North Korea is a state in East Asia with an estimated population of almost 24 million people (UN, 2008). Established as the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) in 1948, the state is officially a socialist republic, but is considered by many to be world’s only de facto totalitarian Stalinist dictatorship (Clippinger, 1981). An alternative view holds that any resemblance to the historic regimes of Stalin and Mao is superficial, and that a fascist conception of ‘pure-blood’ is central to the North Korean political ideology (Hitchens, 2010; Myers, 2010).
Characterised by a highly centralised command economy, international political isolation and a secretive ruling elite, North Korea is a country which most scholars may study only from without. For this reason, analysis of the ‘outward-facing’ and ‘inward-facing’ state-controlled media discourse has been a valuable instrument for understanding the North Korean regime and society (Clippinger, 1981; Lee, 2007).
This paper will use the method of discourse analysis developed by Teun van Dijk (1995; 2003) to identify and examine relationships between the language of North Korean news material and prospects for the normalisation of relations across the 38th Parallel (see Historical Context below). The analysis will focus upon key moments in the implementation of the Republic of Korea’s (ROK, South Korea) Sunshine Policy’ (1998-2008), chosen because of the distinct conditions for dialogue between the north and south which it facilitated. Van Dijk’s sociocognitive approach is of particular utility in the case of North Korea, being concerned with the expression and reproduction of ideology and opinion by actors with political and social motivations. Central to van Dijk’s method is the concept of the ‘ideological square’, which relates strategies for expression of “ideologies and group-based attitudes” (Van Dijk, 2003 pp.22). This approach describes emphasis upon ‘Our’ good actions and ‘Their’ bad actions, and mitigation of ‘Our’ bad actions and ‘Their’ good actions. Although strident political attacks on the ROK (and its allies the USA and Japan) are a well documented feature of North Korean media (Chul-cho, 2008; Clippinger, 1981), this paper will describe how the ‘shape’ of the ideological square changed during the Sunshine period, in which the South treated the North as a rational actor (Moon and Bae, 2003).
To contextualise, this paper provides a brief history of the conflict between the ROK and North Korea, as well as an overview of the media in North Korea. The deeply esoteric ‘official state ideology’ known as Juche will be introduced followed by an explanation of the key aspects and chronology of the Sunshine Policy. Subsequently, data drawn from the output of the state-run news agency of North Korea will be presented and analysed, and conclusions will be drawn.
A reconciliation of discordant Korean ideologies is seen as a key stage of a (re)unification which opposing international commentators have described as “happening right before our eyes” (Boston Globe, 2008) and “a daunting task at an extremely early stage” (AF, 2008)
Following the close of the Second World War and subsequent surrender of Japanese imperial possessions, the Korean peninsular was occupied by the Soviet Union and United States, with forces positioned in the northern city of Pyongyang and southern city of Seoul respectively. A zone of control was established by the occupying powers along the 38th parallel north. In 1947 a United Nations commission was established to facilitate “free and fair” elections among the population of a united Korea (USDS, 2010). That initiative was blocked by Moscow, who supported a young communist guerrilla leader named Kim Il-sung, and suspected that the larger population in the south would not support him in the proposed plebiscite. The election proceeded in the south, and the sovereign state of South Korea was established in August 1948 (United Nations, 2010). Two months later with the support of Moscow, Kim Il-sung, now the chairman of the Worker’s Party of Korea (WPK) was installed as premier and the DPRK was formally inaugurated. Within two years the North and South, supported by the Soviet Union and USA respectively, were engaged in a proxy war (Whan Kihl et al, 2006) between their ‘benefactors’.
The stalemate resulting from the war of 1950-1953 hardened the border politically and socially. This led to the creation of the Demilitarised Zone (DMZ), a borderland which became (and is still considered to be) the most heavily militarised in the world (USSD, 2010).
Strong growth aided by large scale development of infrastructure and a continued rise in industrial production characterised the North Korean economy from the end of the war until the completion of the Sino-Soviet split in 1967. The doctrinal divergence of the two supporting communist regimes caused the Soviet Union to cease financial assistance to North Korea, an event which coincided with the emergence of a ‘Spirit of Self Reliance’ (see ‘Juche’ below). Economic difficulties exacerbated by rising oil prices in the 1970s caused North Korea to default on international loans, confirming the commitment to isolationism (Whan Kihl et al, 2006). In the ‘closed system’ of the isolated state, the domestic media became important in the reinforcement of the “greatness of the Juche idea” in opposition to the inferior “imperialist human scum” USA and its “lackeys  ” the ROK and Japan (Chul-cho, 2008). Domestic media was also used for delivering culturally specific ‘coded’ messages to literate sections of the populace. This strategy is illustrated by the slow introduction of the present leader Kim Jong-il into the public consciousness by subtle, stylised and carefully planned media references, almost undetectable to external observers (Clippinger, M, 1981). By the time he was confirmed by the North Korean international media as the successor to his father Kim Il-sung, his accession in April 1993 was expected among North Koreans, thus avoiding a power struggle without external interference (Beaumont, 2010).
The Jong-il administration has advanced the role of the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) in delivering internal and external messages. Weapons tests have caused a series of standoffs with the United States between 1993 and 2009, and messages transmitted through the KCNA have been a primary form of communication with the Great Enemy (Clippinger, M, 1981). Meanwhile, scholars examining internal media have noted the emergency of another subtle and coded accession campaign, this time preparing Kim Jong-il’s son Kim Jung-un for a future rise to power (Beaumont, 2010).
The Juche Idea
At the heart of North Korean public life is the official state ideology known as the ‘Juche Idea’, a highly complex set of doctrines which is often translated as “The Spirit of Self-Reliance” or “independent standing” (Warner, 2008). Originating in the early period of isolation recounted above, the Juche Idea displaced Marxism-Leninism in the constitution following reform in 1972. Because these principles influence all forms of state media in North Korea, including art, newspapers and television (Warner, 2008), any discussion of North Korean media must make reference to its centrality in media discourse. The importance of the state media in the establishment and maintenance of the Juche ideology is well expressed by a ‘senior government official’ in a speech to KCNA staff:
“The [KCNA] is a powerful mouthpiece of our Party and Government… we must pay serious attention to each word, to each dot of the writings it releases because they express the standpoint of our Party and the Government”
Excerpt 1: from “The basic tasks facing the Korean Central News Agency”
June 12 1974, KCNA
The social functions of ideology have been seen as strategies of “legitimation and reproduction of class domination” and “co-ordination of the social practices of group members for the realisation of goals of another social group” (van Dijk, 2003 pp.32). These theories closely converge with the practical implementation of Juche in the tightly controlled economy and media of North Korea. Cognitive theories of ideology have noted the promotion of attitudes, norms and values by ruling elites to preserve existing power structures (van Dijk, 2003). This theory is also supported by analyses of North Korean media content, evidenced by the secretive succession campaign discussed above.
The Korean Central News Agency
The media of North Korea are considered to be among the most strictly controlled in the world  . Although the 1972 constitution enshrines freedom of speech and freedom of the press, in reality all news is produced by the KCNA in Pyongyang, whether the intended audience is internal or external to North Korea (Whan Kihl et al, 2006).
To critically examine the output of the KCNA it is first important to identify the target audience of the material it produces. The stated aim of the agency is to “propagate the revolutionary ideology of the Leader (Kim Il-sung) widely throughout the world” (KNCA, 2010). All releases are produced in English, and it has press exchange agreements with forty international news agencies. Around 25 percent of the text is translated output into Spanish and Russian (KCNA, 2010). Although considered to be ‘outward facing’ in intent, it has been noted that the majority of articles are reproductions or translations of those found in the domestic media (Clippinger, M 1981). This is evidenced by the large proportion of articles which contain demonstrably false claims, such as a report of lavish global celebrations on the birthday of the Dear Leader (KCNA, March 1, 2010). Daily releases of 8-14 articles are produced, and since November 1996 all content has been made available on-line via the KCNA website , hosted in Japan. A daily release can contain provincial stories with a pastoral theme, an example being an account of a chance meeting between the Dear Leader (Kim Jong-il) and his rural constituents, but far more prominent and tautologous are direct attacks on US foreign policy, often recounting historical events with dubious accuracy . These are coupled with attacks on the ROK and Japan, often through the prism of a perceived friendship with the USA.
