On the bike for reunification

AYŞE BETÜL BAL @bal_betul
On the bike for reunification

Starting a journey across the Asian region on bike to talk to his peers about the longstanding tension between North and South Korea, South Korean Oh Se Jin reached to Turkey

Hitting the roads with his backpack, Oh Se Jin, 27, travels mostly on his bike between the borders of Asian countries from China to Myanmar and India. Completing his journey across the Asian region and coming to Turkey, he has a goal other than being merely a wanderer across the region.

Having decided to do something for his country and to contribute to the changing situation where he lives after graduating with a degree in politics and diplomacy, Se Jin started to tell people, especially the youth, about the reunification of the two different countries in the Korean Peninsula – South Korea and the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (North Korea) – which are seen as enemies in the eyes of rest of the world.

Indeed there has been a never-ending tension between these two Korean countries even though they are from the same nation since they first divided after the Korean War that ended with a 1953 armistice. The tension is mostly from threats coming from North Korea since their very first nuclear blast experiment in 2006. Since then, North Korea has conducted several nuclear and missile tests over the years.

After former President Kim Jong-II's death, his son, Kim Jong-Un took power and a new era for the country's missile development program and nuclear tests began. And from then on, North Korea started to increase the tempo of the tests considerably. But according to Se Jin, this tension is not because of that but mostly because of how the people of the two Koreas see each other and the politics of the superpowers surround them, namely, the U.S., China, Russia and Japan.

According to him, it is time for a huge change for the two countries and a time for giving each other another chance since South Korea has been in an effort to re-develop its relation with the North under the more liberal and democratic presidency of Moon Jae-In.

Seeing the upcoming Pyeongchang 2018 Winter Olympics as a chance to rebuild the demolished relation between his country and a country that he sees a home to people "just like him," Oh Se Jin said, "Ten years ago our relationship was better than now. Students from South were able to go sightseeing on Mt. Geumgang in North Korea and the countries were able to share their interests with each other through the Kaesong Industrial Complex. But now they closed their borders and the political leaders gave up arranging meetings. But this year things started to change with our new president Moon Jae In and the winter Olympics is a good start for my country's new policies."

Seoul's Unification Ministry said the Koreas reached the agreement during talks on Jan. 17, 2018, and South Korean officials announced that the two countries will form a shared women's ice hockey team in a historic first for the Korean peninsula. They said the athletes from the two Koreas will march together under a "unification flag," representing their peninsula during the opening ceremony in Pyeongchang.

Se Jin said that while he crosses the borders of other Asian countries by just waving his ID, "seeing a country full of people like him as an enemy and keeping the strict borders" is just ridiculous and something to be changed.

"When I was in Cambodia I saw a restaurant with Korean letters on it and I was glad to find a place where I can feel at home but then I realized it was owned by North Korean people. The girls working there were just like sisters to me and I wanted to say hi and talk about our countries but the manager of the restaurant was keeping his eye on them," he said.

Thinking that the ladies could have been afraid of the owner, Se Jin gave up trying to talk to them.

"This is not between the people, not between us. This is just about politics and now it's the exact time to identify the separation between politics and us, human beings. Otherwise, we can't even survive. We need one united Korea in order to survive in the region under the threats of developing countries," he said.

When Oh Se Jin was in the middle school, he learned from his history books that South Korea once was one of the poorest countries in the world and they received aid from many countries in order to survive.

"But South Korea achieved its economic growth and industrialization in a very short time and came a long way as being a democratic country. So, when I ask myself what is the next step the answer would be the unification with the country located in the North which consists of people just like me." said, Se Jin.

Last year was important regarding the two Korean countries since it has been marked by aggressive rhetoric not just from Pyongyang, which has drawn criticism for its nuclear and missile tests, but also from Washington, where President Donald Trump has threatened military action to pressure the North.

Now that the countries started to change the diplomacy between them the rhetoric of the leaders have also changed. In 2018 New Year's speech, Kim Jong Un reflected the developments of last year and acknowledged the increased pressure on his country by using such words as "the harshest-ever challenges" and "difficult living conditions caused by life-threating sanctions and containment."

Regarding those developments Se Jin said, "I think the Korean Peninsula has been a conflict zone between the USA and China, Russia or Japan for a long time. Thus the unification is essential for both countries in order for them to maintain their existence and growth. With this aim, I am traveling across Asia to inform and talk with people especially my age."

Starting his journey on Sept. 8, 2017, Oh Se Jin crossed the borders of Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand and Myanmar on bike after he flew to China from South Korea, then due to the closed border between Myanmar and India, he took an airplane. When he was in China, three months ago, the relationship between South and North Korea and China and the U.S. was worse than ever according to him and it even affected him as a tourist.

"Seeing my country take a defense system from the U.S. as a threat to its own power, Beijing was so angry that they did not even allow me to stay at a hotel in Panjin city of China and asked me to leave. I had to stay outside at night due to the political aggression that I'm not part of personally," he said.

However, he said he thinks the aggression is just between countries like in many places around the world. According to the results of a survey he conducted among university students in China, Se Jin shared with Daily Sabah that the young generation of China has a more positive approach to the unification of the Koreas.

Speaking of his memories in China, he said, "When I was in China I met with a North Korean woman who fled her country and lives in China without a Chinese ID. She told me how she escaped from North 20 years ago all alone and her father is from Busan – a city in South Korea. She said that she has cousins in that city and gave me a paper on which their street names are written. But the names of those streets had already been changed so it was impossible for me to find her relatives," he said.

"This fact alone can be the reason for their reunification because I know that the woman I met in China is not the only one who has to live separate from her family," Se Jin added.

"However, nowadays the young generation is so busy trying to get jobs or preparing for exams that they do not have time to think about our country's politics. This is one of the reasons why I first started this journey. I would like to talk with Korean people in my country as much as I would like to talk with Koreans who live in different parts of the world," he concluded.

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