The Importance Behind the Unification of the Korean Peninsula; Is It Really the End?

On Friday, April 27th, the leaders of North and South Korea met in front of the line that divides both Koreas to formally begin with the historic summit planned overnight.

Kim Jong-un became the first North Korean leader to set foot in the South Korean land, making this a huge step towards the consolidation of the Korean Peninsula. In this summit, held at the Peace House—a building on the South Korean side of the border—Mr. Kim and Mr. Moon Jae-in agreed on the Korean War’s official end six decades after the hostilities ceased. This goes back to 1953 when both Koreas decided to stop the fire with no official peace treaty signed.

Not only did both leaders make a symbolic border crossing, they also planted a pine tree with soil originating from both lands to symbolize peace. Later on, Mr. Kim and Mr. Moon sat for 30 minutes on a blue bench while engaging in deep conversation. After these acts, the leaders proceeded to sign the Panmunjom Declaration for Peace, Prosperity, and Unification in the Korean Peninsula, which commits North and South Korea to denuclearization and “starts” to bring a formal end to the conflict. We aren’t certain about when this will officially begin, as there’s a lot going on behind closed doors with the allies of both countries.

The encounter between both leaders contrasts the previous occurrences, where Mr. Kim made a secretive visit to Beijing and two summits in which South Korea's leader predecessors went to Pyongyang to see Kim Jong-il, the father of North Korea's leader.

This long process affects the people of the Korean Peninsula directly. In this case, we’re going to look briefly at the North Korean defectors after the Korean War and the South Korean male population, who has to compulsorily serve the military as an example.

As a result of the Korean War, 60,000 families had been split apart and still remain separated. Since 1953, 100,000 to 300,000 North Koreans have also defected. Most of them have fled to China, but since they’re allies with North Korea, the people are repatriated if found. A lot of these defectors end up in South Korea, where they are eligible for extensive government support and Korean citizenship. However, this also means they can’t go back to their families whenever they want.

South Korea's military service is in charge of the Military Manpower Administration (MMA). Even though it was created in 1948, the compulsory service was established in 1957 four years after the cease-fire. It requires all males between ages 18 and 35 to train during a minimum of 12 months, making it one of the longest services in the world. Between the 27 countries that still have compulsory service, only Israel, Singapore and North Korea are above them. Women can enlist but they’re not obliged, unlike their neighbors in North Korea.

Further reports say that leader Kim Jong-un will let North Koreans reunite with their families. The last of these family visits took place at the end of 2015 before the relations between countries worsened.

In the upcoming months, we will see how other parties involved in the Korean War like the United States, China and Canada react, and how both Koreas will persuade them to officially end this conflict. After this, can we expect a change in different laws that have been or will be passed? Or are they going to keep doing the same thing they are now but with a formal peace treaty? For these answers, we’ll have to keep watching as the news evolves.