Yesterday, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and South Korean President Moon Jae-in held a historic summit, with the prospect of nuclear disarmament and a formal end to the Korean War on the horizon. Whilst the prospect of North Korea dismantling its nuclear arsenal is still a long way off, it is much closer than it was even earlier this year, when Kim Jong-un and Donald Trump were trading blows on the world stage.

Here is a history of the conflict on the Korean peninsula and how it came to be divided.

Korea prior to Japanese occupation
  • 1905 – Korean Empire becomes a Japanese protectorate after 513 years of independent rule
  • 1910 – Korea annexed into the Japanese Empire and Korean traditions and culture repressed
  • 1937 – At the start of the Second Sino-Japanese War, the Korean language is banned by the Japanese, worship at Japanese Shinto shrines was made compulsory and Korean cultural artifacts were either eradicated or taken to Japan. Koreans were forced to support the war effort, with roughly 200,000 girls and women compelled into sexual services. The issue of ‘comfort women’ during World War II remains a contentious issue between the two Koreas, China and Japan to this day.
  • 1943 – Cairo Conference determines the future of Japan after it surrenders – Korea to become ‘free and independent… in due course’. The Soviet Union did not attend the conference, due to a neutrality pact with the Japanese.
Korea under Soviet and US control, 1945-48
  • 1945 – Soviet forces occupy the north of Korea as Japan surrenders. The Korean peninsula is divided ‘temporarily’ along the 38th parallel – the Soviets occupy the north, with the United States occupying the south.
  • 1948 – Talks between the Soviet Union and United States on unifying Korea reach a stalemate as the Cold War begins. Two Korean states are established; in the north, the communist  ‘Democratic People’s Republic of Korea’ (DPRK, North Korea), and in the south, the capitalist ‘Republic of Korea’ (ROK, South Korea).
  • 1950-53: Tensions on the Korean peninsula lead to war, with North Korean forces invading the South. Despite US, UN and Chinese intervention, a stalemate results and an armistice is signed and a ‘Demilitarised Zone’ (DMZ) is established between the two countries
  • 1953-1990: Skirmishes between the two Korean nations continue, with North Korea capturing a US naval ship in 1968, shooting down a US spy plane in 1969 and assassinating the dictator of South Korea, Park Chung-hee, in 1979. South Korea overtakes the North in GDP and the autocratic regime in the South is overthrown in 1987. Seoul, the South Korean capital, hosts the Olympic Games the following year.
  • 1991: Both North and South Korea join the United Nations. The collapse of the USSR results in an economic crisis in North Korea.
  • 1994: Start of four-year long famine in North Korea, exacerbated by floods and drought, killing as many as 3.5 million people. US sends food aid to the country from 1996. Kim Il-Sung, the first leader of North Korea, dies from a sudden heart attack – his son, Kim Jong-il, becomes leader.
  • 2002: In his State of the Union Address, US President George W. Bush describes North Korea as part of an ‘Axis of Evil’, alongside Iran and Iraq.
  • 2003-2006: Six-party talks are held with South Korea, North Korea, the US, China, Russia and Japan, after North Korea withdrew from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.
  • 2006: North Korea conducts its first nuclear test on October 9th, leading to international condemnation and the implementation of sanctions. It is estimated that the explosion from a 1 kiloton nuclear device.
  • 2006-2009: Six-party talks resume, with North Korea agreeing to shut down its nuclear facilities in exchange for fuel aid and steps towards normalising relations with the US and Japan. However, condemnation of a North Korean satellite launch in 2009 saw the DPRK withdraw from talks and restart its nuclear facilities.
  • 2009: North Korea conducts a second nuclear test, more powerful than their first, on May 25th. The device was estimated to a be larger 2.35 kiloton nuclear weapon.
  • 2010: North Korea torpedoes and sinks South Korean naval vessel, the ROKS Cheonan, and shells a South Korean island – killing two civilians.
  • 2011: Kim Jong-il, North Korean leader, dies of a suspected heart attack – his son, Kim Jong-un, becomes leader.
  • 2013: North Korea conducts its third nuclear test in February. Estimates suggest the explosion was from a 9 kiloton device. This is followed by a series of missile tests in May.
  • 2016: North Korea conducts its fourth and fifth nuclear tests. It was estimated that the explosions were from a 7 kiloton and 10 kiloton nuclear device respectively.
  • 2017: North Korea conducts its sixth and most recent nuclear test, thought to be a test of a hydrogen bomb. The explosion was estimated to be from a 50 kiloton device, the largest tested to date by North Korea. The country also tests a Hwasong-15 missile, a ballistic missile theoretically capable of reaching all of the continental United States.
  • 2018: Following heated rhetoric between US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, a high-level North Korean delegation visits the South for the Winter Olympics, with a unified Korean team competing in the Games. Both the North and South Korean leaders meet for talks and agree to meetings with a view to signing a formal peace treaty and working towards denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula.