There are many ways to mark the end of military occupation. In 2014, marking 25 years since the fall of the Berlin Wall, balloons were released from Germany’s Brandenburg Gate. Independence in the former colonies of the emerging countries was marked with street parties, and events commemorate liberation each year. North Korea is eccentric to say the least. 70 years after the end of Japanese occupation of the Korean Peninsula, North Korean president Kim Jong-Un has decided to right what he sees as an historic wrong. How? By turning back time.
When Japan occupied the Koreas in 1910, the time zone was changed from GMT + 8.5 hours to match Japan. A move which North Korea’s state news denounces as the deprivation of ‘Korea’s standard time’ by ‘wicked Japanese imperialists’. For the last 105 years, the Korean Peninsula has had a time zone of GMT + 9 hours. Calling it ‘Pyongyang Time’, Kim Jong-Un states that it would go some way towards removing the legacy of Japanese occupation.
However, many fear that with this latest move, North Korea risks drifting even further from South Korea. The countries have been separate since 1948 (with the help of the United States and Russia backing forces from opposing sides), and could not have taken more disparate paths. North Korea is committed to a socialist hereditary dictatorship, whilst South Korea is a thriving democracy. North Korea has a GDP of only $40bn, whereas South Korea is over $1.85trn. The two countries have been officially at war since 1950, with the end of the war in 1953 resulting in not a peace treaty, but an armistice. However, armed conflict has not been a permanent feature of discourse between the Koreas. In fact, unification remains, officially, on the table.
Since the year 2000, through the 15th June North-South Joint Declaration, it was agreed that both countries would work towards a future reunification, through peaceful means. Diplomatic relations are slowly normalising. There is some appetite in the Koreas for this, with 58% of South Koreans expressing the view that cooperation with North Korea should be firmly on the agenda. In changing time zones, Kim Jong-Un has highlighted the divergent paths the two Korean countries have taken. South Korea, despite the past military occupation, has strong political and economic ties with Japan. North Korea sees Japan as an unequivocal enemy. Through invoking their shared past of Japanese military rule, North Korea has highlighted the cracks in any potential future cooperation with its southern neighbour.
The move is just symbolic, but the consequences could be real. South Korea will not change its time zone, highlighting that it is more practical to remain at one with Japan. With Seoul’s enduring relationship with Japan, and Pyongyang’s determination to expunge each and every trace of its colonial past, the road to reunification remains far from built.[via The Guardian, BBC News]