On May 22, Dr. Niki Alsford held a lecture titled “Assessing the Gesture Politics of the DPRK in the Post-Olympic Period”. It addressed the recent political developments between South Korea and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea). With this being such a recent and continuously developing topic, the lecture was extended with additional commentary and a Q&A session between the lecturer and the attendees addressing the most recent changes of the situation, including some thought experiments of what the future of the East Asian region might look like with an internationally integrated North Korea.
Dr. Alsford began his lecture considering the diplomatic implications of the 2018 Winter Olympics of 2018 that were recently held in PyeongChang, South Korea. Despite tense relations between North and South Korea due to the nuclear and missile testing, the DPRK not only agreed to participate in the Games, but also to appear during the opening ceremony as a unified Korea and form a unified team in women’s ice hockey. Dr. Niki Alsford referred to this as “Gesture Politics”.
It was pointed out how Kim Yo-jong, Kim Jong-un’s younger sister, and Vice Director of the Propaganda and Agitation Department of the Workers’ Party of Korea, was instrumental in the diplomatic efforts that helped reached its current point of inter-Korean negotiations. As Director of Propaganda, perhaps Kim Yo-jong is acing her job, particularly taking into consideration how she seems to have charmed foreign media and attract positive headlines. She’s been instrumental in softening the image of his elder brother and is believed to have a strong influence over him.
Another interesting point explored during the lecture was the possibility of a “unified” Korea, especially after possibility of converting the Korean Armistice Agreement into a full peace treaty, formally ending the Korean War after 65 years. Ideologically, this would mean that both Koreas recognize one another as sovereign states with legitimate governments. A traditionally “unified” Korea as one nation would probably be more difficult to achieve under such context. On the other hand, other forms of “unification” would be easier such as a type of commonwealth, or a union or free-trade zone.
Perhaps, one of the most dynamic parts of the lecture was the discussion held at the end in which both lecturer and attendees shared their opinions on the political and economic implications of a North-South rapprochement. A North Korea that is not held back by international sanctions and can fully participate in the international market economy presents some unexplored opportunities. Amongst some of the views offered were that some overseas manufacturing industries may try and relocate to North Korea, and that South Korea may develop stronger political ties by “developing” the North and the regional implications of the power-shift in the Korean Peninsula.