North and South Korea have historically been involved in conflict due to various economic, political and social differences. In short North Korea is a totalitarian state run by the ruling regime. North Korea has made significant efforts to isolate its citizens from the outside world including South Korea. South Korea’s government differs from the North in that it is a Republic, having had several successful elections. Additionally, South Korea has much better ties in the international community and to the western world than the North. Due to the practice of isolation, North Korea rarely trades with other states. While China is debatably one of North Koreas closest international ties, North and South Korea were able to come to a trade agreement of sorts with the Kaesong Industrial Park
The Kaesong Industrial Park is located in the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) between the North and the South, established in 1953 when the states were divided. The DMZ serves as a “ceasefire line” as result of the peace agreement signed during the Korean War (meaning technically the North and South are still at war). The Kaesong Industrial Park was created to try and facilitate peaceful trade between the North and South. At the industrial park, South Korean businesses create factories and use labor from North Korean workers. This allows South Korea to benefit from cheap labor and the regime in North Korea to gain currency from the wages. In 2010, the south banned trade with the North when the North sunk a South Korean ship. This conflict escalated into North Korea threatening nuclear action against the South and the United States. However, despite the ban and conflict, Kaesong was excluded from the ban and was largely supported by both sides due to the positive economic benefits. Through the conflict, the industrial park stayed open until North Korea pulled its workers from the industry in 2013.
The Kaesong Industrial Park was recently reopened after significant negotiations between the North and South. South Koreas main hesitation with entering into a new agreement with North Korea is that they are not trustworthy and have a history of being unpredictable. Kaesong is currently functioning again but disagreements continue to arise. Most recently, North Korea has requested an increase in wages for their workers, which South Korea is not very willing to agree to.
The relations between North and South Korea are an example of how two countries with conflicting political interests can engage in trade when it has significant benefits to both sides. Even when military conflict increased, the countries tried to maintain economic relations. Relating back to class material, we may suggest that while there are other contributing factors, the economic relations between North and South Korea may be deterring more significant conflict and/or war. We should also notice the issue of trust between the two countries. Although they engage in economic relations, North Korea still took military action against South Korea and eventually took their workers out of the factories. This established a sense of uncertainty and has been reflected in South Koreas responses to reopening the Kaesong Industrial Park.