The Korean War started in 1950, and was in essence a battle between China (occupying North Korea, and assisted by Russia), and the United States (occupying South Korea). The Korean War was a product of the larger Cold War—because of its geographic strategic relevance, Korea became split into two regions as these superpowers battled. And while the Korean War effectively ended in 1953, the Cold War continued, and so the Korean War remained technically ongoing (i.e. no peace treaty was signed).
For 70 years now the Koreas have been stuck between these superpowers—effectively North Korea is China's Southern border, and South Korea is the United States' Northern border. South Koreans often refer to themselves as "the 51st state" (not entirely jokingly), and wonder if they will ever get their sovereignty back. North Korea is obviously quite dependent on China, and used as a China-proxy. This situation has solidified over the decades, and the lines are now firmly established.
Once you have a macro-view of history, and understand the basic motivations of the two major players, you can see current events are really just a continuation (rebirth) of this 70 year old Cold War.
A LACK OF REALITY-BASED MEDIA COVERAGE
Likely because of America's national interest in the region—media coverage is filled with nonsense (more than usual). I'm not aware of any Western media outlet where you can find dry fact-based news on what his happening on the Korean Peninsula. All accounts (from CNN to Breitbart) are filled with nationalist propaganda, and deliberate false narratives to shape perceptions.
It's a situation where a big lie, told frequently enough, and across all media, is easier to pull off than a small lie. If it were just one contradiction with reality, that would be easy to disprove. But when it is a dozen contradictions, some told for decades, that together completely contradict facts and reason—how do you disprove that entire fabricated reality? The average person has never been to Korea, knows only what the media tells them, and can not process a dozen new data points simultaneously, some which contradict deeply held nationalist beliefs. Humans are tribal, and so no matter how absurd their national story, in the end they go with it—same as the North Koreans.
I’ve had some amusing, and odd, conversations with people in Seoul over the years. One Korean friend recounted his confused reaction when reading American news—he was reading the New York Times, and he just kept thinking “is this for real? Or is this satire? Or what?" From the perspective of people on the ground who have known the situation their entire lives, it's just so odd to read these parallel realities. They can't both be correct.
As an analyst who has spent years living in Seoul, talking to high ranking Chaebol businessmen, military intelligence guys, and regular everyday Koreans—I'm just going to bluntly report the real news myself...
MEDIA'S 12 FALSE KOREA NARRATIVES
- Fabricated "WMD" threat to SK: South Koreans are not worried about North Korea. The narrative that they are "living in fear" is flat out false. South Koreans could care less about Kim, they are busy living and enjoying their lives (Korean culture is not political, and they do not argue about this stuff all the time). Americans seem much more worried about the "threat" than Koreans. Also, they know Kim has a good situation up there and would never jeopardize it with an unprovoked attack. When the US media started drumming up "threat" propaganda recently, that is when Koreans became nervous, of what Trump would do. SK told the US directly their help was not requested, and that they should not be talking about unilateral action.
- Fabricated "WMD" threat to US: The narrative that Kim technically could, or would, hit a US city is preposterous. You need a whole lot of fake news fear-mongering to convince people of something that crazy.
- Fake “madman” narrative: In order for the US to make the "immediate threat" propaganda believable, it requires the "madman" narrative (also, Kim must play this role, to make his threat believable). But the reality—Kim family has been in charge for 50+ years, with no major incidents. Surely a madman would have pulled the trigger by now? Kim family are measured, sane, and quite strategically brilliant, which is how they have survived this long against the world's largest military/economy. As South Koreans have told me "you know how our culture is—smart, efficient, and pragmatic right?—well North Koreans are the same people!" This is not the chaotic Middle East, it's orderly Northeast Asia, and there are no madman running countries here.
- Korean Reunification: The reality is reunification is not possible without the United States leaving the region. For the US to talk as if their interest is to unify the Koreas in nonsensical—it is their (and China's) meddling that split the region. America's interest has always been to keep the Koreas divided (see below).
- Ending the Korean War: Similarly it is nonsensical for the US to talk as if they want to sign a peace treaty and end the war. If they had wanted that, they would have done it a long time ago (North Korea and China are in favor of a treaty, and pressure the US on this). The reason America has not, is because they need to keep this war technically ongoing, in order to justify their military bases in South Korea (which are largely directed at China). If a peace treaty were signed, the next logical question would be, then why is America still in the region? And from there global hegemony could go down like dominoes (KR is an important location).
- Denuclearization of North Korea: This is yet another absurd narrative. The US apparently expects NK to just lay down their strategic defenses, against the world's largest military? If NK had not diverted so much resources to their military, they would have ended up like some devastated Middle East country a long time ago. As Xi has reasonably pointed out—if you want NK to ramp down their military development, then remove THAAD and aggressive military posturing from SK (obviously). The US of course won’t even consider that, and so there is no honest communication here, and no possibility of a deal. For those who don't know the history, there has been decades of political posturing and fake deals (from the 1985 Nuclear NonProliferation Treaty forward).
