How mighty a united Korea would be

Korea conflictDonald Trump's delicate trip to South Korea

Dialogue with the north, reunification, peace in the region, plus singing. In front of the main train station in South Korea's capital Seoul, demonstrators try to drown each other out. For decades, the people in the south of the peninsula have always reacted calmly to the threats from North Korea. But after a series of nuclear and missile tests by the communist regime in North Korea, the situation is tense. Many South Koreans are now afraid.

"The situation is very dangerous. If the US Army tries to destroy North Korea's nuclear weapons, it can lead to war. This would be fatal for South Korea in particular."

Heo, Man-Ho, politics professor at Kyungpook National University in Deagu, south of Seoul, also complains that the situation simply has to be accepted because the possibilities of a South Korean government to intervene in the conflict are limited: since the division of the Korean peninsula in 1945 and the end of the Korean War in 1953, their fate rests in the hands of the "protecting power" USA.

A visit that provokes North Korea

The first big trip to Asia by US President Donald Trump falls into this extremely dangerous situation. After a visit to Japan, he comes to South Korea on Tuesday. The DMZ - the demilitarized zone that separates North and South Korea at the 38th parallel - is also part of the usual visit program for foreign state guests. It is mined and guarded like no other border and about 50 kilometers from Seoul.

It is no longer planned that Trump will take a look over walls and barbed wire into the isolated North Korea. Lars-André Richter, office manager of the Friedrich Naumann Foundation in Seoul, which is close to the FDP, would not only consider this a provocation.

"Just the fact that he comes to Seoul and will probably visit the military base here and meet with the military, that alone is provocation enough. And he will certainly say something, regardless of whether he is prepared or not about the current conflict and to North Korea. So to that extent the presence alone and the visit here should be provocation enough, regardless of the visit program. "

South Korean (in the foreground) and North Korean soldiers face each other in the demilitarized zone at the Blue Barracks on the border with North Korea. (Wolfgang Kumm / dpa)

The US has been warning North Korea of ​​a military strike for weeks if the Pyongyang regime continues to push ahead with nuclear armament. In fact, some in the region greeted Trump's threat policy with relief. Go Myong-Hyun, a research fellow at the Asan Institute for Political Studies in Seoul, understands why.

"The main reason North Korea was able to successfully develop nuclear weapons and missiles is because it could disregard all international laws and agreements - without being punished for it. The international community doesn't know how to deal with North Korea, so they have it From the point of view of North Korea, the actors acted very predictably. President Trump did not go along with it, he is completely unpredictable and that took the North Korean leadership by surprise. This growing uncertainty on the part of North Korea is a completely new development that we are so far. This could mean a breakthrough to end the provocations from the north. I think that's why many South Koreans see Trump's attitude towards North Korea in a more positive light. "

Finding the US strategy

The politics of the USA in the past few months was really not clear: Just over a year ago, Trump had advertised the withdrawal of the USA as a world policeman. A U-turn towards a military response to the nuclear tests on the part of North Korea would now damage him domestically because of the high costs. Relations with China could also deteriorate dramatically. The risk of North Korea attacking the south of the peninsula also remains.

The previous sanctions policy of the ex-presidents Clinton, Bush and Obama has not stopped North Korea from the nuclear program. On the contrary, says Jung Keunsig, who heads the Institute for Peace and Reunification at the "Seoul National University":

"Many South Koreans compare President Obama's policies to those of President Trump. Obama chose strategic endurance, which many did not agree with because it enabled North Korea to develop nuclear weapons and missiles. South Korea wants a changed global one US strategy towards North Korea. At first Trump reacted confused to the provocations from North Korea, sometimes there were tough sanctions, then peace talks were offered. We are still wondering what is the US strategy that will bring peace to the Korean Peninsula. "

North Korean missile tests have been provoking the USA for years (dpa / picture alliance)

The conflict over North Korea is raging and the peninsula is further away than ever from peace. But for a few weeks now, saber rattles, verbal attacks and personal insults from both sides have turned into an unusual silence. Go Myong-Hyun, a political analyst in Seoul, interprets it this way:

"It should be assured to the north, as long as President Trump is in the region, there will be no military action, so no trouble. But everyone, especially North Korea, of course, pays attention to what Trump says in South Korea. As long as President Trump and the If the US government makes its position on North Korea clear, North Korea will initially hold back on provocations and wait and see. If they hear something during their visit to the region that they do not like, then there could be renewed major provocations, North Korea announced for a while. "

An unreal crisis

With a per capita income of more than $ 27,000, South Korea is now in the upper middle range of gross domestic product. The mostly young passers-by in Seoul are well dressed and well fed. New shiny cars are clogging the streets of the 25 million metropolis. International banks and corporations have settled here. Reflecting skyscrapers with up to 123 floors rise into the mostly blue sky.

Seoul is a bustling city. Even in a conventional attack from the north, it would be badly affected. Many observers here cannot believe that the current crisis is real, life is so peaceful and normal.

Jung, Keunsig: "At the moment, people in South Korea are faced with three different scenarios, depending on the context in which the situation is interpreted. First: Are we currently dealing with a real crisis? Second: Are we back in the cold War like before? Or third, is a psychological war being waged to sell strategic weapons to South Korea? We here on the peninsula cannot believe that this is a real crisis, unlike many foreigners. Why? Some intellectuals argue for it to accept the sanctions policy, but so many liberal and democratic-minded Koreans no longer want sanctions policy. Dialogue and negotiations are more important to them in order to bring peace to Korea. "

Mystery Kim Jong Un

Negotiations with a young dictator who threatens the atomic bomb? Nobody knows what drives Kim Jong Un, how far he is ready to go. The world knows next to nothing about him anyway. How to deal with him? Some think he's crazy, others think he's a psychopath. Lars-André Richter has been the office manager of the Friedrich Naumann Foundation in Seoul for five years and has visited North Korea many times. He comes to this analysis.

"I'm not that convinced that the man is really crazy or a psychopath. In fact, I believe on the contrary that he knows relatively exactly what he is doing. Regardless of that - and that is a question that is really being debated - how firmly he sits in the saddle. One can assume that he will have domestic, intra-party opponents, critics, against whom he must distinguish himself. Of course, he can do that with such successful tests. So I think he knows relatively well how far he can go and when the point would be reached where there would really be a backlash, from whoever. "

Little is known about him: Kim Jong Un kneels while monitoring a military exercise. (dpa / picture alliance)

In Seoul, Trump will meet South Korean President Moon Jae-In. In the elections in May of this year, Moon won because he stood on the promise to initiate a new policy of reconciliation with North Korea. However, the events of the past few months obviously led in the opposite direction. Politics professor Heo, Man-Ho:

"The Moon government is really in a difficult position. He and his cabinet colleagues wanted to initiate discourse and cooperation with the leaders in North Korea, but before he was elected president, Kim Jong Un continued his military adventure. Moon's possibilities are limited. I think he cannot mediate between the two sides. "

China's special role

The most important mediator role in the Korean conflict is assigned to China, because as North Korea's direct and largest neighbor and supplier of essential goods, Beijing is believed to have a lot of influence over the rulers there. The Chinese keep the regime in Pyongyang alive, on the other hand China has no interest in a conflict in the region. Kim Jong Un knows that too, says Heo, Man-Ho:

"In China's geopolitical concept, North Korea is the lip to protect its own teeth. Chinese leaders want it to stay that way, but Kim Jong Un has destabilized the situation. Through this situation, which Kim created through his threats, wants that Chinese leaders simultaneously control US forces in the Korean peninsula. However, if Kim Jong Un continues his military adventure, a war in Southeast Asia could ensue. China does not want that. Chinese leaders believe they are in an advantageous position control the situation, but at the same time their situation is tricky. "

The buffer state of North Korea has become a powder keg in the immediate vicinity of the major Chinese cities of Beijing and Shanghai. On the other hand, the US is also threatening China with consequences if it does not finally curb its ally North Korea and enforce the UN sanctions. Since October 1st, textiles have not been allowed to be exported from North Korea, oil deliveries have also been further reduced and natural gas is no longer supposed to get into the country at all.

"The implementation by China has been half-hearted. So far. That seems to be improving a bit. Here, too, possibly because Beijing is also very aware that other strings are being pulled in Washington. The big new phenomenon are the new secondary or indirect ones Sanctions, i.e. sanctions against states that circumvent sanctions. And that is something that experts say is taken a little more seriously by China than just pressure, verbal diplomatic pressure, then via the United Nations, now hold on please refer to the sanctions that you yourself have decided. "

Alliance politics then and now

Until 1991, North Korea could always hope for help from the Soviet Union, which had occupied the north of the Korean peninsula after the Second World War. During the Cold War, there seemed to be a balance between the two superpowers, the Soviet Union and the United States, in the region.

However, with the collapse of the Soviet Union, the rise of China and a future nuclear power North Korea, the geopolitical constellations in Southeast Asia have changed. And Russia may not be out of the game if the conflict is resolved, Lars-André Richter suspects. Especially since Trump has announced that he will also meet with Russian President Putin during his trip to Asia.

"Where it gets interesting is on the missile issue. There are increasing reports that the majority of these missiles come from Soviet stocks. Given the unconstructive role Russia plays in Eastern Europe - and in the Middle East - I don't think it is It is unlikely that there will be mixed in here too, that this too will be provoked, that someone will be instrumentalized here too, in order to drive apart western alliances. In this case, the western alliance, the North Pacific alliance, including Japan, South Korea and Taiwan belong and the USA of course. "

A truck in North Korea with coal. The United Nations and the US are putting pressure on China to deliver less energy to North Korea. (ED JONES / AFP)

Both Koreas have been part of a global strategy of their protecting powers, the USA and China, for more than 60 years. Both can not decide independently about their future. A South Korean president has only visited the north once: President Kim Dae Jung in 2000. The policy of understanding, rapprochement and cooperation at that time went down in history as the policy of sunshine.

Threats with calculation

The thought of something like a peace declaration between North and South Korea was quickly off the table, because it was going too far for the USA. China and Japan also do not want a strong, even unified Korea with 75 million people. So every rapprochement led back to the Cold War at some point, explains the office manager of the Friedrich Naumann Foundation in Seoul:

"I actually see it coming up here again. I don't actually see a really hot war. I think it's very, very unlikely that North Korea will start something like that. I also don't think it's very likely that Trump will somehow push a button presses because he should also know that North Korea has received security guarantees from the Chinese. That is no secret. So Donald Trump should know that if he does anything, he will at least mess with China, maybe even Russia. "

At least his advisors will understand that an attack on North Korea would set the entire region on fire. But maybe Trump's threats are also used to sell new weapons systems to Japan and South Korea. If nuclear weapons from the USA were to be stationed around South Korea again - as in the Cold War period up to 1991 - it would also be against the will of the South Korean population.

"Cold war is the key word. It is now being talked about here in South Korea. They have now installed missile defense systems. There is talk of bringing tactical nuclear weapons back here from the USA. A separate nuclear program is linked to a great number of conditions, very many many burdens, also internationally. That is not so easy, but at least it is debated. It has not always been the case. "

A United Korea?

During his talks in Japan, President Trump threatened again with American strength, and South Korea is imposing sanctions to prevent business with North Korean banks. And Pyongyang has already reacted to Trump's visit to the region, says Go Myong-Hyun, who is also allowed to read newspapers from North Korea for his research, which is otherwise prohibited in South Korea.


South Korea's President Moon Jae was elected for a conciliatory style towards North Korea (AP / dpa-Bildfunk / Richard Drew)
"The North Korean media are propaganda machines and they write about Trump's visit that they have the right to repel the enemy at any time. That is the usual rhetoric, to be understood as a phrase rather than an insult, but that is only one thing. That second is, North Korea has been so quiet last month because of efforts on the part of the US and other countries to mediate between North Korea and the US Communication channels have been established for dialogue between the two countries, but we don't know how Maybe they are talking to each other and that is why North Korea is currently behaving so cautiously and not provoking further. They are waiting to see what Trump will say before his visit. "

The peace-seeking demonstrators in Seoul want to finally pursue a dialogue policy for which the majority of South Koreans voted in the past elections - even if the thought of a reunification of the two Koreas has become a long way off.