- 연구원소식 - Jeju, Island of World Peace 컨텐츠
Jeju, Island of World Peace 컨텐츠
Titles [Jeju, Island of World Peace] (No.2 | March 2019)_Recent Developments in Korea and the Role of Jeju Island
Writer JPI  (admin)
2019-09-17 오후 4:20:07


Recent Developments in Korea and the Role of Jeju Island


Jung-Yeop Woo 

Research Fellow/Director of the Center for the American Studies at the Sejong institute



As I am about to discuss the role of Jeju Island in light of recent developments on the Korean Peninsula, I have to acknowledge, in advance, that my family is from Jeju. My parents still live there. Thus, I have to admit that my sense of scholarly objectivity could be perceived as slightly compromised in this article. Due to the potential bias in my article, I have had to think more carefully about how I could make the case to readers.


We have observed that the year 2018 saw dramatic changes in North Korea’s relationships with its neighbors. Compared to 2017, during which everyone was concerned about the possibility of war on the Korean Peninsula, we have had much less tension this year. The inaugurations of President Moon Jae-in and President Donald Trump the year before had laid the foundation for North Korean leader Kim Jong-un to undertake a markedly different approach to North Korean diplomacy in 2018, though it is unclear yet whether we will be able to achieve our desired outcomes. Beginning with the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea, in February 2018, Chairman Kim initiated a string of diplomatic moves that led to multiple inter-Korean summits, one in which President Moon visited the North and the sacred Mount Paekdu, and the first ever U.S.-DPRK summit meeting in Singapore. The second meeting between Chairman Kim and President Trump is scheduled to take place later this month in Vietnam.


The developments that took place during the first half of 2018 led to growing speculation, especially in the media and among politicians in South Korea, that Chairman Kim would visit the South sometime during the latter half of 2018. During the Pyongyang Summit in September 2018, both leaders agreed that Chairman Kim would visit Korea “in the near future.” President Moon emphasized that “in the near future” meant “in 2018” barring unforeseen setbacks. Even though the visit did not materialize in 2018, discussed as a potential destination for Chairman Kim was the southern island of Jeju and a hike up the famous Mount Halla located on the island. There were many reasons behind this idea. Not only does Jeju provide a more convenient location for Kim’s security detail, his mother’s family is known to be from the island. Furthermore, following President Moon’s visit to the sacred Mount Paekdu in September, Mount Halla, for obvious reasons, was considered by many as the logical choice for Chairman Kim’s visit.


The visit to Jeju Island also made sense in other ways. The first is the symbolism associated with the island. In 2005, the South Korean government declared the island of Jeju as the “Island of World Peace.” This is a testament to Jeju islanders’ pursuit of global peace and prosperity. The island is also befitting of a visit by Chairman Kim given that it has meaningfully hosted numerous heads of states from different political systems in the past. For example, it hosted a meeting between Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev and South Korean President Roh Tae-woo in 1991, signaling the end of the Cold War and the hostile relationship between South Korea and the USSR. In 1996, South Korean President Kim Young-sam met with U.S. President Bill Clinton, followed by a meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto. Chinese President Jiang Jemin also visited the island.


Another importance of Jeju is that it is home to an array of institutional and civilian mechanisms devoted to the attainment of world peace. The Jeju Peace Institute and its renowned Jeju Forum for Peace and Prosperity, and the Jeju International Peace Center highlight some of these efforts. Jeju Island as a symbol of peace was further cemented when the “National Committee for Investigation of the Truth about the Jeju April 3 Events” was established in 2000 to uncover the role that the South Korean government played in the April 3 uprising incident during the Cold War. This truth-seeking committee published a report in 2003 which led to President Roh Moo-hyun’s public apology to the island of Jeju and its inhabitants. Following President Roh’s apology, the island was officially recognized as the “Island of World Peace,” and has served as a symbol of human rights, peace, and prosperity ever since. Given the symbolism, history, and the existence of institutional and civilian mechanisms dedicated to the attainment of peace, it is easy to understand why Jeju can offer much to further improve inter-Korean relations.


In fact, we have already witnessed Jeju’s contributions to inter-Korean relations in the past when, from 1999 and 2010, its famous mandarins were sent to North Korea as part of South Korea’s diplomatic initiative, popularly labeled the “Vitamin C Diplomacy.” Interestingly, following President Moon’s visit in September 2018, North Korea gifted pine mushrooms as a gesture of goodwill. In response, President Moon and the Jeju local government agreed in November to reciprocate the North’s gesture by sending Jeju mandarins to the North.

Of course, the role that a local government can play in inter-Korean diplomacy is not without limits. If history is any indication, especially in South Korea, the diplomatic initiative could easily become unintentionally politicized and construed as a political ploy rather than a genuine pursuit of peace and prosperity between the divided Koreas. If so, a gesture of goodwill could quickly turn political, which could pose a problem for the Moon administration in terms of diplomatic continuity. Therefore, the Jeju government as well as institutional mechanisms located on the island, led by the Jeju Peace Institute, should not approach the recent developments as inter-Korean issues per se but rather as the pursuit of broader issues such as peace and human rights. Thus, it is important to consider the potential visit by Chairman Kim as part of the broader theme of Jeju in order to cement its reputation as the permanent island of peace.


Dr. Jung-Yeop Woo is a research fellow and the director of the center for the American Studies at the Sejong Institute. Previously, he was a Research Fellow and the Director of its Washington DC office. He was also a postdoctoral fellow at the Korean Studies Institute at the University of Southern California. His areas of specialty include ROK-US alliance, security on the Korean peninsula, foreign military intervention and the relationship between foreign policy-making and public opinion. His recent publication includes Foreign Intervention in Civil Wars (2017) Korean Voters’ Decision: On the 2012 General Election (in Korean, co-edited with Park Chanwook and Kim Jiyoon). Dr. Woo received his B.A. in business administration from Seoul National University, an M.P.P. from Georgetown University, and a Ph.D. in Political Science from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.