Tale of Two Cities Part 1
As a Korean-American who studied comparative and international politics in college and graduate school, and as a person of faith who is deeply interested in what God is doing in both Koreas, I feel that I am in a unique position to share some thoughts on the current North Korea-South Korea-US developments.
Since the Armistice of 1953 divided the peninsula roughly in half, the North and South took dramatically different political, economic, social, and spiritual paths. Backed by the US, the South was put on the path toward democracy, if only in structure and spirit initially. Despite the reign of authoritarian regimes in the 1960’s through 1980’s, US-educated technocrats in South Korea engineered what is known as the “Miracle of Han River.” From the ashes of the civil war, the South eventually emerged as one of the world’s significant and thriving economies. Per religious freedom, one's decision to choose and practice religion is honored in the South. Today, roughly 23% of its people identify themselves as Christians, and South Korea is second only to the US in sending out missionaries.
The North, on the other hand, took a drastically different path under the dictatorship of Kim Il-Sung and his descendants. Its political philosophy is marked by the term “Ju-che,” which means self-sufficiency and independence. The North truly is a 20th Century “hermit kingdom” that shunned international contact other than with the Soviet Union and the People’s Republic of China. Yet, despite their backing, the North’s command economy failed, akin to the failure of the Soviet Union in the early 90’s. Further, the totalitarian regime of North Korea is notorious for its brutal political purges, Soviet-style gulags for dissenters, state-caused mass starvations, and egregious violation of human rights.
When the Soviet Union fell apart in the early 90’s, North Korea lost its most staunch supporter as well as a major trading partner. The void left behind by the USSR was quickly filled by the PRC (People’s Republic of China), perhaps the only backer of the North Korean regime in the world today. As far as religion is concerned, while Pyongyang was one of the first regions that embraced Christianity and experienced spiritual awakening in the early 1900s, the dictators of North Korea thoroughly repressed Christianity as well as other forms of religion.
(Continued in Part 2)