K-pop is just one of the many signifiers of how different South and North Korea have become.
K-pop is just one of the many signifiers of how different South and North Korea have become.

Humiliating difference between the two Koreas

EXACTLY thirty years ago, South Korea hosted the Winter Olympics.

You only have to look at footage from this year's welcoming ceremony to see how differently the country has evolved compared to its rogue neighbour since then.

In this 10-second clip, a group of South Koreans perform a rapid breakdancing routine to Elvis Presley's "A Little Less Conversation".

The camera then cuts crosses to the North Koreans' reactions, where they stand in long rows, completely still, with blank faces.

With the two countries coming together again for the Winter Olympics, here's a look back at the contrast in their development over the past 30 years.

THE SEPARATION OF THE KOREAS

In the space of a generation, South Korea has rapidly risen from a third-world country to first-world.

Over the past three decades, the country's GDP per capita has risen from US$4686 to $27,538 in 2016 - an almost sixfold rise.

Today the country is best known for K-Pop, soap operas, Hyundai cars, LG appliances and Samsung phones. It has a universal healthcare system, a rising life expectancy and one of the world's highest-educated labour forces among OECD countries.

Crowded and covered in bright neon lights, its capital Seoul is one of the world's most modern cities, and in 2016 the country attracted more than 17 million foreign visitors.

The South Korean passport ranks fifth in the world for travel freedom, ahead of Australia by two places.

 

Seoul is the bright, energetic, crowded capital of South Korea.
Seoul is the bright, energetic, crowded capital of South Korea.

North Korea, by contrast, recorded a GDP per capita of just US$1,342 in 2016 - less than five per cent of South Korea's.

The North Korean passport is 95th, and leaving the country remains notoriously difficult based on the authoritarian regime.

While South Korea's rapid development has been hailed as one of the world's greatest success stories, the North has been plagued with starvation and suffering.

The collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 saw a nation plunged into a devastating famine, which killed hundreds of thousands - or millions, according to some reports - of North Koreans.

In recent years, the UN Security Council has imposed heavy restrictions on the country's exports and imports, and banned North Korean nationals from working abroad.

The two countries also maintain very different political systems.

In 1988, democratic reforms were still new for the South, which for nine years prior had been controlled by dictator Chun Doo-hwan.

At the end of 1987, he lost the nation's first honest election in two decades to Roh Tae-woo, the Democratic Justice Party's president. Today, South Korea is widely considered a liberal democracy.

For several months starting in late 2016, millions of South Koreans demonstrated on the streets of Seoul, calling for the resignation of then-President Park Geun-hye.

The number of demonstrators reportedly peaked at 2.3 million in early December - the largest in the country's history - and in March the following year, the President was impeached at the people's command.

To this day North Korea, by stark contrast, remains ruled by the Kim dynasty. The country holds elections every few years, but approval of the regime is basically unanimous.

All public gatherings are state-organised and dedicated to Kim Jong-un and his regime, and the notion of publicly protesting the government is unthinkable.

In 2016, thousands of South Koreans took to the streets in the city center to demand President Park Geun-hye to step down.
In 2016, thousands of South Koreans took to the streets in the city center to demand President Park Geun-hye to step down.

Even linguistically the countries have grown apart, mainly as the South gradually adopted English words that North Koreans have never heard.

The Associated Press reported the two countries formed a joint women's hockey team just two weeks ago, consisting of 12 North Korean players and 23 South Koreans.

The Canadian coach, Sarah Murray, said her squad has made a three-page dictionary that translates hockey terms from English into South Korean and North Korean separately.

"In North Korean, there are no English words so everything is totally different. So we actually made like a dictionary, English to Korean to North Korean. So we can communicate and hopefully learn how to speak each other's languages," she said.

Thirty years ago, a joint hockey team would have been hard to imagine, particularly following the infamous Korean Air Flight 858 incident.

North Korea campaigned to co-host the games with Seoul. Furious with the unsuccessful result, the country and its allies boycotted the games.

But that wasn't all. In November 1987, a Korean flight scheduled between Baghdad, Iraq and Seoul exploded in mid-air after two North Korean agents planted a radio bomb inside, which killed all 115 people on board.

The male agent, Kim Sung II, killed himself by biting into a cyanide pill. The woman, Kim Hyon Hui, attempted to do the same and failed. She was caught by the authorities, imprisoned and questioned by South Korean investigators, saying she'd been trained as a terrorist and had received her orders directly from North Korea's then-leader Kil Jong-il himself.

The crime was deemed a terrorist attack, and Chun Doo Hwan formally charged the North over it, despite its repeated denial at being involved.

North Korean agent Kim Hyon Hui being escorted into the High Court in Seoul in April 1989.
North Korean agent Kim Hyon Hui being escorted into the High Court in Seoul in April 1989.

All things considered, Kim Jong-un's apparent eagerness to participate in this year's Games represent a marked shift.

"We wish for a successful Olympic Games and we stand ready to offer our delegates to participate," he said in a speech.

Meanwhile it's the South who appear sceptical. A survey showed that 70 per cent of South Koreans opposed the joint women's hockey team, worrying it would deprive their players of playing time.

Likewise, polling suggests around 25 per cent of South Koreans don't believe that reunification is a possibility.

But despite lingering tensions, security analysts and organisers of the Pyeongchang Games insist they will not be jeopardised.

News Corp Australia


Tweed firies receive unusual callout

Tweed firies receive unusual callout

Not all heroes wear capes.

iPhone Xs Max review: The price for a great photo?

iPhone Xs Max review: The price for a great photo?

For me, the camera is always the main consideration in a phone

Mayor's plan to tackle climate change before 2020

Mayor's plan to tackle climate change before 2020

Katie Milne is ready to lead again

Local Partners