The Sunshine Policy
The Sunshine Policy was the name  given to South Korean foreign policy towards North Korea between June 1998 and February 2008, whose long-term aim was unification of the Koreas. Articulated by South Korean President Kim Dae Jung, the policy was characterised by an (initially) unilateral discourse of bilateral co-operation and was based around three “central principles” (MOU, 2000), namely that the ROK government would:
- Not tolerate any armed provocation that will destroy peace
- Not attempt to seek unification by absorbing North Korea nor harm North Korea
- Actively promote reconciliation and cooperation between the two Koreas
In addition to these principles, the policy contained two other major components; the first being the nominal separation of economics and politics, designed to allow South Korean businesses to invest inside North Korean territory, and the second a ‘request for reciprocity’ from North Korea (MOU, 2000). The eventual unification of the Koreas was the long-term aim of the project (MOU, 2000).
The Policy was initially praised almost universally by commentators including the Chinese and American governments (Chul Cho, 2010) and resulted in President Dae-jung’s receipt of the Nobel Peace Prize in 2000. By providing humanitarian aid and other concessions without any expectation of immediate concessions, the Sunshine Policy has been seen as “epitomising the rational actor model of policy-making” (Whan Kihl, 2005 pp.250) in which a state is assumed to be a unified actor that responds coherently to threats and advantages to maximise self benefit. The primary achievements of the policy were two summits held between the leaders of the North and South in June 2000 and another in October 2007, to which South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun travelled overland, crossing the centre of the DMZ by foot. Additionally it facilitated brief but iconic family reunions from 2000-2007 and resulted in the establishment of the Kaesong Industrial Complex, a collaborative investment project north of the DMZ designed to aid the North’s enfeebled economy (Whan Kihl, 2006).
The election of the current ROK president Lee Myung-bak can be seen as the ‘sunset’ of the policy. A staunch critic of president Dae-jung’s approach, he has halted economic assistance and is committed to resumption only if the North co-operates with United Nations Security Council Resolution 825 (1993) and allows weapons inspectors into its territory. This contingent approach could be considered more like the actions of the North Wind than those of the Sun3.
The KCNA in the Sunshine Period
The ‘rise’ of the Sunshine Policy is accepted to have begun on February 25 1998, when the 15th President of the ROK, Kim Dae-Jung, delivered his inaugural speech, affirming that: “inter-Korean relations must be developed on the basis of reconciliation and cooperation as well as the settlement of peace”. The content of this speech was universally praised in western media, with a New York Times article calling Mr. Dae-Jung “one of Asia’s most vigorous voices for democracy and political tolerance” (26 February 1998) and the Economist noting that “[his supporters] hail him as the “Nelson Mandela of Asia” (28 February 1998).
Any KCNA recognition of regime change south of the DMZ was notable in its absence , but a short (140 words) bulletin was issued the following day:
“The current reality of korea in which the revolution and construction are going on on the basis of collectivism is the most essential aspect of the socialist advantages. We are convinced that socialism of korea built by President Kim Il-sung and exalted by General Kim Jong-il will shine long all over the world and emerge ever victorious” [emphasis added]
Excerpt 2: from “Korean socialism will always shine”
February 26 1998, KCNA
Although the KCNA regularly issues statements affirming the virtues of North Korean ‘socialist’ values, this release was unusual in its brevity and content. Daily affirmations of the Juche Idea are a consistent feature of KCNA output but are nearly always presented in the context of a story, describing an historical or contemporary world event. Excerpt 2 explicitly emphasises the common themes of perpetual ‘revolution’, collectivism and exaltation of the leaders, but the usually prominent theme of reunification does not directly feature. Implicitly the piece emphasises the temporal quality of North Korean communism, insistent that it will succeed and eventually prevail against a non-specified Other. The geographic (“all over the world”) scope of the assertion could be interpreted as an insistence upon unification under Korean Socialism. The polarising rhetorical term ‘victorious’ represents a clear presupposition of ongoing conflict. It has been proposed that media representations of North Korea ‘at war’ have long been a strategy designed to absolve the leaders of blame for economic problems (Myers, 2010), an example of media discourse attempting to organise group attitudes, both internal and external to North Korea. The uncharacteristically poor grammar could suggest an article which was composed quickly in response to President Dae-Jung’s speech. Overall, the article explicitly affirms a confrontational and temporally immutable posture.
The first inter-Korean summit was held 13-15 June 2000 in Pyongyang, and succeeded in cementing a number of landmark agreements, codified in the North-South Joint Declaration. Three days before the historic meeting, the KCNA released an anticipatory article:
“The north-south summit talks are near at hand…entirely thanks to the wise leadership of the President Kim Il Sung who paved the way for the north-south dialogue…in the 1970’s…and steered the Korean people to the peaceful reunification of the country. [He] advanced a proposal for wide-range north-south negotiations in keeping with the…requirements of the movement for national reunification”
Excerpt 3: From “Kim Il Sung’s efforts for inter-Korean dialogue”
June 10 2000, KCNA
Excerpt 3 shows a significant departure from the clearly defined Ideological Square exhibited in Excerpt 2. The concept of bilateral negotiation, so starkly absent from the previous text, is prominent. The temporal metaphor of ‘steering’ the country to peaceful reconciliation suggests a future defined not by conflict and subsequent victory, but by peace. The conspicuous references to specific political systems seen in Except 2 are absent from the full text of the article, perhaps suggesting by omission that the opposing ideologies can one day be conciliated.
The author appears to credit the deceased ‘Great Leader’ Kim Il-sung with initiating the summit  through a series of events starting in “the 1970’s”. By invoking the memory of the ‘Eternal President’, the article conforms to one half of the Ideological Square, whereby ‘Their’ good actions are mitigated, but the corollary attack on ‘Their’ bad actions is not present. Similarly, the phrase “requirements of the movement for national reunification” indicates a degree of flexibility.
Though further discussions were slowed by political disagreements on both sides of the DMZ, the first major obstruction encountered by the Sunshine Policy resulted from the September 11 terrorist attacks in the United States. Following President George W. Bush’s ‘Axis of Evil’ speech on January 29 2002, Pyongyang ceased interaction with Seoul (Levkowitz, 2006). On June 29 a naval skirmish occurred close to the Northern Limit Line (NLL), the disputed Korean maritime boundary in the Yellow Sea. Five ROK seamen were killed, along with an undisclosed number of North Koreans (BBC News, 2002). Within hours the KCNA stated:
“[The South] committed such a grave provocation as firing bullets and shells at patrol boats of the navy of the Korean People’s Army on routine coastal guard duty…DPRK warships were compelled to take a self-defensive step. The incident was a premeditated military provocation on the part of the South Korean military…thus aggravating the inter-Korean relations that have been in the process of detente. They should stop acting rashly, mindful of the grave consequences to be entailed by such provocations.”
Excerpt 4: From “S. Korean army commits grave provocation in West Sea of Korea”
June 29 2002, KCNA
Explicitly the message of the article marks a partial return to the polarising rhetoric exhibited in Excerpt 2, but the implicit message could be described as more moderate. International observers and the ROK asserted that North Korean forces had crossed the NLL and opened fire upon ROK vessels, but evidence of this was not provided (Nanto, 2003). Because of the lack of proof, the KCNA’s testimony that “DPRK warships were compelled to take a self-defensive step” cannot be disputed (Bundy, 2010). The use of the transitive verb ‘have’ with reference to the détente of the Sunshine Policy suggests a future commitment to dialogue, though this is countered by the threatening tone of the following sentence. Van Dijk notes the use of such semi-veiled threats in journalistic material, suggesting they originate in maxims of ‘militarist ideology’; “we are allowed to destroy someone who is bent on destroying us” (van Dijk, 2003 pp.50). This sentence could be construed as a tacit legitimation of future retaliations. Overall Excerpt 4 coveys a message of defensive military posturing, and implies a presupposition of productive though contingent future relations.
At the close of the 2000 summit, the agreement had been made to hold a second meeting at “an appropriate time” (Jong-il & Dae-Jung, 2000 pp.1). Because of the difficulties described above, reduced public support in the South (partly due to scandal⁸) and a suspected succession crisis in the North (Chul-cho, 2008), this meeting was not held until October 2-4 2007.
