North Korea is holding mandatory lectures for Workers’ Party executives to promote leader Kim Jong Un’s decision to pursue the unification of the divided Koreas following a breakthrough in relations between the North and South at the Pyeongchang Olympics, sources inside the country said.
Officials who conduct the sessions are talking up the reunification of the countries as a soon-to-be-realized project, they said, though the two remain technically at war because the 1953 armistice that ended fighting in the Korean War has never been replaced by a peace treaty.
“The Central Committee has been propagandizing at recent lecture sessions for executives that the Korean Peninsula will be federally unified,” said a source in the capital Pyongyang, referring to the chief policymaking body of the ruling Workers’ Party of Korea, which approves political and ideological campaigns and deliberates and advises on government policies.
“They emphasize that the Korea Confederation is a unification plan of the past, and Kim Jong Un’s new unification plan is to create one country with two systems just like with China and Hong Kong,” said the source who declined to be named.
Pyongyang has always viewed a confederation of the two Koreas as a brief transition to the impoverished North’s absorption of the far wealthier South, while Seoul has considered it a peaceful symbolic union that would allow it postpone true unification indefinitely, analysts say.
“According to written lecture summary, North Korea will be in China’s position, and South Korea will be in Hong Kong’s position in a China-Hong Kong style unification, so there will be one country with two systems,” the source told RFA’s Korea Service. “They use the phrase ‘federal unification,’ but it can be interpreted as a unification of Korea by North Korea absorbing South Korea.”
In China, the “one country, two systems” principle holds that there is only one China in which the former colonial-ruled regions of Hong Kong and Macau retain their economic and administrative systems, while the mainland adheres to a socialist market economy and centralized communist rule.
In January, officials from the two Koreas made hasty plans for athletes from the North to participate in the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea, in a show of unity.
The North sent a large delegation, and athletes from the two Koreas walked side by side under a common flag as they entered the stadium during the opening ceremony on Feb. 9. The next day, athletes from both sides formed a joint women’s ice hockey team competing as “Korea,” marking the first time that the two countries competed together in an Olympics event.
Kim Jong Un also sent his younger sister on a three-day visit to the Olympics to extend an unanticipated invitation to South Korean President Moon Jae-in to visit Pyongyang.
In their lectures to party executives, North Korean officials are stressing the success of the country’s participation in the Winter Olympics as part and parcel of Kim Jong Un’s unification project.
“The lectures also stress that North Korean athletes and its cheering squad, performance teams, and taekwondo demonstration team led the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics and attracted attention from the rest of the world [as a testament] to [the North’s] success,” the source in Pyongyang said. “It is being propagandized as a result of Kim Jong Un’s aggressive unification strategy.”
During the Games, the North did not extend the same conciliatory overtures to its arch-enemy the United States, given heightened tensions between the two over Pyongyang's testing of ballistic missiles and nuclear devices, Washington’s combative response, and the imposition of harsh sanctions on the North by the United Nations and Washington.
But during a two-day visit by a South Korean delegation to Pyongyang that ended Tuesday, Kim Jong Un suggested that the North is willing to discuss nuclear disarmament with the U.S. and will suspend all nuclear and missile tests during the proposed talks — a proposal embraced by Washington.
At the meeting, Pyongyang also agreed to hold a summit meeting between Kim Jong Un and Moon Jae-in at a village on their shared border in late April, according to a statement issued by Moon’s office.
North Koreans who lead the lectures also say that "recent tension on the Korean Peninsula has now found a peaceful environment, and there is no war to worry about because Kim Jong Un sent high-level delegations to the opening and closing ceremonies of the Winter Olympics,” the source said.
“Realization of the new unification plan based on the successful Winter Olympics is also being highlighted,” he added.
Though lecture participants and executives from the Workers’ Party and from judicial and administrative organizations have been instructed to proudly propagandize Kim Jong Un’s new unification plan, many of them have doubts about the project, the source in Pyongyang said.
“Most of lecture participants are aware of the details of the North’s ‘success’ at Pyeongchang Olympics, so they are somewhat distrustful of the project,” he said.
An ethnic Korean source in Dandong, a city in northeastern China’s Liaoning province that faces the North Korean city of Sinuiju across the Yalu River, told RFA that he recently met a merchant from a North Korean trade organization, who discussed the atmosphere in Pyongyang over the new unification project.
“He passionately talked about Kim Jong Un’s new unification plan that the Korean Peninsula will soon be unified,” said the source who declined to be named.
The North and the South will be integrated economically after a certain period of exchange of human and material resources between the two countries, the merchant told the source.
“After that, the South and North will work on narrowing their political, economic, and cultural gaps to unify federally following the example of China and Hong Kong,” the source said.
When the source asked the merchant which country would assume the position of Hong Kong under Kim Jong Un’s “one country, two systems“ approach to unification, he replied that North Korea would be in China’s position.
“The trade organization executive was not too talkative, but he was overly passionate when he talked about the federal unification plan,” the source said.
“It was unusual,“ he added. “I got the feeling that North Korean authorities are pushing their workers in overseas countries to widely propagandize Kim Jong Un’s unification plan in addition to the circumstances surrounding the success of the Pyeongchang Olympics.”
Reported by Jieun Kim for RFA’s Korean Service. Translated by Leejin Jun. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.