The Divided Koreas

north south korea generic flags
The two nations share a common people and language. But for more than 50 years, the divided peninsula has pitted capitalist and largely pro-Western South Korea against communist North Korea.

Korean History

Korea was an independent kingdom under Chinese suzerainty for most of the past millennium. Following its victory in the Russo-Japanese War in 1905, Japan occupied Korea; five years later it formally annexed the entire peninsula.

After World War II, a republic was set up in the southern half of the Korean Peninsula while a Communist-style government was installed in the north. During the Korean War (1950-1953), U.S. and other U.N. forces intervened to defend South Korea from North Korean attacks that were supported by the Chinese.

An armistice was signed in 1953, splitting the peninsula along a demilitarized zone at about the 38th parallel.

Key Dates In Focus

Aug. 15, 1945: Korean Peninsula splits into communist North Korea and U.S.-backed South Korea following end of Japanese colonial rule.

June 25, 1950: Korean War erupts with the invasion of South Korea by North Korea. The United States spearheads defense of South Korea under flag of the United Nations.

July 27, 1953: The Korean War ends when armistice is signed by North Korea, China and the United States, representing the South. The armistice restores the border at the 38th parallel.

Jan. 21, 1968: A 31-member North Korean commando unit reaches Seoul in a failed attempt to kill then-South Korean president Park Chung-hee. All but one is killed.

July 4, 1972: The two Koreas issue a joint communiqué, agreeing to achieve peaceful reunification of their peninsula.

Aug. 15, 1974: A North Korean agent attempts to assassinate President Park Chung-hee in Seoul, but kills the first lady instead.

Sept. 4, 1990: Prime ministers of two Koreas hold talks for the first time.

Sept. 18, 1991: North Korea joins the United Nations along with South Korea.

December 1991: North Korean Prime Minister Yon Hyong-muk visits Seoul via the Panmunjom truce village. The two Koreas sign an agreement on reconciliation, non-aggression and exchanges and cooperation

Jun 14, 2000: South Korean President Kim Dae-jung and North Korean leader Kim Jong-il hold landmark summit in Pyongyang and produce a pact to reduce tension on the divided peninsula and to hold reunions of families torn apart by the Korean War.

Feb. 8, 2001: North and South Korea agree to reconnect a railway across their heavily-armed border and clear land mines as part of a 41-point agreement, which also calls for opening a hotline between the two militaries. The agreement marked another milestone in thawing relations between the two once-hostile countries.

To Learn More About Korean History:

• Follow the 50-year rift between North and South Korea with an interactive from here. Learn about the people and history of each nation, and attempts to forge new ties.

• Learn about the people, economy and history of North Korea here.

• Learn about the history and people of South Korea here.