A new set of historical documents has been released to coincide with tomorrow's 40th anniversary of the July 4th, 1972 Inter-Korean Joint Communiqué, offering a fresh perspective on North Korea’s strategy in inter-Korean dialogue of the mid-1970s.
The release, “DPRK Perspectives on Korean Reunification after the July 4th Joint Communiqué,” is published by the North Korea International Documentation Project. It features 25 translated Romanian documents and an introduction by the historian responsible for putting it together, Professor Shin Jong Dae of the University of North Korea Studies in Seoul.
▲ July 4th Communiqué: Reunification or Destabilization?
In addition to providing a historical review of some tumultuous years on the Korean Peninsula, the documents, many of them telegrams, reveal much about the atmosphere of the day. Internal North Korean calculations are exposed, as well as an insight into why both sides failed to come to a meaningful understanding.
One key point the documents touch on regards the North Korean perception of inter-Korean dialogue that persists to this day: namely, that it is about something other than moving the Peninsula toward reunification.
Rather, as the telegrams between Pyongyang and Bucharest clearly show, the North was hopeful that meetings of the South-North Coordinating Committee (SNCC) would act as a mechanism to inspire and promote oppositional forces in the South.
In one transcribed exchange between General Secretary of the Romanian Communist Party Nicolae Ceausescu and Chosun Workers’ Party Secretary Kim Guk Tae, Kim explains, “By exerting a revolutionary influence on the population in South Korea and by attracting an increasingly greater number of democratic people on our side, we want to develop even more the revolutionary movement in South Korea, to upgrade it to a superior stage.”
It goes without saying that the removal of then South Korean dictator Park Chung Hee and his “puppet clique” was a key North Korean goal. With no trace of irony, Kim accuses the South of hypocrisy; a “two-faced approach” in which they advocate reunification on the one the one hand while “undertaking actions which are stalling the process of unification” on the other.
However, Park’s pushing through of the Yushin Constitution in December 1972 consolidated his power in the South, allowing him to run unopposed for a previously prohibited third term as president and crippling opposition forces. According to Professor Shin, the removal of more liberal politicians from power at this time not only silenced them domestically; it eliminated them from SNCC meetings as well, thus thwarting North Korean ambitions to use South Korean optional members within the high-level talks to achieve an advantage over representatives on the side of President Park.
In the same telegram to Ceausescu, Kim expresses outrage at this course of events, charging Park’s administration with political manipulation to “strengthen their fascist domination system” and the fierce suppression of the South Korean people. The North Korean authorities had apparently hoped that by continuing to encourage oppositional forces in South Korea, a sympathetic “democratic person” would rise to power and it would be through collaboration with this new leadership that the Korean Peninsula would arrive at reunification.
While publically the SNCC dialogue may have been conducted beneath the banner of seeking improved relations so as to foster understanding between the two countries and achieve swift, peaceful reunification, the reality was not like that. As in the present day, the underlying motivations of the two Koreas went largely unsaid.
▲ Jockeying for Position
Nearly one year after the July 4th Communique, both Kim Il Sung and Park Chung Hee proposed their own unification plans on the same day, June 23, 1973. Each proposal called for mutual cooperation and collaboration, yet neither leader found the other’s plans acceptable and no progress was achieved.
Romanian observers had a good vantage point from which to observe the inter-Korean negotiations. Insights from one classified document from the Romanian Ministry of Foreign Affairs reveal the causes behind the incredibly slow pace of the dialogue; namely, that “each party is trying to influence the other so as to gain as many advantages for itself as possible,” and therefore “the terms on which the two parties agreed are not respected.”
For his part, Kim Il Sung’s vision of Korean unification called for the creation of the ‘Confederal Republic of Goryeo’. According to his 5-point unification plan, both North and South Korea would join the United Nations “as a sole state, under the name of Goryeo.” The Romanian documents show clearly that the North Koreans saw the alternative, simultaneous accession of the two Koreas into the UN as an act “meant to enshrine the division of Korea.”
▲ The Louder You Shout, the Less I Will Hear
The documents also detail North Korean efforts to directly negotiate with the United States. In 1973, the DPRK sent a letter to the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives requesting the withdrawal of American troops from South Korea, the dismantlement of the UN Commission for the Unification and Rehabilitation of Korea [UNCURK] and an end to military aid to South Korea. Following the dissolution of North-South dialogue and the termination of UNCURK a few months later, North Korea began highlighting the issue of the Northern Line Limit in the West Sea.
Professor Shin explains this as North Korean aggression in “an attempt to create an atmosphere where issues involving peace on the Korean peninsula would have to be resolved through direct negotiations with the United States.” However, such acts only further distanced the United States from responding positively to North Korea, a state of affairs that persists, with brief interludes of positivity, into the modern era.