N Korea erases ‘one people’ notion with South, opens door for nuclear use

Pyongyang used to describe the nuclear arsenal as the ‘treasure of Koreans,’ hinting non-use against the South.
By Lee Jeong-Ho for RFA
2024.01.10
Seoul, South Korea
N Korea erases ‘one people’ notion with South, opens door for nuclear use Korean Unification flags defaced by strong wind hang on a military fence near the demilitarized zone separating the two Koreas in Paju, South Korea, Sept. 28, 2021.
Kim Hong-Ji/Reuters

North Korea has eliminated the idea of “one people” shared with South Korea from its media outlets, defining the South as a separate entity rather than the “same Koreans,” a shift experts said could rationalize the use of nuclear weapons in future conflicts with Seoul. 

North Korea’s leading propaganda website DPRK Today has removed its “reunification” section, as confirmed Thursday. Earlier this week, the section was still accessible. The website is operated under the supervision of North Korea’s United Front Department, with the primary aim of disseminating Pyongyang’s favored vision of reunification with the South.

The erased section had displayed the history of every inter-Korean agreement, ranging from the July 4 Joint Statement in 1972 to the latest September 19 Pyongyang Joint Declaration in 2018. 

It also contained details on North Korea’s reunification policy, advocating for the reunification under a federal structure based on the “one nation, two systems” principle, wherein the governments of both countries retain sovereignty over their respective regions.

Last week, North Korea also removed the reunification section from other propaganda platforms, including the Uriminzokkiri.

Such moves came after North Korean leader Kim Jong Un expressed his intention to discard the idea of “one people” shared with the South during the major policy meeting held last year. 

“Reflecting on the long history of inter-Korean relations, our conclusion is that unification can never be achieved with South Korea,” said Kim, according to the North’s official Korean Central News Agency on Dec. 31,  as North Korea wrapped up its Central Committee Plenary Meeting of the Workers’ Party Korea. 

South Korea’s reunification policy “starkly contrast with our nation’s unification policy based on the principles of one people, one state, two systems,” he added, noting that he would start treating the North’s relations with the South as a state-to-state relations and that he no longer views the South as the same Koreans.

In a separate report on Jan. 1, KCNA also reported that North Korea’s Foreign Minister Choe Son Hui, along with the head of the United Front Department Ri Son Gwon, hosted a meeting to discuss ways to deliver Kim’s orders to restructure organizations involved in South Korean affairs.

Since then, North Korea’s state-run media outlets have been consistently calling South Korea by its formal name “Republic of Korea.” Pyongyang had rarely referred to the South as the ROK, typically calling it as “Namjoseon,” which means “South of North Korea” in Korean. This terminology implied, albeit rhetorically, that both were parts of the same nation.

Yang Moo-jin, a professor at the University of North Korean Studies in Seoul who had advised South Korean administrations, said the move may harbor dual implications.

“Previously, North Korea described its nuclear arsenal as the ‘treasure of the entire Korean people,’ subtly implying that they were not intended for use against the South,” said Yang. 

“However, recent developments indicate a shift in this stance. As North Korea no longer views the South as part of the same people and nation, it raises the possibility that the North might consider using its nuclear weapons against the South,” he added.

In fact, on Wednesday, Kim has declared that South Korea is now officially Pyongyang’s “principal enemy,” openly stating his readiness for war. 

“Another goal could be Pyongyang’s effort to lessen its reliance on the South and highlight its self-reliance to the domestic audience,” Yang said.

“North Korea may aim to delay addressing unification issues and justify the enhancement of its nuclear capability. Additionally, this strategy could be viewed as a means to reinforce regime unity domestically by fostering anti-South sentiment among its population.”

Edited by Taejun Kang and Mike Firn.

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