North Korea to create its own time zone

The clock in an Pyongyang tube station will change next week. Picture: AP
The clock in an Pyongyang tube station will change next week. Picture: AP
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North Korea has no time for Japan. Not anymore, at least.

The country will establish its own time zone next week by pulling back by 30 minutes its current standard time, a legacy of the Japanese colonial rule.

The new time zone will take effect from next Saturday – the 70th anniversary of Korea’s liberation from Japanese rule at the end of the Second World War, North Korea’s official Central News Agency (KCNA) said yesterday. The establishment of “Pyongyang time” will root out that legacy, it said.

Local time in North and South Korea and Japan is the same – nine hours ahead of GMT. It was set during Japan’s rule over what was single Korea from 1910 to 1945.

“The wicked Japanese imperialists committed such unpardonable crimes as depriving Korea of even its standard time while mercilessly trampling down its land with 5,000-year-long history and culture and pursuing the unheard-of policy of obliterating the Korean nation,” the KCNA dispatch said.

The North’s move appears to be aimed at bolstering the leadership of leader Kim Jong-un with anti-Japan, nationalistic sentiments, said Yang Moo-jin, a professor at the University of North Korean Studies in Seoul. Mr Kim took power upon the death of his dictator father, Kim Jong-il, in late 2011.

Many Koreans, especially the elderly, on both sides of the border still harbour deep resentment against Japan over its colonial occupation. Hundreds of thousands of Koreans were forced to fight as frontline soldiers, work in slave-labour conditions or serve as prostitutes in brothels operated by the Japanese military during the war. North Korea traces its birth as an independent nation to its founder, Kim Il-sung, who like other Korean peasants engaged in guerrilla warfare against the Japanese.

That Mr Kim, who is a godlike figure among North Koreans, is the grandfather of Kim Jong-un, the current leader. Since taking power in 2011, Kim has been striving to highlight his ties to his grandfather, copying such details as his hairstyle and the way he held his cigarettes.

South Korea says it uses the same time zone as Japan because it’s more practical and conforms to international practice.

Seoul’s Unification Ministry said yesterday that the North’s action could bring minor disruption at a jointly-run industrial park at the North Korean border city of Kaesong and to other inter-Korean affairs.

A spokesman said the North’s new time zone could also hamper efforts to narrow widening differences between the Koreas.

The two Koreas were divided into the capitalist, US-backed South and the socialist, Soviet-supported North after their 1945 liberation. They remain split along the world’s most heavily fortified border since their 1950-1953 Korean War ended with an armistice, not a peace treaty. Most time zones in the world differ in increments of an hour and only a small number of countries such as India, Iran and Myanmar use zones that are offset by a half-hour. Nepal is offset by 45 minutes.

There is no international body that approves a country’s change of time zone as countries decide for themselves.

In 2011, Samoa changed its time zone to the other side of the international dateline, losing one day, so as to make communication easier with neighbours Australia and New Zealand.

North Korea is not the only country that has created its own time zone.

In 2007, Venezuela decided to turn its clocks back by half an hour as president Hugo Chavez wanted to have a “more fair distribution of the sunrise” to residents. Venezuela is now the only country with a time zone 4.5 hours behind GMT.

The time zone that North Korea plans to use is the one a single Korea adopted in 1908.