- Xi Jinping is "helping" narrative: This is truly the most absurd narrative of all, that Xi could somehow be persuaded/threatened into attacking his own Southern border, and to allow the US to advance North (remember NK is essentially a CN proxy). This is the US corporate media trying to create a global narrative, that hopefully creates events, in the direction they would prefer. Xi politely plays along, but nothing is going to happen. Xi works for Chinese interests, which are not the same as American interests.
- Moon and Trump are "working together" narrative: To educate people, in SK "conservative" means pro-US, and "liberal" means pro-NK/CN. The prior president Park was a conservative and allowed THAAD in, which put SK at risk (they were yet again caught in the middle, and hit by CN sanctions). The new president Moon is a liberal (long history of NK-friendliness), and was in part elected due to changing global dynamics, including increased US instability. At some point SK may need to decide how to cut their ties to the US sinking ship, which necessarily means allying up with Beijing. Talk of this is still rare, but accelerating. Moon works for Korean interests, which are not the same as American interests.
- Media silence on THAAD: The US media almost completely ignore the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) gear which the US installed in South Korea under shady circumstances. It is this aggressive move which started the whole recent chain of events. The common view in SK is that this gear was placed in their country to spy on CN (powerful radar), which places SK in a risky position. This is why SK refuses to pay for this "defense," as it's not their war (they say giving the US use of their land for free is generous enough). And the idea that THAAD is defense is nonsensical, why would the US spend money to protect Koreans? They don't care about that. They are spending money to spy on CN, and perhaps some minimal defense of their military bases (if these things can even intercept a missile under real life circumstances). Discussing THAAD is clearly something the US media wants to avoid.
- South Koreans "eagerly awaiting" outcome: The US media narrative says Koreans are on the edge of of their seats worried about the outcome of the Trump/Kim talks, which again is flat out false. Koreans have lived thru 50 years of such political posturing and pay it no mind. Both Trump and Kim had a 10% approval rating before this topic heated up (Korean Gallup), the remaining 90% is more of a "just don't care" than active disapproval. Again, Koreans are busy living their lives, and just don't spend much time thinking about this stuff.
- South Korean and United States are "allies": The word "ally" is too strong. It implies SK has sovereignty, and has chosen, and wishes to continue, the relationship. But the reality is SK gets no choice. THAAD was pushed thru dishonestly during political turmoil. Many trade deals have been forced on SK over the years, with the threat that the US will economically crush them if they do not go along. If SK starts acting too independently, the US only needs to stir up war (see current events) in order to make SK dependent on US defense (i.e. create a problem, and then play the white knight). South Korea is a pawn in the American empire, there is no equal and voluntary relationship as "allies" implies.
- "Peacemaking" narrative: This is media spin. Because Trump's base was originally against this sort of globalism, interventionism, nation-building and warmongering (see Bannonism), these same activities have been rebranded as “peacemaking.” And the Trump loyalists go along. But in reality, it's the same old global hegemony game.
WHAT’S NOT HAPPENING ON THE KOREAN PENNINSULA
This US media cycle illustrates how effective tribal divisionism can be in controlling the masses (a division the media has helped create, and nurtured). Americans bicker back and forth about if Trump will accomplish his goals (“peacemaking,” reunification, ending "threats," etc)—the left says "no, he's a fraud and sucks at deal making," while the right says "maybe he can make it happen, be optimistic." But both arguing sides end up duped into accepting an underlying narrative of noble intentions, when those are not America’s objectives at all.
A REALISTIC VIEW—WHAT'S HAPPENING ON THE KOREAN PENNINSULA?
The realist view, which has the fewest assumptions, and fits the observations—this is a continuation of the 70 year old cold war between China/Russia and the United States, with the two Koreas still helpless pawns stuck in the middle.
The United States is present on the Korean peninsula to militarily pressure and gather information on China, while keeping South Korea on the leash so they don't form too many bonds with North Korea and China. These games America is playing with North Korea, and the economic attacks on China and Russia, are happening now, because the American empire is 1) becoming financially unstable (see approaching USG default, and the unsustainable economic-system that is corporatism) and 2) facing growing revolution at home (where this global meddling is being sold to Trump's base as him vaguely "getting something done" in hopes of appeasing the angry mob).
Actions like this in such a key region could be the beginning of what eventually becomes a full-on economic war between the world's two largest economies, or perhaps even World War III (with various parties in the West allying, and various parties in Asia doing the same).
If "fake news" is fake, then you have to consider it all fake, you can't weed thru it and expect to figure out which parts are real, or select only the parts that you want to hear.