The two Koreas
According to itypeusa, the first years of the political life of the Republic of Korea were characterized by the authoritarian regime, strictly aligned with the United States, established by Syngman Rhee. The South Korean president held power until April 1960, when, after being re-elected for the fourth time, he was forced to resign by a wave of bloody repressed popular protests and American pressure. A constitutional reform and a short period of parliamentary rule followed, which ended in May 1961 by a military coup that brought General Park Chung Hee to power. Reformed the Constitution in the presidential sense (1962) and assumed the presidency of the Republic (1963, 1967, 1971), Park re-established an authoritarian regime, reconfirming the close alliance with the United States and sending troops to Vietnam (1967). With the new 1972 Constitution, Park (reconfirmed in 1972 and 1978) further strengthened his powers and in the following years the opposition was practically silenced, while the serious repressive measures that hit any manifestation of dissent caused difficulties in the American allies and in the same relations with Japan, whose normalization, sanctioned by the 1965 treaty, had been at the basis of the process of intense industrial growth that characterized South Korea since the end of the 1960s. Relations with the United States, which under the mutual defense treaty of 1953 had maintained a military force of about 40,000 men in the region, after a phase of progressive deterioration during the Carter administration, they registered a marked improvement with the Reagan presidency. In subsequent years, relations with Japan were also reconfirmed, while the contacts initiated in the previous decade with North Korea continued, albeit with difficulty. Starting from the mid-1980s, the strong resurgence of the democratic opposition, with the decisive contribution of the students, led the government to start a gradual process of liberalization, which has continued since then with alternating phases. In the summer of 1987 the government was forced to agree a new constitution with the parliamentary opposition, approved in October by a popular referendum. It established the election by universal suffrage of the President of the Republic (with a non-renewable five-year mandate) and the limitation of his powers for the benefit of the National Assembly (elected for four years by universal suffrage), as well as a series of provisions aimed at guaranteeing the fundamental freedoms of citizens. South Korea’s first democratically elected president was Kim Dae Jung.
The political history of the Democratic Republic of Korea is linked in the same time span to the figure of Kim Il Sung. After the serious destruction caused by the war of 1950-53, the reconstruction of the country took place in parallel with the modernization effort and the planning and socialization of agriculture, while, on the political level, Kim Il Sung directed the party and the state towards a a sort of national road to socialism, autonomous from both the Soviet and the Chinese models: an autonomy that was also reflected in the equidistant relations maintained with Moscow and Beijing after the break between the two neighboring socialist countries. From 1972, with the launch of a new Constitution that attributed to the President of the Republic also the function of head of the executive, Kim Il Sung assumed this position, alongside that of party president. In the eighties, alongside the elderly leader, the figure of his son Kim Jong Il (vice-president of the party since 1980) appeared as his destined successor. In foreign policy, North Korea had achieved notable successes in the 1970s with its admission to the Movement of Non-Aligned Countries and diplomatic recognition by numerous states, while, starting from 1971, contacts had been initiated with Seoul to reach a peaceful reunification of the country. Despite repeated interruptions, due in particular to the protests in Pyongyang against the stay in South Korea of US forces, these contacts continued in the 1980s and intensified since 1990, also in relation to the changes taking place in the international situation.
Attempts to rapprochement
In September 1991 an agreement between the two republics led to their simultaneous admission to the UN and at the end of the year, after repeated meetings between their respective prime ministers, an agreement on reconciliation, non-aggression and cooperation was signed, ratified in February 1992. The simultaneous agreement in principle for the denuclearization of the entire peninsula, the cancellation of the traditional South Korean and American joint military maneuvers and the improvement of Pyongyang’s relations with Japan and the United States seemed to confirm, in the following months, the consolidation of the process. of relaxation. New difficulties emerged, however, in the course of 1993, following the resumption of Korean-American military maneuvers and the obstacles posed by the Pyongyang authorities to the conduct of inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency (launched in 1992) of its nuclear power plants. This situation lasted until mid-1994, when the mediation of former US President Jimmy Carter led to the announcement of an imminent meeting between the two Korean heads of state. The death of Kim Il Sung (July 1994) prevented this meeting from taking place and opened a long period of uncertainty among the leaders of the regime, witnessed by the fact that his son Kim Jong Il, who has long been indicated as his probable successor, although increasing his role in the political life of the country, he did not officially assume the positions of president of the Republic and general secretary of the Korean Workers’ Party (he would take the leadership of the latter only three years later, in October 1997). At the same time, the North Korean leadership found itself having to face serious economic problems, caused by the end of Soviet credits, by the drastic decrease in food exports by China and also by the failure to implement the agreements with the United States of October 1994. who had established a series of economic aid in exchange for the moratorium on Pyongyang’s nuclear program. The situation was made more dramatic by the floods that hit the country between 1995 and 1996, devastating the countryside and destroying the rice fields. Faced with the large number of victims (especially children) caused by the resulting famine, a series of international agreements established the sending of food and basic necessities to the North Korean population; the simultaneous resumption of relations with South Korea and the United States also led, during 1997, to the start of construction of the two light water nuclear power plants, intended for civil use, which had been envisaged by the 1994 agreements. After some preliminary meetings between the delegations of the two Korean Republics, the United States and China, the first four official sessions of the peace talks were held in Geneva (December 1997, March and October 1998, January 1999), which turned out, however, still interlocutory.
More optimistic prospects seemed to open in June 2000 with Kim Dae Jung’s visit to Pyongyang: in a meeting of over four hours between the two presidents, an agreement was reached which provided for a plan of economic and social collaboration and allowed the families who remained separated after the end of the 1950-53 conflict to meet again. Immediately after, however, the negotiations were interrupted again, to resume only in August 2002, after a moment of high tension had been determined in the previous June for the firefight waged in the Yellow Sea by the navies of the two countries, with mutual accusation. of having violated the border.