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A tale of two Koreas: 10 maps show sea of contradictions between the two nations

Esri story map of two KoreasThe highly secretive and isolated state of DPRK (Democratic People’s Republic of Korea) – commonly known as North Korea – stands in stark contrast with its southern neighbor, the Republic of Korea (South Korea).

The glaring divergence between the two Korea’s could not be more acute despite a shared history, culture, language, ethnically homogeneous demography, and a unified existence as one country before 1948.

North and South Korea exemplify how peculiar political systems shape society, economy and take the country either to skyrocketing progress or to systematic ruin and impoverishment.

Now, Esri has come up with a beautiful detailed Story Map highlighting the stark dichotomies between the two coterminous neighbors. The Story Map was created by Esri‘s story maps team using the Story Map Cascade app.

To view the ESRI Story Map Click HERE

Hermit Kingdom vs the Asian Tiger

North Korea and South Korea seem like they are separated in time and space and there is an overwhelming difference between them, almost making them appear as two contradictory paradigms in juxtaposition.

For instance, North Korea is a pariah state for its notorious ballistic missiles, nuclear programs and for constantly violating international norms, while South Korea is a highly industrialized, prosperous and technologically advanced nation that enjoys cordial relations with all major countries in the world. One nation has liberal democracy and free market economy, and the other a personality cult, hereditary leadership and command economy. The fact that North Korea has had only three leaders in over 70 years while the South has had a dozen heads of state is emblematic of the strikingly different political and economic forces that reverberate through the two nations.

Satellite imagery at night shows the sharp contrast between North and South Korea.
Satellite imagery at night shows the sharp contrast between the two countries.

And nothing could be more striking than this satellite image showing night-time views of the two Koreas.

South Korea is renowned as a technology manufacturing hub and for fast internet connectivity, whereas more than 60% North Korea is not even electrified. Similarly, the transportation networks of the two Koreas are vastly disparate as well. In South Korea 97% of the roads are paved, while in North Korea only 8% of the roads are paved. The population of South Korea is twice that of North Korea. Life expectancy in South Korea is more than North Korea. Could there be this wide a gulf between two neighbors anywhere? Probably not!

The war that never ended

In 1950, North Korean troops stormed across and pushed the South Korean and UN troops into a small pocket near Busan, practically taking over the entire peninsula.
In 1950, North Korean troops stormed across and pushed the South Korean and UN troops into a small pocket near Busan, practically taking over the entire peninsula.

In June 1950, hundreds of thousands of North Korean troops stormed into the southern part, outgunning and outnumbering the unsuspecting South Koreans. The United Nations condemned the invasion, and swiftly deployed a peacekeeping force comprised largely of American troops. But they were unable to mount an effective defense, and by September they had been hemmed into a small area on the southeastern corner of the peninsula, near the port city of Busan. However, US forces launched a successful amphibious assault on the city of Incheon, and recaptured Seoul and most of the territories soon. As China entered the conflict, there was a stalemate for over two years, with both sides making little advance.

The Korean war ended in a stalemate in 1953 with the signing of an armistice. Official peace treaty has still not been signed.

In 1953, with both sides growing wary of the conflict, an armistice was signed to the end the war, but it was never concluded by a formal peace treaty. So, even after more than half a century, the war hasn’t officially ended and there has only been a cessation of hostilities. After the war, both the Korea’s were recognized as sovereign nations, as negotiations and parleys between the USA and the USSR to re-unite Korean peninsula failed.

The 38th parallel divides the Korean peninsula into two nations and serves as the de facto international border

The 38th parallel of latitude divides the Korean peninsula into two and serves as the de facto international border between the two countries. Along the 38th parallel, there is a 4 km demilitarized zone (DMZ), a buffer zone between the two countries. The DMZ is the most heavily militarized and tense border in the world, with watchtowers, sniper rifles and bunkers on both sides. Hostility and acrimony is in the air near the DMZ. Since 1953, 1000 soldiers from both sides have died in skirmishes along the DMZ.

Heavy arsenal of DPRK along the border

North Korea has an edge over South in weapons and armaments. It has the fourth largest army in the world and army is given the first preference in the totalitarian state whose ruling ideology is called Juche (Korean word for self-reliance). North Korea has amassed a formidable arsenal of weapons along the DMZ, including hundreds of field artillery pieces, mobile rocket launchers, and machine gun emplacements.

Skirmishes along the DMZ have claimed a lot of lives.

Over a thousand soldiers have lost their lives in skirmishes near the DMZ since the 1953 armistice. In the last few years, the conflicts has changed its flash-point to the west waters of the peninsula.

The UN-established maritime boundary, known as the Northern Limit Line, is not acknowledged by North Korea and it frequently forays into South Korean waters. These naval engagements are sometimes fatal.

North Korea's artillery guns placed in fortified bunkers along the border.
North Korea’s artillery guns placed in fortified bunkers along the border.

Satellite imagery shows that most of the North Korea’s largest artillery pieces are placed in fortified bunkers along the border. These guns have a range of upto 60 kms and are capable of hitting Seoul, the densely populated capital of South Korea.

One third of the South Korean population lives within 60 kms from the border.

Around 17.8 millions South Korean civilians, or about a third of the country’s population, lives within close range of North Korean artillery.

The specter of North Korean nukes

The volley of insults and diatribes between US president Donald Trump and DPRK leader Kim Jong Un might have prima facie seemed amusing, but it was ominous as the head-of-states of two nuclear powered nations warned and threatened each other.

To maintain stability in the region, over 1 lakh US troops are stationed in South Korea, Japan and Guam.

US has military bases in South Korea, Japan, as well in Guam, an island in pacific, almost midway between Japan and Australia, and North Korea has successfully tested its short range ballistic missiles whose range extends till Japan.

Kim Jong Un, the current leader of North Korea, is cynical of the west and suspicious of China, his country’s only all-weather ally and sponsor. Nearly 85% of North Korea’s trade is with China. China is also the only source of aid and financial grants for the cash-strapped nation. But owing to international pressure and the unabated bellicose rhetoric of Kim Jong Un, relations between the two countries have strained and China has imposed a moratorium on the import of North Korean coal and is scaling up pressure on the regime to tone down its aggressive stance.

Range of North Korea’s long range ballistic missiles (still not operational)

US military bases in East Asia are within the range of North Korean missiles. To extend protection to Japan and South Korea — key US allies in the region — against a truculent North Korea, US has deployed its army and a naval fleet in the region. North Korea’s unrelenting defiance of international community and steadfast refusal to give up its on nuclear program, escalating its missile tests and maintaining a hawkish posture has led to strict sanctions, increased the risk of a confrontation and made East Asia more susceptible to a war.