THE wooden Russian gunboat which nosed warily into Wonsan Harbor on Korea’s northeastern coast almost a century ago, in 1866, had made the long voyage from Vladivostok on special orders from Moscow. The vessel’s captain went ashore and requested that trade be allowed between the two countries. For several weeks the gunboat remained in the calm bay and awaited a reply from Seoul. When the courier returned, the Russian gunboat headed back to Vladivostok with the answer: the matter would have to be referred to Peiping. Korea was at that time a kingdom linked by vassalage to China.
When the “Hermit Kingdom" was finally opened to the world of international politics in 1883 through ratification of a treaty with the United States, which chose to ignore China’s sovereignty, Russia found itself momentarily shut out of its long-desired larger window on the Pacific. China, the United States, Britain, France, Germany, and Japan began a struggle for power that was to characterize the history of the Korean peninsula thereafter.
Worried over increased American and Japanese activity in Korea, China later that year appointed an official of the German consular service in China to head the Korean customs office at Chemulpo, now Inchon. The appointee, Von Mollendorf, immediately took charge of the foreign policy of his newly found country and effected an alliance with Russia. From that time onward, Russian influence gradually began to replace that of the Chinese, until the Japanese took control of Korea following the Russo-Japanese War in 1905.
In the last days of World War II, Russia opportunistically declared war on Japan for the purpose of protecting and augmenting its Asian territorial holdings. Troops were rushed into Korea, and the division line which remains in effect today, roughly at the 38th parallel, was established.
“All the elements for a quick, revolutionary flip to Communism were present in South Korea in 1950 when the Korean War was launched,” a former professor and North Korean army officer said recently. “The thing which the Russian masterminds did not take into account was the resolve of the Americans in refusing to be pushed out.”
Communist influence in Korea
As the war swept the entire length of the peninsula, Koreans, unlike other Asians, had the chance to live under Communism and then under another system and to make a choice. When news of the Communist attack first swept Korea, few packed up and left the cities and farms. But after the Reds had advanced to Pusan, were repelled following the Inchon landing, and then advanced again with the help of the Communist Chinese, Koreans by the hundreds of thousands, with a brief taste of life under Communism, headed for the agricultural, anti-Communist south.
The extent of early Communist influence in Korea is seldom recognized by Americans. Beginning in 1925, half of all the Far East Party development funds were allotted to the Korean Communist Party. These funds were distributed by the Russian consul general in Seoul. Persecuted by the occupying Japanese, the Korean Communists proposed “not a class front, not even a people’s front, but a national front” to rally all Koreans for a fight against Japan. The leftists thus became known as espousers of independence. By driving out the Japanese in the Pacific war, the Americans succeeded in accomplishing the goal of both the Communist-led Korean émigrés in China and Russia and the Syngman Rhee-Kim Koo group in Shanghai.
The Russian-oriented Koreans clearly had an organizational advantage over the purely nationalist groups represented by Rhee and Kim. Nearly 200,000 Koreans had been living in the Russian Far East, and as early as 1927 the Presidium of the Executive Committee in Moscow decreed a program of training Korean teachers and physicians, encouraging Korean literature, and constructing Korean hospitals. The ties binding Korea’s Communist groups to the Soviet Far East were manifold and close, and most of the thousand Communist leaders in Korea had visited Russia or had been educated in Soviet schools.
A 121-page report recently released by the State Department, entitled “North Korea: A Case Study in the Techniques of a Takeover,” based on information gained from former North Korean officials and from perusal of Communist documents, contains considerable evidence that the formation of a satellite regime in North Korea was merely an evolutionary phase in Soviet plans for the area. North Koreans are being acclimated to dual citizenship in the U.S.S.R. and North Korea.
North Korea has proved to be an ideal satellite in political terms and has developed in a strictly Party way much more rapidly than some of the eastern European Communist states. This is so because at the end of the Korean War most of the antiCommunists in the north had fled to the south. The rest were either executed or converted. Another contributing factor was the lack of any local government experience under Japanese colonial rule. In a series of purges the Soviet faction solidified its position by eliminating the Korean Communists whose ties were closer to Peiping than to Moscow.
Russia entrusted key positions in the North Korean regime to Soviet Koreans, who were selected from Korean communities in the U.S.S.R. The Soviets designated as head of the North Korean regime a relatively unknown Korean who had operated as a bandit leader in Manchuria, migrated to the U.S.S.R., and then returned to Korea in 1945 as an officer in the Soviet Army. He was given the alias of Kim Il-sung, a Korean national hero, and introduced as such to the North Korean public by the most respected nonCommunist leader in North Korea, who subsequently disappeared.
Other key positions of power were entrusted to Soviet Koreans, who retained their Soviet citizenship and membership in the Soviet Communist Party and generally remained in the background in the North Korean political arena. The report cited the case of Ho Kai, first secretary of the North Korean Labor Party. Ho formerly had been a member of the central committee of a Soviet central Asian republic, and in the North Korean political lineup he was perhaps the most powerful official. Today, the North Korean Labor Party firmly controls the North Korean government.
The façade of democracy
The legal basis for the government is the 1948 constitution, which, like the Soviet constitution, presents a façade of democracy. Opposition is eliminated by restricting the selection of candidates in elections through a party-controlled system of sponsorship and registration. A candidate must be sanctioned by the North Korean Labor Party, and the result is a single slate composed entirely of Communist candidates.
