Time, you ain't no friend of mine

By now, most of you will have read that from next week, Pyongyang Standard Time will move 30 minutes earlier. Why? And does this change anything?

To the latter question, in terms of trade and travel, the answer is “no”. It will be awkward to remember, sure, but there is little practical effect. Traders and business people will just set their watches back 30 minutes when going to China instead of one hour. (Or awkwardly, if going overland to Russia via China from Rason: back 30 minutes and then ahead 2 hours.)

Rather, moving back to the time zone Korea was on for several years before Japan changed Korea’s time zone to be the same as Tokyo’s is a political statement. It’s one which the AP headlined as a snub to Japan, but is really a snub to South Korea. Changing time zones is one more way for Pyongyang to say to its own citizens and some constituencies down south that South Korea is symbolically and practically in step with the imperialists, while North Korea has always tried to carve its own path. In a way, it’s surprising that they waited until now to do it.

After all, Syungman Rhee, the first president of the ROK tried to do the same thing, in 1954. His successor, Park Chung-hee moved it back five years years later: if nothing else, it made things easier for the US military as they had forces stationed across both countries.

Unfortunately, the symbolic and real interact with each other. Nepal famously changed its time zone to have the meridian at an important mountain, but it also differentiated itself from India in the era of independence. At a time when we’d hope to see greater cooperation between the two Koreas, this will become one more difference in a long list of divergences.