The Big News:
Emotions ran high on North Korea’s Mount Kumgang as separated families reunited for the first time in 65 years. Starting around 3pm local time, 185 North Koreans met with 197 South Koreans for a two-hour group meeting (NKNews). Around 10am local time on Tuesday, the families will meet again in their hotel rooms, after which they will have lunch together (Korea Herald). The reunions, the first since 2015, will end on Wednesday.
Meetings like these draw international attention for many reasons. The first is the emotional atmosphere; North and South Korea have laws prohibiting citizens to travel across the border to reunite with families (AP). For many, these reunions are the only time they will meet their relatives (BBC). Emotional headlines tend to adorn the pages of major newspapers throughout the world. For instance, The Independent ran “92-year-old South Korean mother meets her 71-year-old North Korean son for the first time since he was four” as subheadline for an article on the first day of the reunions (The Independent).
The reunions also show the degree of cultural and political separation between North and South Korea. The New York Times wrote, “on Monday, Ms. Lee, like many of the South Koreans present, could see the signs of economic suffering in their North Korean relatives’ faces.” Adding that “Those from the South had brought with them bags filled with medicine, nutritional supplements, wristwatches and other gifts for their relatives,” (The New York Times). NK News cited an example of a family having a dispute over the cause of the Korean War (NK News).
Family reunions such as these are typically staged events meant to assuage the wounds of the Korean War. However, the brief nature of the event offers no solace. North Koreans can be seen shouting praises about the “great leader,” taking up small amounts of precious times. Kim Jong-gyo, following her reunion in 2014, said the reunion “as way too short, and too heartbreaking” (Channel News Asia).
As the reunions continue throughout the week, emotions will continue to run high on the peninsula, and they will continue to dominate the front pages of major news agencies in Korea and beyond.
Politics: South Korean watchdog, the Fair Trade Commission, is working to scrap a rule which mandates that only the FTC can bring an antitrust case to court (Yonhap). Initially enacted as a way to prevent massive amounts of lawsuits, the rule has drawn the ire of Kim Sang-jo, FTC Chairman, who vowed to change the rule to engender fairer market competition (Yonhap). The move comes as The FTC works with lawmakers to enact a wide variety of changes to its mandate and role in society.
South Korea is working to transform its energy supply, breaking away from a dependence on nuclear power to pursue renewable energy resources (Korea Herald). Currently, Moon Jae-in is looking to cease the construction of new nuclear reactors; Korea already has 24 nuclear power plants which account for about 1/3 of energy production (World Nuclear Association). Moving away from nuclear power comes at a time when nuclear power is seeing increased public support. According to the Korean Nuclear Society, around 71% of people agree with the use of nuclear power and 37% believe that South Korea should expand the number of nuclear power plants in its society (Korea Herald). Proponents of nuclear power say that the downsizing will result in larger energy bills for ordinary citizens. The Moon administration and supporters argue jobs and opportunities will be created with the move to renewable resources.
Culture: A freak heatwave is traveling through South Korea, leading to many environmental crises, with many warnings being issued for major rivers as others remain severe (HanKoyreh). During the heatwave, South Korea shattered its all-time record high temperature, recording 105 degrees on Wednesday in Hongchin. Seoul also recorded 103-degree temperatures, shattering records for the city (Accu Weather). Critics have chastised the Moon administration for its lackadaisical approach to the crisis. Even Pyongyang recorded shattering 100 degrees during the heatwave.
Kim Jung-un, in recent days, shifted his focus toward economic development as nuclear talks stall. Recently, Kim has visited several factories, farms, and construction sites rather than military installations (New York Times). In a recent trip for field guidance, Kim visited a hydro-electric power plant and expressed concern that the project has not been finished in 17 years as it has suffered from understaffing and a litany of other issues (New York Times). The outburst is unlike other visits and presents a jarring juxtaposition as Kim Jung-un focuses on economic and scientific development as a way to improve the livelihood of typical North Korean citizens.
Family reunions have been a challenge for both the families involved and the governments. The idea of holding a reunion was first floated during a detente in inter-Korean relations in 1973. However, the talks stalled and it would take over a decade for the reunion to occur. Since then, family reunions have occurred 24 times. Writing for NK News, Fyodor Tertiskiy explores the long history of inter-Korean reunions and their challenges. See: “The Troubled, Tragic History of Inter-Korean Family Reunions,” NK News.