October 21st 2017

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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY Reality of family unit must underlie tax system

EDITORIAL Christianity today: the challenges ahead

CANBERRA OBSERVED Xenophon: a Mr Fixit or a political yo-yo?

DRUGS POLICY Science elbowed aside in rush for latest silver bullet: 'medical marijuana'

TRANSGENDER MARRIAGE Decoys to revolutionary laws redefining sex and marriage

FOREIGN AFFAIRS What is the way out of the Catalan crisis?

NATIONAL AFFAIRS Our barmy Army: all politically correct

FAMILY AND SOCIETY The child as weapon in Family Court process

FAMILY AND SOCIETY Faiths and the global future

KOREA Hermit Kingdom versus the Land of Morning Calm

MUSIC Hi-tech lo-fi: Resistance is futile

CINEMA Blade Runner 2049: A cypher unlocking a mystery

BOOK REVIEW The rebels

BOOK REVIEW An attempt to break through the fog


HUMOUR More excerpts from the forthcoming revision of Forget's Dictionary of Inaccurate Facts, Furphys and Falsehoods


EUTHANASIA Victoria's death bill: questions that need answers

TRANSGENDER MARRIAGE: George Christensen calls Parliament's attention to activists' end-game

EUTHANASIA Victoria mistakes killing for compassion

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Hermit Kingdom versus the Land of Morning Calm

by Jeffry Babb

News Weekly, October 21, 2017

At the end of the Korean War in 1953, it was not difficult to predict the future of Korea. Korea was divided along the 38th parallel of latitude. The war had achieved virtually nothing. The North and South were divided along the same line as when the war started. There wasn’t even a peace treaty – the war ended with an armistice only. The fragile standoff continues at Panmunjom, on the Demilitarised Zone.

This tense situation has the potential to flare into conflict at any time. The North was industrialised and potentially prosperous, while the South was agricultural and impoverished. Its infrastructure had been almost totally destroyed as the War whipsawed up and down the Korean Peninsula. One need not be too old to remember the collections taken up for the starving orphans of South Korea.

Of course, like all predictions, the prediction of the future of Korea was totally wrong. The North, under the rule of the Kim family – communism’s first dynastic rulers – became the Hermit Kingdom. It was dependent on aid, first from the Soviet Union until it collapsed, and then from China. For several years, from 1994 to 1998, North Korea experienced the Arduous March, a famine in which millions died. No one outside the ruling elite knows for certain how many died when Soviet aid dried up and crops failed. Funding the army became the Kim regime’s first priority.

It would be mistaken to assume that of the people of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) – North Korea’s official name – are totally cowed by the Kim regime. Where people have access to a “freedom machine” – in other words, a bicycle – all they need is a pair of healthy legs to take them virtually anywhere they want to go. Life is harsh in North Korea but reports indicate that mostly it is a life of Spartan sufficiency rather than starvation.

And what of the South, the Land of Morning Calm, the Republic of Korea (ROK)? Strongman Syngman Rhee was president of South Korea from 1948 to 1960. He was overthrown following student-led uprisings and lived out his life in Honolulu, where he died in 1965. South Korea had begun its upward path to becoming one of the world’s most industrialised, high-tech societies. Yet the Army retained the real power.

South Korea’s industrialisation was led by several dozen powerful industrial conglomerates known as chaebol, similar to Japan’s keiretsu or zaibatsu. The influence of the chaebol became so pervasive that when 11 of South Korea’s top 50 companies failed – including Kia – in the 1997 Asian Crisis, few tears were shed. Shortly after, Daewoo, one of the top four chaebol, was allowed to collapse.

With South Korea’s exporters harried by cheap Chinese manufacturers at the bottom end and Japanese keiretsu selling with a devalued yen at the top end, competition in the international market became intense. Small and medium enterprises have struggled to make their mark against the commercial might of the chaebol, which are frequently accused of abusing their market dominance, despite the existence of a number of officially sponsored support schemes.

Young Koreans are very different from their parents. It was once said that “Koreans think Japanese are lazy”. Competition for the fruits of South Korea’s economic miracle is intense. Getting into university means enduring an examination hell. Young Koreans are emigrating to nations where there is less stress on wealth as a measure of value and on educational achievement as a means of social advancement.

Most Koreans weren’t alive when the Korean War ended. We tend to think of Koreans as tough soldiers who practise taekwondo. Most South Koreans are ambivalent about reunification with North Korea. Reunification would set back South Korea’s economy for a generation. South Korea is best known in Asia for K-Pop, standing for Korean popular music. With its snazzy dance routines, alluring costumes and bouncy tunes, K-Pop has taken Asia, including China, by storm.

Christianity is making a big impact in South Korea. Some 30 per cent of South Koreans are Protestants, mainly Presbyterians. Buddhism, the traditional religion of Korea, does not seem to offer the promise of a relationship with a personal God. About 11 per cent of South Koreans are Catholic. The visit of Pope Francis in August 2014 created enormous interest in South Korea. Pope Francis beatified 124 Korean martyrs. An invitation for North Korean Catholics to participate was declined.

North Korea adheres to the doctrine of juche, or self-reliance. Religion was vigorously suppressed by the Kim dynasty, though some form of religious revival may be taking place in the Hermit Kingdom. Front organisations take part in some international religious conventions. Many Christians fled to the South at the end of the war, rightly assuming that they would be unable to practise their faith without harassment in the communist North.

The longer the North and South are separated, the more estranged they become. Young South Koreans are more interested in K-Pop than reunification. In economic terms, Korea is a world leader in manufacturing and high tech. It is one of the world’s most prosperous nations, while the North suffers unrelenting poverty. Christianity is rapidly becoming the predominant religion in South Korea, while in the North Christians have been repressed and tormented.

The Hermit Kingdom remains China’s junkyard dog – one that is a useful counter to its enemies, but which can’t be entirely trusted not to turn on its master. The Land of the Morning Calm is a peaceful democratic country, more in prosperity than conquest.

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April 4, 2018, 6:45 pm