The real power in North Korea is vested in the Cabinet, composed of the Prime Minister, seven deputy prime ministers, sixteen ministers, and the two chairmen of the state planning and state construction commissions. The Cabinet controls provincial and local administration through appropriate committees and directs the judiciary through prosecutors and a system of courts. This all-powerful body coordinates subordinate agencies and organizations at all levels, appoints such officials as vice ministers and plant managers, establishes organizational and administrative procedures for all governmental agencies, and delegates and assigns authority as it sees fit. Since its inception, the Cabinet has consisted of the very top North Korean Communist leadership.
Latest intelligence estimates report North Korea has 540,000 men in its armed forces, a 17,000-ton navy with 100 vessels, and an air force of between 850 and 1000 planes, of which 360 are MIG 17s and 350 are MIG 15s.
Russia’s aid to industry
Pyongyang Radio admitted recently that “the backbone of our industry is Russian advised, engineered, and financed.” Russia’s greatest industrial contribution, according to Communist publications, was rehabilitation of the huge Suiho hydroelectric station on the Yalu River, which was almost completely destroyed by American bombings during the Korean War. Last December, Russia and North Korea signed a new technical assistance agreement, under which Russia will provide aid in building a series of industrial establishments and power stations between now and 1965. Other U.S.S.R.-North Korea agreements included a trade expansion pact, under which Russia will supply finished machinery in return for nonferrous metals, cement, and steel.
Most of the coal and practically all of the iron ore of Korea lie in the north, and on the basis of these resources the Japanese built up a substantial metallurgical industry. There are five major ironworks in North Korea, the largest being the Whanghai plant. Prior to World War II, the Korean peninsula was the world’s fifth largest gold producer, but little mention is made of the gold mining industry in Communist publications.
Communist figures on production are generally sketchy and are given in terms of percentages rather than actual output. Industrial statistics are significant, not for their sometimes conflicting figures but for the assertion that the program for absolute communization of industry and agriculture has now been completed. But despite the Russian aid and a $105 million loan last October from Communist China, the largest Peiping has ever granted, Koreans in the north live an austere and grim life, according to recent defectors.
With Russian backing, Pyongyang succeeded in repatriating a number of Korean residents in Japan. By the end of June, more than 65,000 Koreans among the 600,000 living in Japan departed on Russian ships to begin residence in North Korea, where jobs and better living conditions were promised. The United States, favoring free choice of domicile, found itself uncomfortably running head on against the policies of the Seoul government, which claimed, in protesting the move, that it was the legal government of all Koreans and pointed to United Nations statements to that effect in supporting its stand. By putting the matter in a humanitarian frame of reference, however, the Communists managed to pull off the program.
North Korea made its biggest gains in its attempted subversion of South Korea. Historically, nearanarchy and licentiousness often follow periods of totalitarian rule, and this was the case in South Korea following the overthrow of the Syngman Rhee government in April, 1960. Pseudo newspapers and news agencies sprang up by the score and dealt in extortion rather than information. The hooliganism of the Rhee era increased rather than decreased. Corruption flourished as it always has, but there were new hands on the purse strings.
The students, who were the heroes of the April Revolution of 1960, became nearly a fifth branch of government. They demanded face-toface talks with their Communist counterparts at Panmunjom in the truce zone and even threatened to march there en masse for the purpose. This type of program was vigorously encouraged by the North Korean radio, and also, it has been charged, by the influx of funds from the Korean Communist group in Japan.
The coup d’état in the south
In the eyes of the American Embassy in Seoul, the numerous advances made by the John M. Chang government were believed strong enough to offset the defects of the period, and given time, it was believed, would overcome them. A small group of South Korean Army officers thought differently, and on May 16 took over the Republic of Korea in a coup d’état that was swift and efficient, employing the best tactics they had learned after more than ten years of training under U.S. military advisers.
The United States was not the only country nonplused by the development. Radio broadcasts from North Korea reflected that regime’s surprise and confusion. At first the North Koreans applauded and encouraged the uprising, thinking it to be a nationalist uprising against the United States. Then the North Koreans began to demand that Prime Minister John M. Chang be reinstated — one of the rare cases in which North Korea and the United States have been in accord on what should be done in South Korea. Finally the Communists adopted the line that Lieutenant General Chang Do Young, the chairman of the Supreme Council of National Reconstruction, was another puppet of the United States.
When Major General Pak Jung Hi took over the chairmanship of the council from Lieutenant General Chang in early July, he, too, was characterized by North Koreans as an American puppet. But South Koreans know Pak to be extremely nationalistic and cool to the Americans, who disliked his background of involvement with Communist friends of his brother prior to the Korean War.
The establishment of an antiGommunist military government in South Korea slowed down Red subversion and virtually wrecked North Korea’s espionage network. The Seoul junta rounded up more than 2000 persons charged with activities ranging from spying to fellowtraveling. Khrushchev’s countermove was to sign a new ten-year mutual defense pact with North Korea in July. Many pundits interpreted this as a new factor in the Moscow-Peiping rift. One week later, however, Peiping signed a similar agreement with North Korea, thus increasing the tension between East and West in Korea.
The United Nations, sixteen members of which sent troops to fight in the Korean War, has annually called for elections in both north and south under UN supervision, eventually to bring democracy to the north as it already existed in the south. Today the military government in the south is no more a freely elected government than that in the north. In fact, the junta defied UN Commander General Carter B. Magruder, who has operational control of all ROK forces, in staging the coup d’état. With the government make-up in the south and north now very similarly organized, democracy has completely disappeared from the Korean peninsula, at least for the present.