The history of the Koreas, both north and south, is overshadowed in East Asian politics by China and Japan, according to an Ohio Wesleyan University professor.
Ji Young Choi, associate professor of international studies at Ohio Wesleyan University and a native of South Korea, kicked off this year’s Great Decisions series Friday. Choi said he is personally tied to the issues the countries face.
Choi covered the countries’ politics, nuclear issues and the chance of reunification after seven decades of tension between North and South Korea. Current politics in the Koreas are still being affected by a long history of conflict after World War II when they split.
Park Chung-hee, the first female and current president of South Korea, has worked to further the economy and create more welfare programs, Choi said.
In South Korea, people are politically split on how they feel with regards to U.S. involvement in the country. There are far leftists who believe U.S. help is not beneficial to South Korea, yet 60 percent of the population believes the U.S. is the best security for nation, Choi said.
North Koreans live under a totalitarian government with little communication with the outside world, while the country increase its military. The nation spends 30 percent of its budget on the military. Isolation from other countries, however, leaves North Korea less technologically advanced in comparison with South Korea and other countries, Choi said.
Inter-Korean talks in 2000 led to discussions about engagement policy, but that dissipated when President George W. Bush succeeded Bill Clinton.
Choi said China is the most important country for reining in North Korea’s nuclear ambitions.
“North Korea is dependent on China for its economic development,” he said. “If China were to close off to North Korea, their economy would collapse in a week.”
He suggested three ways how the Koreas could unify: through war (similar to what happened in Vietnam); absorption (similar to Germany); or mutual agreement (similar to Yemen).
After his presentation, Choi was quizzed by audience members curious for more details about South and North Korea. One person asked about when the press had an impact in Korean affairs.
Choi said the press didn’t have much impact until the late 19th century, when there was just one Korea. Press activity helped develop the economy and the rise of nationalism, bringing the country to the attention of the world. Prior to that, Korea was an isolated country dominated by the interests of Japan, China and Russia.
Now, Choi said, North and South Korea are two different countries isolated from one another. North Korea has a totalitarian government, industrially and economically behind the rest of the world, while South Korea is democratic and has a booming pop culture.
Choi specializes in international relations history and theories, international and comparative political economy, and East Asian security and political economy.
The Great Decisions series continues Friday, Feb. 5, at William Street United Methodist Church with a lecture by Delaware native Stephen Tull, the United Nations resident program coordinator in the Republic of Chad.
Courtney Dunne writes for The Transcript, Ohio Wesleyan University’s student newspaper.