What Trump Needs to Know About North Korea's HistoryBreaking News
tags: North Korea, Trump
Much of today’s commentariat on North Korea can be divided into three main camps: Regime Changers, who want to take out Kim; Grand Bargainers, who want a peace treaty in exchange for denuclearization; and China Pushers, who want China to take on the main role in pressuring North Korea toward a deal. But all three positions ignore something important: A long view of its history encompassing Koreans’ place in the world and how the regime in the North sees it. This past may provide a better window to understanding our current predicament with North Korea than the contemporary moment, and if Trump or his advisers aren't considering Korea's long view, he's going to join the long list of leaders who have gotten the nation dangerously wrong.
The modern shorthand for North Korea is the "hermit kingdom," but that's not a quirk of the Kim family: It was during the year 1637 when Korea cut itself off from the world and seclusion became the cardinal principle of its foreign policy. That date marks the end of the Manchu invasions from China, the last of a series of calamitous foreign wars on the peninsula. In 1254, for example, the Mongols slaughtered 200,000 Korean men, women and children as they embarked upon their scorched-earth policy to make Korea their tributary state. An even worse catastrophe arrived from Japan in the late 16th century, when nearly 2 million Koreans, a staggering 20 percent of the population, perished in the effort to stop Japan from subjugating the Korean peninsula. The Koreans were able to beat back the Japanese, but just a few decades later, they were forced to submit to China's Qing Dynasty, which imposed its own diplomatic system on the Korean nation. In exchange for Qing’s military protection, the Korean king submitted to the governing principle of “Serving the Great,” whereby, as a tributary state, he relinquished control over his country’s foreign policy. The system proved to be remarkably stable: Peace reigned on the Korean peninsula for the next two and a half centuries.