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The Chronology of North and South Korea’s Relations7 min read

May 25, 2018 5 min read

The Chronology of North and South Korea’s Relations7 min read

Reading Time: 5 minutes

On April 27, 2018, the North Korean and South Korean leaders agreed to denuclearise the Korean Peninsula. They also joined the United States of America to declare an official end to the Korean War which rattled the Korean nations from 1950 to 1953, and yet ended in a stalemate. On May 24, the President of The United States of America, Donald Trump announced the cancellation of the June 12 Korean summit in Singapore. The Manipal Journal explains the North-South relations in light of the recent developments.


From 1910 until 1945, Korea was a Japanese colony. As World War II drew to a close in 1945, the Allied Powers gained control over the Axis Powers and their occupied territories until local governments could be set up. The United States divided Korea along the 38th parallel north (a circle of latitude) and set up a democratic government in the southern part while Soviet Russia established a communist regime in the north. The ruling countries on both sides wanted their ruling principle to be spread across the whole country (should they be united), leading to further tension.

In 1948, the United States called for a vote by the United Nations to determine the future of the peninsula; however, the North refused to participate. The South formed its government in Seoul and was led by the anti-communist Syngman Rhee. In 1950, Kim Il-sung, the North Korean leader attempted to reunify Korea under communist rule. He launched an invasion of South Korea, which turned into the three-year-long Korean War. The war left both countries divided where they started – along the 38th parallel north. North Korea continues to be ruled by the same family, with its third generation in power now.

Korean Reunification – the first step

The July 4 South-North Joint Communiqué was signed in 1972 by both governments. It was the first documentto be ratified since the division of the peninsula. Following the instructions of Park Jung-hee, the director of KOREA-CIA, an intelligence officer was sent to North Korea to meet with the aforementioned Kim Il-sung to establish three principles of unification – independence, peaceful unification, and nation-wide unity. This document led to the establishment of the first military hotline between Seoul and Pyongyang.

Sunshine Policy

In 1998, South Korean President Kim Dae-jung announced the Sunshine Policy. The Sunshine Policy is the basis of South Korea’s foreign policy towards North Korea. After the partition, North Korea descended into economic downfall. The Policy was aimed at mitigating the gap in economic power between two nations. It also led to the first Inter-Korean summit. It was renounced by the new South Korean President Lee Myung-bak in 2010.


There have been three Inter-Korean summits so far, in 20002007, and 2018.

2000: On June 15, the North and South Korean leaders – Kim Jong-il and Kim Dae-jung, as mentioned earlier – met for the first time since the division. The North-South Joint Declaration, signed by the two leaders, was adopted after various diplomatic meetings between the two countries. As a result of the talks, numerous separated families and relatives from both sides had meetings with their family members in Pyongyang and Seoul.

2007: On October 2, South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun walked across the Korean Demilitarised Zone where the countries are split and travelled to Pyongyang for talks with Kim Jong-il. The two sides reaffirmed the spirit of the Joint Declaration and the matters discussed in the Joint Statement. On October 4, both leaders signed the peace declaration. The document called for international talks to replace the Armistice which ended the Korean War with a permanent peace treaty.

The next couple of years were instrumental in leading to the situation in 2009. Tensions increased when the North Korean government announced on January 30 that it was nullifying all military and political agreements with South Korea. In May 2010, North Korea shut down three hotlines connecting the countries. However the Panmunjom line, the most important one, was never physically cut and the hardware remained intact. On January 12, 2011, it went back into service after a lapse of seven months, and the two countries spoke very briefly.

2018: On January 3 2018, North Korea restored a military hotline to discuss matters related to the upcoming Winter Olympic Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea. As the Games began, the South Korean and North Korean athletes walked in the opening ceremony as a joint team – as they did in 2000 and 2004. This time however, the two nations sent a single women’s figure skating team, under the name of Korea. It was a symbolic moment, with their shared flag being a neutral image of a unified Korea on a white backdrop.


Kim Jong-un became the first North Korean leader to enter South since Korean War. Photograph Courtesy: Google Images/Flickr


Subsequently, the next major breakthrough came when North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and his South Korean counterpart President Moon Jae-in met at the Peace House building on April 27, in the demilitarised village of Panmunjom and then proceeded to go to South Korea. This marked the first time a North Korean leader entered the South after the war. The meeting was aimed at ending their decades-long conflict and easing tensions over the North’s nuclear weapons program, essentially denuclearising the Korean Peninsula. In their joint statement, the two Korean leaders said that within a year, they would push for a trilateral conference with the United States, or a four-party forum that also included China, with the aim of “declaring an end to the Korean War” and intentions to “replace the armistice with a peace treaty”. On May 13, North Korea announced that they would dismantle the nuclear test sites within two weeks.

Following the April summit, the two countries were to hold a meeting on May 16 to discuss the implementation of the plans drawn from the same. Later in the day, however, North Korea cancelled the meeting in light of US’ military exercises with South Korea. The North’s official state-run Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) claimed that the so-called Max Thunder drills between the South and US Air Force were simply a “rehearsal for an invasion of the North and a provocation amid warming inter-Korean ties”. Ri Son Gwon, chairman of North Korea’s Committee for the Peaceful Reunification said, “Unless the serious situation which led to the suspension of the north-south high-level talks is settled, it will never be easy to sit face to face again with the present regime of South Korea.” They also threatened to withdraw from the first meeting between Kim Jong-un and Donald Trump, in Singapore on June 12. Despite this, the US still continued its planning as China urged North Korea to proceed with the summit which would be a historic landmark. It was set to mark the end of North Korea’s nuclear weapons development programme.


While the rumours were that the Supreme Leader might cancel the summit, the US President, surprisingly, made the move. Photograph Courtesy: Google Images/Flickr


In 2003, Libya’s Colonel Muammar Gaddafi agreed to give up his country’s programmes of weapons of mass destruction in an announcement that surprised the world. The reason for the announcement was America’s invasion into Iraqi soil and the downfall of Saddam Hussein. While referencing the Libya model – the method used to get the Libyans to surrender their weapons – of 2003, Trump added, “Now that model would take place if we don’t make a deal, most likely. But if we make a deal, I think Kim Jong-un is going to be very, very happy.”

On May 22, North Korea announced that they would use explosives to dismantle their nuclear test site in Punggye-ri. The next day, the site which was once the ground for all six of their nuclear tests was completely destroyed in the presence of foreign journalists.

While the power to decide whether the June summit would take place initially rested with North Korea, Trump declared on May 24 that the summit was cancelled. In a letter addressed to the Supreme Leader, he said, “If you change your mind having to do with this most important summit, please do not hesitate to call me or write.” This decision came despite South Korea’s support of the summit.


Featured Image Courtesy: Google Images/Flickr

Edited By: Bhavna Subramanian