Mindan-Chongryun make up?

From Yonhap:

Two rival groups for Koreans living in Japan, divided by their loyalties to capitalist South Korea and the communist North, on Wednesday reached an epochal deal to end half a century of animosity.

The agreement came at a 40-minute meeting in Tokyo between the leaders of the pro-Seoul Korean Residents Union in Japan, known as Mindan, and the pro-Pyongyang General Association of Korean Residents in Japan, or Chongryon. It was the first time for the two groups’ leaders to ever have such a meeting.

Mindan and Chongryon are the two largest groups representing more than 600,000 ethnic Koreans in Japan, mostly descendants of Koreans who moved here voluntarily or were forced to during Japan’s 1910-45 colonization of the Korean Peninsula.

Mindan, which claims about 500,000 members, sides with South Korea and has been at loggerheads with Chongryon, composed of some 150,000 people who have supported the North for decades.

But the two groups agreed to make joint efforts for reconciliation, according to a joint statement by Mindan’s head, Ha Byung-ok, and his Chongryon counterpart, Seo Man-sul.

The two sides will also jointly organize or participate in events to commemorate the landmark inter-Korean summit in 2000 and Korea’s liberation from Japanese colonial rule in 1945.

Mindan and Chongryon will “make joint efforts to promote education and Korean culture, as well as work together for the welfare and the rights of the Korean community,” according to the statement.

For ethnic Koreans here, experts said, the meeting between the two groups’ leaders is tantamount to the 2000 inter-Korean summit that laid the groundwork for economic exchanges and various other reconciliatory efforts.

It reflects the two Koreas’ continued efforts for reconciliation and cooperation despite the North Korean nuclear arms crisis, they added.

From Joong Ang:

Half a century of animosity based on competing loyalties to either capitalist South Korea or communist North Korea came to a symbolic halt yesterday as the two leaders of Mindan, the Seoul Korean Residents Union in Japan, and Chongryon, the General Association of Korean Residents in Japan, announced their reconciliation here.

It was the first time that leaders representing the two organizations officially met since the founding of the two groups. Mindan was founded in 1946; Chongryon in 1955.

Ha Byung-ok, the head of Mindan’s central headquarters, visited yesterday a Chongryon office in Tokyo and held talks with So Man-sul, chairman of the pro-North Korean group. In the meeting, both sides agreed to cooperate on reconciliation efforts between the two groups.

An emotional Mr. Ha told his counterpart he had tears in his eyes while Mr. So said the moment was historically important and that both sides needed to build upon it.

Both sides will send representatives to an inter-Korean event in Gwangju, South Korea, to commemorate the June 15, 2000, summit meeting between then South Korean President Kim Dae-jung and the North’s leader Kim Jong-il. The two sides also agreed to co-host an event in Japan on Aug. 15 to commemorate Korea’s 1945 liberation from Japanese colonial rule.

In addition, the groups agreed to jointly promote ethnic education and culture to maintain their ethnic Korean roots and to work together to promote the status of ethnic Koreans in Japan.

Experts say the reconciliation between the two organizations is due to the improving ties between Seoul and Pyongyang and the recent election of Mr. Ha, who has been preaching reconciliation.

Nevertheless, since the move has been largely driven by Mr. Ha, there is some opposition inside the organization. In addition, the decreasing membership of Chongryon, from a peak of 200,000 members to about 50,000, along with recent pressure from the Japanese government on the organization through tax investigations, has also led to the cooperation, analysts say. Chongryon is a major source of foreign currency for North Korea. Mindan claims a membership of 500,000.

The shrinking population of ethnic Koreans in Japan and the marriage of ethnic Koreans to Japanese citizens has raised the sense of urgency by the groups to maintain their foothold in Japanese society.

From Korea times:

It is uplifting to hear that the leaders of pro-Seoul and pro-Pyongyang Korean residents in Japan got together Wednesday and agreed to end decades of confrontation between their groups. The hugging and hand-shaking between Ha Byong-ok, leader of the pro-Seoul Korean Residents Union in Japan (Mindan) and So Man-sol, chairman of the pro-Pyongyang General Association of Korean Residents in Japan (Chongnyon) at the latter’s headquarters signified the end of the division of Korean residents in Japan.
The Korean residents groups have been at odds over the last 50 years, symbolizing the territorial division of their fatherland. The invisible barriers between the people of the two organizations in Japanese society were said to have been stronger than the DMZ dividing South and North Korea. The animosity was so intense that the members of the different groups were reluctant to talk to each other even when they lived in nearby neighborhoods.

The ideological confrontations among the Koreans were actually nothing but a waste of energy for Japan’s largest ethnic group. The division hindered their efforts to enhance their rights and interests in Japanese society. The host government exploited the division of Korean society.

The move of the two groups to break the stalemate was greatly influenced by the intentions of their home states. The conciliatory agreement is largely based on the South-North Joint Declaration issued on June 15, 2000, on the heels of summit talks between President Kim Dae-jung and the North Korean leader, Kim Jong-il. It is hoped that the historic meeting between the leaders of the two groups will help turn their long-standing enmity and confrontation into reconciliation and harmonization for Korean residents of Japan.

However, some analysts say that the pro-Pyongyang group has been faced with a lot of difficulties politically and financially lately because of the revelations that North Korean agents abducted some Japanese citizens to North Korea. They say that Chongnyon would have no choice but to rely on Mindan to remain alive in Japanese society. That’s why the conciliatory move by Chongnyon is seen as a mere strategic decision to survive their current difficulties.

However, we judge the historic meeting to be significant. Whether the meeting was purely motivated or not will soon be known. The Korean residents in Japan are hoping to achieve ethnic solidarity in Japan through reconciliation while promoting education and Korean culture to protect their ethnic characteristics.


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