects between Seoul, Pyongyang and Moscow. Notably, South Korean President Moon Jae-in who was present at the Forum in Vladivostok, also warmly embraced Putin’s proposals.

–The DPRK has in recent months, even called on countries as traditionally pro-US as Australia to become part of an increased pan-Pacific dialogue.

Because of this and the subsequently renewed Sunshine Policy of North-South dialogue that has been brought about by the Winter Olympics to be held in February in PyeongChang, one should not consider Pyongyang’s statement a stunt, but a genuine statement referring to a longterm goal of unification that has existed since the days of Kim Il-sung.

One country–two systems 

Because of the deep political, economic and social differences between the two Korean states, a reunification in the style of Germany in 1989 is virtually impossible and therefore inadvisable. Instead, a realistic solution could be borrowed from China, based on the precedent set by the reintegration of post-colonial Hong Kong and Macau into the People’s Republic of China.

Originally proposed by Paramount Leader Deng Xiaoping,  the “one country–two systems” initiative set forth the notion that Hong Kong and Macau would continue to enjoy the retention of certain elements of domestic autonomy, based on the legal systems inherited from Britain and Portugal, respectively. In spite of this, both Hong Kong and Macau would become indivisible parts of the People’s Republic of China in every legal sense–merely having autonomous status within the frame work of the laws of the PRC. Since 1997 in Hong Kong and 1999 in Macau, this has been the status quo and it has generally functioned smoothly.

With the cooperation of the current authorities in Pyongyang and Seoul, it is possible for Korea to exist as a country which has one legal international representative, one foreign policy, one trade policy, but with two unique internal political systems, unique agreements to distribute national wealth according to the needs of various regions and initially,  some sort of internal passport system, along with lines of the Propiska used in the Soviet Union.

The big American obstacle 

Based on the good will which seems to exist between the governments of Moon Jae-in and Kim Jong-un, such a ‘one country–two systems’ agreement is not impossible. The biggest stumbling block is the United States. The US has sufficiently militarised South Korea to the point that China would be cautious about any unification of Korea that involved a Seoul lead endeavour. If all of Korea were to become the Republic of Korea (as presently compromised), this means that the US could technically put weapons of mass destruction within inches of Chinese territory. Therefore, Korean unification led by the RoC, would almost certainly be contingent on the total demilitarisation of the peninsula, in line with long term Russian and Chinese proposals which are currently languishing in the briefcases of Sergey Lavrov and Wang Yi, due to America’s refusal to cease delivering and testing THAAD missile systems in South Korea.

On the other hand, the US would almost certainly never allow Korea to be united under the present DPRK system and for that matter nor would the international capitalist business community for obvious reasons.

Because of this, the US remains the biggest obstacle not just to political unification in Korea but to regional peace. Due to the unique circumstances of Korea neighbouring both Russia and China, unification must go hand in hand with demilitarisation and likewise, a continually divided Korea means that demilitarisation is practically impossible, as the DPRK would never and frankly should never let down its guard against the US  weapons on the other side of the DMZ and likewise, the US seems hellbent on threatening North Korea irrespective of the olive branches Kim Jong-un extends to the South.


Until and unless the US allows Pyongyang and Seoul to speak to one another without interference, Pyongyang’s unification statement most immediately serves as a calling of America’s bluff. In other words, if America is interested in peace (which Russia has publicly said it is not), Washington would encourage internal Korean dialogue, make fewer threats, withdraw at least some weapons from the RoK and lift sanctions on the DPRK. The fact that none of this will likely happen, is a savage indictment of US aggression in East Asia.

The only hope is for China and Russia to seize the moment and apply their own pressure on the US based on the increasingly warm relations between Seoul and both Moscow and Beijing, in addition to Moscow’s consistent good will toward Pyongyang. In this sense, China and Russia will need to face the fact that neither Kim Jong-un, nor Moon Jae-in are obstacles to peace. The primary obstacle is the Trump White House and the US military industrial complex.

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