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SOAS seminar: the Failure of the US-Soviet Joint Commission, 1946 – 1947

An interesting-looking session which may help us to see current developments through an historical lens.

Ominous Clouds over Korea: The Failure of the US-Soviet Joint Commission, 1946—1947

Prof Mark E Caprio (Rikkyo University)
Friday 8 March 2019Time: 5:15 pm – 7:00 pm | Register via SOAS website
Venue: SOAS | Russell Square | College Buildings | Room B104

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The dregs of the failure that the U.S.-Soviet Joint Commission for Korea experienced in the mid-1940s have recently returned to front-page news as the two Koreas make yet another attempt to complete the Commission’s fundamental responsibility: to dismantle the division that the Allied Powers forced upon them soon after Japan’s 1945 surrender. The meetings that comprised the Joint Commission’s efforts took place over two extended rounds that commenced in early1946, but fizzled to a sudden halt by mid-July 1947. Both sides initially voiced confidence in their ability to guide southern and northern Korean assemblies toward a reunification of the Korean peninsula. However, ideological-based differences soon set in as U.S. and Soviet participants divided over the fundamental question of which political parties to grant participation rights. The impasse deepened after the Joint Commission disbanded and the United States turned the problem over to the United Nations, which formed a Temporary Commission that attracted support south of the 38th parallel divide but not to its north. This second failure pushed the two Koreas further down the road to war, and the more solidified division seen today. The Joint Commission did make extensive efforts, with each of the two rounds consisting of a series of meetings held alternatively in Pyongyang and Seoul. Opening statements and meeting reports suggest their optimism in their capacity to successfully complete this important task. Why then did the Joint Commission eventually fail? Did its failures stem locally, from disputes between the participants, or were the talks hijacked by much broader differences that pushed Moscow and Washington into Cold War divisions of a global dimension? As part of a wider effort to consider the post-liberation dregs of colonialism in Korea, this paper attempts to answer these basic questions by examining official reports that detailed the meetings’ proceedings, and those that analyzed the broader Joint Commission efforts. It will further consider a contemporary question of how the two governments should confront the continued responsibility of the Joint Commission’s failure. Does this responsibility not demand a more constructive cooperation by the U.S. and Russian governments in assisting contemporary efforts to deliver to the Korean peninsula a more peaceful framework for resolving problems that stem from this early postwar, post-Korean liberation failure?

Speaker Biography

Mark E. Caprio is professor in the College of Intercommunication Studies at Rikkyo University, Tokyo. His research interests include Japan’s colonial history in Korea, Korea’s colonial legacy, and historical colonial and war memory. He has also drafted articles on the contemporary North Korean nuclear issue. His publications include Japanese Assimilation Policies in Colonial Korea, 1910—1945, as well as numerous journal articles and book chapters on the above topics.

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