Two Koreas and the United Nations (24-26)

Kim Il-sung eventually cancelled the Pope’s invitation to Pyongyang and the DPRK’s diplomatic isolation worsened as a result. In the 1990s, Kim Il-sung began to experience what would be one of the last tragedies of his life. It was in 1991 that he received a sudden and unexpected piece of news from China.

“Following the establishment of diplomatic relations between the Soviet Union and the ROK, the balance of power in the Northeast Asian has been significantly altered. China has thus also decided to enter into diplomatic relations with the ROK to ensure that the recent reorientation of the Northeast Asian power structure does not favour the United States alone. However, relations with the ROK cannot simply be established without reason. Moreover, China’s recognition of South Korea, which at the time was not even a member of the United Nations, will pose legal problems. Thus, China is seeking to establish diplomatic relations with the ROK only after both Koreas have been admitted to the United Nations. Therefore, the Workers’ Party of Korea (WPK) should abandon its strong resistance to the “Two Joseons” (Two Koreas) policy, and instead begin trying to undertake concurrent enrollment to the United Nations with the ROK.”

Not long afterwards, the Soviet Ambassador to the DPRK informed us that his country would be adopting a similar stance. It seemed clear to us that both China and the Soviet Union had already reached agreements with both the United States and the ROK concerning simultaneous acceptance of the two Koreas to the United Nations. Kim Il-sung had been opposed to the notion of “Two Joseons” his whole life, believing it to be little more than an imperialist scheme to foster division of the country. There was, therefore, little wonder that this latest news greatly alarmed him. On the other hand, Kim Jong-il saw all of this as somewhat of an inevitability, yet there would be much difficulty persuading his father of such a perspective.

As the DPRK refused to entertain such propositions from China and the Soviet Union, their combined pressure slowly intensified. They informed us:

“Let us hope our comrades will slowly cool such rhetoric and perspectives. In September 1991, both South Korea and the United States will move to have South Korea admitted to the United Nations at the General Assembly Meeting. However, if you agree to the simultaneous ascension to the United Nations of both Korea, it might become possible to come closer to the United States. Moreover if you simply refuse, it will likely result in just the ROK joining the United Nations. In such a situation, the South will ultimately come to be recognized as the only legitimate government on the Korean Peninsula. This must be prevented at all costs. Thus, the simultaneous entry of the two Koreas to the UN is inevitable.”

Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze (center) with US President Ronald Reagan in the White House

Thus, when the Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze visited North Korea in September 1990, Kim Il-sung informed him that he had now decided to cooperate with the South in this matter. What was even more alarming, however, was Shevardnadze’s assertions that such progress should not be delayed any further. In October of the same year, at the first high level inter-Korean talks, Kim Jong-il proposed that the two countries join the United Nations on a single seat. However, the South Korean government was strongly opposed to this suggestion. This, in turn, got back to China. The DPRK’s attempts to block simultaneous entrance of the two Koreas to the UN by engaging in talks with the South as a delaying tactic ultimately resulted in failure.

In May 1991, we received a notification from the Maltese Government (Guido de Marco), the then chair of the United Nations General Assembly. It informed us that while holding the position of chair of the United Nations General Assembly, the Foreign Ministry of Malta was hoping to visit the DPRK, meet with Kim Il-sung, and finalize the issue of joining the United Nations. A committee was formed inside the North Korean Foreign Ministry and I was chosen to operate as both a translator and guide for the Maltese delegation. Things were now progressing as Kim Jong-il had envisioned them. Not long later, the Foreign Ministry received an order from Kim Jong-il.

“The Supreme Leader has made a decision to accept the joint membership to the United Nations. Now, we must obtain funds from both China and the Soviet Union. We must ensure that if we go ahead with this that both China and the Soviet Union will work to help us establish diplomatic relations with the United States.”


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