The iconic image of the second Southern president of the Sunshine Period crossing the Military Demarcation Line (MDL) inside the DMZ on foot was headline news around the world (The Australian, 2007; The Korea Herald, 2007). Despite the international attention the gesture has not to date been mentioned by the KCNA, but the summit did receive significant coverage:
a) “The meeting will mark an event of weighty significance in boosting inter-Korean relations to a new higher stage on the basis of the historic Joint Declaration and in the spirit of “By our nation itself” and opening up a new phase for achieving peace on the Korean Peninsula, prosperity common to the nation and national reunification” b) “The DPRK government has devoted disinterested support and efforts, zealously involving itself in the…activities of the G-77 and the United Nations system”
Excerpt 5a: From “Kim Jong Il Greets Roh Moo Hyun”
Excerpt 5b: From “Expansion and Development of Cooperation Urged”
October 2 2007, KCNA
The above excerpts may represent the ‘high-water mark’ of the Sunshine Period. In Excerpt 5a South Korea is included in the pervasive independence doctrine of the Juche Idea, and two progressive assertions affirm support for further discussion. The phrases “a new higher stage” and “a new phase” are emotive expressions of a (suggested) willingness to abandon the encumbrance of the Koreas’ shared history. Excerpt 5b (from a shorter article on the same day) conveys an attempt to reassure international observers (including the UN and Group of 77) that North Korea is willing to engage in a balanced and dispassionate manner. The ‘Rational Actor’ model, in these articles at least, appeared to have been vindicated.
The Sunshine Policy received criticism from commentators throughout the 1998-2008 period (Lee, 2007, Nanto, 2003). Critics argued that by supporting the Northern regime financially, the South was implicated in the human rights violations of its beneficiary. The election of one of the fiercest critics (Warner, 2008), Lee Myung-bak on 25 February 2008 as President of the ROK saw a substantial shift in the South’s policy on North Korea. He ceased funding for the Kaesong Industrial Complex, demanding that the North resolve the continued international impasse over its alleged nuclear weapons programme. The KCNA response was immediate and extensive. Hundreds of articles were issued in the following twelve months denigrating President Myung-bak’s policies through insulting language, at turns branding him a ‘swindler’ and ‘sycophant’ promoting a “criminal confrontation policy” (KNCA, 2008). The North’s confirmed nuclear test on 25 May 2009 (USGS, 2010) cemented the new Myung-bak regime’s revised policy.
Through analysing the discourse of the ‘mouthpiece’ of the North Korean government during the Sunshine Period, this paper has examined a small fragment of one in a multitude of voices. Despite the small sample size, a clear correlation has emerged between the intent of the ROK administration to approach North Korea as a rational actor. As the policies of the South have changed, so too have the constructed meanings, norms and identities expressed by the Jong-il government through the KCNA. In the context of the Ideological Square, Northern reactions to the Sunshine Policy have been observed changing ‘shape’ throughout the period. If “security interests are defined by actors who respond to cultural factors” (Chul-cho, 2008 pp.97), then a future policy of engagement rather than ostracism will help to gain the support of the North Korean government and people. The approach of the Myung-bak government has been accused of ‘moral absolutism’, ‘demonising’ the ‘Other’ to achieve favour abroad (Chul-cho, 2008 pp.110). It is argued that this stance does not contribute to resolving the discord between the two Korean political identities.
The two nations have endured decades of conflict; families and communities have been divided, and two separate ‘stories’ have been played out. During the Sunshine Policy the people of a vibrant developed nation have engaged with those of an “ossified Hobbesian security culture” (Wendt, 1999) across the DMZ. Progress was made, but a long night may precede the dawn of peace on the Korean peninsular.
 The distinctive lexicon of North Korean insults has been ascribed by defectors formerly employed by the KCNA partly to the use of English language dictionaries dating from the 1960’s (BBC News, 2009)
 Reporters sans Frontières; 2009 Press Freedom Index
 “U.S. Imperialists, Most Hideous Homicide in World” June 23 2009
 ‘Sunshine’ refers to Aesop’s fable ‘The North Wind and the Sun’, in which the wind and sun compete to remove a man’s coat. The Sun emerges as the victor, owing to its benevolent and patient approach in opposition to the North Wind’s forceful attempts (MOU, 2002) (see cover illustration)
 The agency often congratulates world leaders from all political backgrounds upon their (re)election successes, including messages to Swiss, Guinean and Laotian premiers in 1998 (KCNA, 1998)
 In 2003 a prosecuting court revealed that an illegal payment of 500 million US dollars had been made to the North by South Korean carmaker Hyundai to facilitate the meeting (Jonsson, 2006).
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The Korean DMZ: