“Two Koreas, with free interpretations” — the Panmunjom summit between South Korean President Moon Jae-in and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un on Friday last week gave the impression that the two leaders are big-hearted because they treated each other respectfully and interacted freely.
The language of the Panmunjom Declaration might be intricate, but it was written based on free will. What it talks about is peaceful coexistence rather than “one Korea” and “unification,” or which side is going to swallow the other.
It is amazing to witness this turn of history. What a change there has been since 1950, when Kim’s grandfather, Kim Il-sung, sent his troops south to unify Korea. Now we see Kim Jong-un, with atom bombs and intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) in his pocket, embracing Moon and talking about denuclearization and working together to promote peace.
North Korea’s “rise” under Kim Jong-un has followed a different script from that of former Chinese leader Mao Zedong (毛澤東), but with similar ends in mind.
In the early 1960s, then-Chinese minister of foreign affairs Chen Yi (陳毅), said that Chinese needed to get an atom bomb, even if they had to pawn their pants to get it.
Similarly, and with no regard for the lives of ordinary North Koreans, Kim Jong-un has done his utmost to get nuclear weapons and ICBMs in a bid to win the US’ respect and get it to engage in talks.
Kim Jong-un might be ruthless when it comes to palace power struggles, but having gone to school in Switzerland, his ideas about the nation and its territory are not as feudalistic and rigid as Mao’s were. He does not demand that South Korea accept the idea of “one Korea” and unification on his terms just because he is the one with nuclear weapons.
With respect to nationhood and international standing, the two Koreas are better off than Taiwan.
In 1936, Mao told US journalist Edgar Snow that the Chinese Communist Party would support independence for Japan’s colonies Korea and Taiwan after Japan was ousted from China.
Eventually the war did come to an end, and Korea did not just become independent — it became two independent countries supported by the US and the Soviet Union respectively. Taiwan, in contrast, was taken over and placed under martial law by Chinese Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek (蔣介石) after he occupied it on behalf of the Allied powers.
The 1951 Treaty of Peace with Japan, known as the San Francisco Peace Treaty, clearly states what should happen to Korea, and also to Taiwan and Penghu, then known as Formosa and the Pescadores.
The treaty text says: “Japan, recognizing the independence of Korea, renounces all right, title and claim to Korea, including the islands of Quelpart, Port Hamilton and Dagelet [Jeju, Komundo and Ulleungdo].”
Japan did not recognize the independence of Taiwan, but as with Korea, the treaty says that “Japan renounces all right, title and claim to Formosa and the Pescadores.”
The only thing missing is that the treaty did not determine to whom this “right, title and claim” should be conceded.
Although the San Francisco Treaty does not recognize Taiwan’s independent status, its wording makes it clear that Taiwan does not belong to China.
Every country should respect Taiwanese’s right to self-determination and their right to establish an independent nation.
By disregarding the terms of the treaty and making military and verbal threats to annex Taiwan, China has proven itself to be more of a rogue than Kim Jong-un.
James Wang is a media commentator.
Translated by Julian Clegg
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