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Kim Jong Un Scraps Family Legacy Under New Policy

Reversing his dynasty's policy on reunification, Kim Jong Un declared, "We are neither brethren nor comrades, but two belligerent countries at war."



Kim Jong Un, General Secretary of the Workers' Party of Korea, delivers a policy speech at the 10th session of the 14th Supreme People's Assembly. Mansudae, Pyongyang, February 15 (Korean Central News Agency)

Pyongyang observers in Japan and South Korea are currently wondering what in the world is going on in North Korea. Kim Jong Un, General Secretary of the Workers' Party of Korea (WPK), made a perplexing announcement in late 2023. 

At a general meeting of the WPK Central Committee, Kim changed direction on his Korean reunification policy. Before the committee, he declared, "Reunification with the Republic of Korea (South Korea) will not happen any time soon." He elaborated, saying, "We are neither brethren nor comrades, but two belligerent countries at war."

In his speech, Kim referred to South Korea by its official title. Furthermore, he identified it as a foreign nation with which Pyongyang was at war. This constitutes a startling reversal of North Korea's previous policy toward the South, which positioned Seoul as an ally.

Demolition of the Arch of Reunification

As watchers debated what this meant, Kim addressed the Supreme People's Assembly on January 15. Here he announced, "We will remove the Monument to the Three-Point Charter for National Reunification." He was referring to the Arch of Reunification

In addition, he described the arch, located south of the capital Pyongyang, as "an eyesore." 

The Japanese article referred to here is from the state-run Korean Central News Agency. In particular, the part translated as "eyesore" deserves attention. Though it may not come across in the translation, it is coarse language in the original Korean. It is a curse word meaning "I can't even look at it" or "unsightly." 

Just several days after this speech, authorities tore down the monument.

The Arch of Reunificiation is also a monument to the Three Charters of the Reunification of the Fatherland. (September 17, 2018, Pyongyang, ©Kyodo)

Origins of the Arch

Built in 2001 by Kim Jong Il, Kim Jong Un's father, the arch was a massive 30-meter-high structure. It stood astride Reunification Highway south of Pyongyang and depicted two women holding hands, symbolizing South and North Korea. A stone monument inscribed with the handwritten words of Kim Il Sung, Kim Jong Un's grandfather, also stood beside it. 

The arch commemorated the Three-Point Charter for National Reunification. Devised by Kim Il Sung, these points were:

  • The Three Principles of National Reunification (1972)
  • Proposal for the Democratic Federal Republic of Goryeo (1980)
  • The Ten Point Program for Reunification of the Country (1993)

In other words, Kim Jong Il constructed this monument to commemorate the principles of unification advocated by his father. And now Kim Jong Un has removed it. 

Reports suggest that Pyongyang citizens who witnessed the demolition questioned the leader's sanity. Why he would willingly defy the Mount Paektu bloodline, the source of his legitimacy, also baffled this writer. 

Aerial view of the Tumen River separating North Korea from China and Russia as seen from Namyang, a town in North Korea. (©Public Domain)

Rapidly Growing Admiration for South Korea

According to North Korean defectors and intelligence officials, Kim's action was because of the influx of South Korean information into North Korea. The regime has been unable to contain the rapidly growing desire among citizens for the freedom and prosperity of South Korea. Many North Koreans now wish for their country to be absorbed and reunified with the South. In 2023, there were an astonishing 100 anti-regime incidents in North Korea. Most of these were committed by South Korean supporters. 

Recently, South Korean media reported that a dissident underground movement led by middle school teachers had emerged in North Korea. The report also says it aims to seek a shift to liberal democracy.

Members of this movement developed an admiration for South Korea through watching South Korean dramas. For example, in two separate incidents, a nine-member family and a group of four individuals fled to South Korea in 2023. Both groups defected on small fishing boats. Moreover, they were not motivated by hardship or fear of punishment. On the contrary, they left because they could no longer suppress their desire to see South Korea.

Kim Seong Min (left), who defected from North Korea, updates lawmakers and public participants as moderator Tsutomu Nishioka listens in a December 15, 2023 seminar at the House of Councillors office building. (©JAPAN Forward)

Profound Influence of Defectors 

Since the Kim Dae-Jung administration (1998-2003), Seoul has ceased siphoning information into Pyongyang using shortwave broadcasts, balloon leaflets, USB drives, and SD cards. Instead, North Korean defectors turned human rights activists have taken it upon themselves to continue relaying information to their homeland. 

Despite their poverty, over 30,000 defectors living in South Korea have sent money to their families in the North. As a result, the families of these defectors are becoming increasingly respected. Young women in North Korea are now more willing to marry men from these families than members of the WPK. 

The relentless efforts of North Korean defectors have finally effected a profound change in the North. 


(Read the report in Japanese.)

Author: Tsutomu Nishioka, Visiting Professor, Reitaku University


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