What Is the Origin of the Korean Split?
The Korean Peninsula has been fought over for most of recorded history, usually by outside forces. In the first half of the 20th century, Korea was part of the Japanese Empire. Following Japan's surrender to Allied forces in World War II, the fate of the Korean people was placed in the hands of competing foreign governments.
1 Provisional Government
During the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Japan, China and Russia competed for influence over the Korean Peninsula. Japan officially colonized Korea in 1910 after winning wars against China in 1894-95 and Russia in 1904-05. Many Koreans resisted the Japanese occupation. A provisional Korean government was established in Shanghai, China in the 1930s. Kim Ku was the leader of the provisional government. Despite the efforts of insurrectionists such as General Kim Il-Sung, the Japanese occupation of Korea continued until the Empire of Japan surrendered to Allied forces, ending World War II.
2 U.S. and Soviet Trusteeship
Allied forces discussed the fate of Korea and other territories occupied by Japan and Germany during conferences at Yalta, Potsdam, the United States and Moscow. There were no Koreans present during these discussions, which resulted in an agreement to split the Korean Peninsula between a Soviet sphere of influence north of the 38th Parallel and a U.S./U.K. sphere of influence to the South. This arrangement was intended to be temporary until the United Nations could supervise general elections to allow the Korean people to establish their own government.
3 Republic of Korea
It soon became clear that the United States and the Soviet Union could not come to an agreement regarding the formation of an independent Korean government. In 1947, U.S. President Harry Truman submitted the question to the General Assembly of the United Nations. The U.N. called for elections, but the Soviet Union blocked U.N. access north of the 38th Parallel. In the south, Koreans formed the Republic of Korea and elected Syngman Rhee as their first president on May 10, 1948.
4 Democratic People's Republic of Korea
The communist provisional government in North Korea, still heavily influenced by the Soviet Union, announced the official formation of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea on September 9, 1948. Kim Il-Sung, who was regarded as a hero by many North Koreans for his involvement in resisting the Japanese occupation, was named North Korea's premier. Both North and South Korean leaders claimed to represent the legitimate government of the Korean people.
5 Korean War and Armistice
After a number of border skirmishes over disputed territory, the North Korean Army invaded South Korea in June, 1950. United Nations forces, led by the United States responded by landing troops and pushing the North Korean Army back to the northernmost part of the peninsula. Fearing the U.S. would press the attack into communist China, the Chinese government ordered 250,000 of its troops to support the North Koreans. By 1951, the fighting had come to a stalemate near the original border at the 38th parallel. Cease-fire negotiations were finalized in 1953 and re-established the 38th parallel as the boundary between the two Korean republics. However, the Korean War did not officially end, and conflict over the division of the peninsula continues to mark Korean politics.