North Korea to join Seoul Standard Time: why it’s so important?


When I refer to something as symbolic regarding North Korea issue, I usually mean that it is devoid of things tangible.

For example, Kim Jong Un’s recent announcement that North Korea is going to shut down the nuclear test site in Punggye-ri is more symbolic than tangible in terms of denuclearization because it was decided on the grounds that North Korea has become a nuclear power so no longer needs for the test site rather than its willingness to abandon the nukes.((But we also need to take into account that the excuse might serve purely an internal purpose.))

But when the symbol in question is much bigger than usual, it ceases to be just symbolic. Especially when it comes to North Korea’s greatest causes like self-reliance, independence and of course, juche.

I’m talking about the Blue House’s announcement today that Kim Jong Un is willing to ditch North Korea’s own time zone aka Pyongyang Standard Time and adopt Seoul Standard Time.

It was 2015 when Pyongyang established its own time zone. To get rid of remnants of the Japanese colonial rule was the excuse.

Pyongyang has a point here. Before the colonial rule, Korea during the short-lived Great Korean Empire era set up its standard time according to 127.5 degrees east longitude but later Imperial Japan forced to adopt Japan Standard Time which is set along 135 degrees east.

It was a typical Pyongyang: consistent and insistent. It gets along well with the North Korea’s narrative stressing national independence and self-reliance.

Sounds good symbolically. But practically? Not really. Take a guess why Seoul hasn’t done the same while there have always been some group of people calling for the same for the sake of national pride and things.

What did Pyongyang want when it changed its time zone against all odds it would no doubt incur?

Some experts interpreted that the North is abandoning its original strategy of unifying the peninsula and setting out to go the way of its own. So-called Two Koreas strategy.

And now they want to roll back. At least Kim Jong Un says so.

“(Kim said) it was so heartbreaking to see (the two Koreas using different time) and proposed to unite the time of the North and South first,” the Blue House said today.

“Kim said (the North) will roll back to the standard time since it was (the North) who changed the time zone and it’s okay to announce this in public.”

Communications Advisor to the President Yoon Young-chan added: “Even though unifying the standard time incurs many administrative difficulties and costs internally to the North, I think Kim’s decision means he’s willing to dedicate himself to being in harmony and concord with the international community and to get rid of expected obstacles to the future inter-Korean/US-DPRK cooperation.”

Aside of huge administrative costs, rolling back from the narrative of a long history will do harm to its symbolic system. Where’s the great cause of independence and self-reliance gone?

It may be the case that the North still cares a lot about the cause of One Korea. But it is also the case that it will look like a retreat from the other great causes.

Soon Rodong Sinmun and KCNA will deliver the story to the internal audience. What I very much wonder is what will be the excuse. What would be big enough to make a rollback in time to the the colonial rule?

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