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Joint March 1 commemoration to be proposed

July 06,2018
Seoul is proposing to Pyongyang that a delegation from each country travel on the same train to China next year for the 100th anniversary of the March 1 Korean independence movement, a local high-level official exclusively told the JoongAng Ilbo Wednesday.

The source, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said the delegations would visit key historical sites related to Korean activists who went into exile in China, mainly Shanghai and Manchuria, to fight against Japanese colonial rule in the early 20th century.

In South Korea, the March 1 Korean independence movement is widely considered a catalyst for the hundreds of independence demonstrations that ensued across the nation, when a group of 33 Korean cultural and religious leaders drew up the Korean Proclamation of Independence and organized a mass demonstration in downtown Seoul on March 1, 1919. Japan’s colonial rule over Korea began in 1910 and lasted until the conclusion of World War II in 1945.

According to the official, local authorities have been looking over the plan since early this year and will formally send a request to the North after a final review, though a timeline was not given.

It’s unclear how Pyongyang will react.

A Blue House official said South Korean President Moon Jae-in suggested to North Korean leader Kim Jong-un on April 27 during their first summit that both countries jointly excavate the remains of Ahn Jung-geun, who shot and killed Ito Hirobumi, four-time prime minister of Japan and the first resident general of Japan-run Korea.

Seoul suspects the remains are buried near Lushun Prison in Liaoning Province, in northeast China, where he was jailed after the assassination.

Kim was said to have accepted the offer.

But in North Korea, where the regime is more interested in the cult of personality surrounding the Kim dynasty, the March 1 Korean independence movement is usually described as a failed public uprising.

It sees its state founder Kim Il Sung’s anti-Japanese movements as the watershed moment in Korea’s independence.

Another obstacle could be opposition from Japan, which has often tried to whitewash its wartime atrocities.

One idea Seoul currently has in mind, according to the source, is for South Korea’s delegation to take a train from the southeastern port city of Busan and travel upwards to meet with North Korea’s delegation in Pyongyang. From there, both delegations would travel to China together.

The scenario echoes Moon’s grand vision to modernize North Korea’s highways and railroads in the hopes of connecting them with South Korea’s network to form a “single market” on the Korean Peninsula that will “promote balanced economic growth and co-prosperity of the nation.”

Last week, the two Koreas agreed to modernize the North’s side of the Seoul-Sinuiju railway line and begin inspections on July 24, an initiative that will connect the South Korean capital with a city on the North Korean-Chinese border.

“The two Koreas agreed in the Panmunjom Declaration on April 27 to jointly celebrate events that are deemed crucial for both countries,” another South Korean government official said on the condition of anonymity. “But in contemporary history, there aren’t many candidates that fall into this category. We [the South Korean government] thought the March 1 independence movement could be one option because it was a special day for the entire Korean people.”

BY JEONG YONG-SOO, LEE SUNG-EUN [lee.sungeun@joongang.co.kr]