The unfulfilled historyThe first ever inter-Korean summit, which was scheduled to take place in Pyongyang for three days starting July 25, 1994, became a chapter of unfulfilled history because of the death of North Korean leader Kim Il Sung on July 8.
In history, inference based on hypotheticals are usually pointless exercises. But thinking about how inter-Korean relations would have changed if Kim lived a bit longer and the summit took place is not just an exercise in armchair history. It explores the reasoning and circumstances behind the agreement to hold the summit 20 years ago and the strategies and positions of the two Koreas. Those are important precedents and lessons that we must think about in our long journey toward eventual reunification.
In the final decade of Kim Il Sung, the late 1980s and early 1990s, the Cold War ended and the world went through a period of radical changes. The Soviet Union collapsed and Germany was reunified. Amidst the turmoil of history, South Korea managed to achieve democratization in 1987 and the country’s four ruling and opposition parties adopted the Kim Young-sam government’s unification plan for one national community. The plan sought to accept the reality that the two Koreas exist on the Korean Peninsula and they must recover one national community through peaceful cooperation and achieve unification through various steps.
Meanwhile, Korea established diplomatic relationships with Mikhail Gorbachev’s Russia in 1990 and China, which was under Deng Xiaoping, in 1992. North Korea also joined in the spirit of reconciliation and cooperation and the two Koreas joined the United Nations together in 1991. They also signed the Agreement on Reconciliation, Non-Aggression, and Exchanges and Cooperation between South and North Korea, also known as the Basic Agreement. Furthermore, they adopted the Joint Declaration on the Denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, indicating that a kind of spring was coming to the peninsula.