Asian countries reevaluate separation, political differences

Daphne Yu

Art by Hyelee Won
Art by Hyelee Won

Less than 150 years ago, politics and culture divided the U.S. into the two factions of the Civil War. Today, a nation still firmly divided by politics and culture, in addition to its demilitarized zone across the 38th parallel, is Korea. After a rough start to the 20th century, where constant wars with other military powers in Asia left the Koreans no peace, the last straw on the buckling country came in 1948, when the Cold War bred the establishment of two governments in Korea: democracy, aided by the U.S. in the south and communism in the north, supported by the Soviet Union.

While hopes of reuniting the country rose and fell during the Korean War, they have now been re-invigorated with the election of South Korea’s Park Geun-Hye, who will take office in February. Her foreign policy includes reaching out to North Korea with what she calls “trustpolitik,” which will renew humanitarian aid to build social and cultural exchanges.

Hyoeun Kang, a South Korean junior at RBHS, has always known of the existence of the split. After meeting two North Koreans during her time in South Korea, Kang’s sympathy goes out to them not because of their restrictions, but their financial deprivations and their limited development of opinions.

“I was really surprised and shocked that they needed to do everything all about Kim Jeong Il,” Kang said. “They need to listen to music and watch movies about Kim Jeong Il, and the citizens cannot watch [or listen to] foreign movies or music.”

A hot topic in her education in South Korea, she remembers learning about the vast differences between the two nations. While she had never feared the other side, that all changed one November afternoon when the North Korean artillery let loose on the South Korean Yeonpyeong Island in 2010. With the event plastered all over the news, Kang could not escape the reality of the attack.

“When I first heard that, I was freaking out because many people were dying, and it was such a big thing that happened,” Kang said. “My parents were surprised too, and they were sad [that] people ­— so many people — were dying with no reason.”

Kang still sees the countries as populated by the same people, though she’s not sure unity is the best thing. The South Korean Ministry of Unification estimates the unification of the Korean Peninsula would mean South Korea paying seven percent of its Gross Domestic Product for the next ten years, but it would allow for expansion of economic growth. Kang says politics, however, is the main divide.

“In my opinion, it is good to help them make good living conditions,” Kang said. However, “I think it’s hard for unity because we have totally different living conditions and policies.”

Differences in governing styles also resulted in a debate between the Republic of China, known as just China today, and the People’s Republic of China, also known as Taiwan. China calls Taiwan its province, but Taiwan has its own government and economy. The ambiguity over territorial claims came at the end of the Chinese Civil war in 1949 when the Kuomintang and Communist parties fought for control. Now, China operates under a communist government and Taiwan under a democracy, but the two survive on peaceful terms.

Briana Marsh, 2010 RBHS alumna, is a Chinese major at the University of Central Missouri studying abroad in Beijing, China and recently visited Taiwan. She says there is no noticeable difference in the standard of living between the two nations, though a “huge” one lies in internet censorship. In China, Marsh said communist colors only showed during the Chinese presidential elections.

“They were especially strict on internet use and shut down a bunch of sites. You couldn’t even use Google. It was a tough time,” Marsh said. “In terms of the Internet, there’s definitely a lack of freedom. But … that’s the only area that I’m able to tell I’m in a communist country.”

While the two countries are on relatively good terms, Marsh said, there is no need or possibility of reuniting. Social studies teacher David Graham said there’s also more than one dividing factor keeping two “sides” apart in any country, and for countries that are divided longer, it is harder for them to reunite.

“Taiwan and China seem so different, not only politically, but economically and socially, and the same can be said for North and South Korea,” Graham said. “When they stayed split up … it seemed that they really went different ways [in terms of the] westernization of Taiwan and North Korea.”

However, Marsh said the political obstacle in the way of unification and separation of China and Taiwan is complex. During her time in China and visit to Taiwan, she talked to the people there about their views on the separation issue.

While “Taiwan is basically their own country with their own government, their own currency, and they do everything independent[ly], China can’t say Taiwan is independent because all the other provinces and areas in China would want to be independent from China,” Marsh said. “It’s a delicate situation where [Taiwan] is technically independent, but [China] can’t admit it.”

No matter how strenuous the relationship between the two factions are, the people of North and South Korea and Taiwan and China come from the same roots.

“You can’t convince me that there aren’t relatives from each side of North and South Korea and China and Taiwan that are … generations that … remember being in the other country,” Graham said. “It seems like no one is willing to give in and say the other side is right, so ideologically, I think is the biggest divide.”
By Daphne Yu