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재미 | Imagining the future Korea

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작성자 편집국 작성일19-04-06 07:35 댓글0건


Imagining the future Korea

=A coalesced nation would contribute to prosperity and stability in Northeast Asia=


April, 2019


By Moon J. Pak


The recent historic summit between Chairman Kim Jong-un of North Korea (the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) ) and U.S. president Donald J, Trump failed to produce an agreement on the diplomatic relationship between the two countries.


However, most historians and other Korea-watchers did not have high expectation for the Hanoi summit.  There was an awareness early on about the discrepancies between the two leaders’ positions.  While Kim had a very limited proposal to abandon the Youngbyun nuclear reactor facility and close some testing sites, Trump held to a hardline position of refusing to significantly relax U.S. sanctions on North Korea. He was also relying on the advice of known hardline White House staff, like John Bolton, who accompanied the president on his trip.


The summit, held on February 27 in Hanoi, Vietnam, was one of a series of meetings between the leaders of South Korea, North Korea and the U.S. held in 2018 and 2019.  Kim opened the door to exploring reconciliation with his New Year address back in January 2018.  Then, in February, the Winter Olympics held in PyeongChang, where the two Koreas marched under one flag, signaled more readiness for talks about peace.  During the rest of 2018, numerous summit meetings were held between the two Koreas, and between the U.S. and both Koreas.


The most significant summit meeting was held between South Korean President Moon Jae-in and Kim at the Demilitarized Zone village of Panmunjom on April 27, 2018, that produced an agreement for a process towards reconciliation called the “Panmunjom Declaration”. It was followed by a visit by President Moon to Pyongyang.


The detailed content of the agreement reached between the two leaders over their three summit meetings is important. However, just as important were the video and photos of the two leaders meeting and engaging in activities together; these images delivered an important message to the public, and a shot of optimism to both North and South Koreans.  The images included the two leaders and their wives going together to the famous Chunjiyeon Lake on Baekdu Mountain (the mythological birthplace of the founder of Korea), and President Moon waving to the people of Pyongyang during his visit.


It has been nearly 75 years since the Korean people were divided after a war that claimed nearly two million lives.  Distributing images of the two leaders together was a very important step to involve all Koreans in envisioning together what a reunified Korea might be like.


These inter-Korean summits included two U.S.-North Korea meetings between Chairman Kim and President Trump; the first one was held in Singapore on June 12, 2018. Because the meeting was about the denuclearization of North Korea and cessation of 75 years of enmity between the two countries, the outcome of these summit meetings would be profound for North-South peace process as well.  


The Singapore summit resulted in a friendship between the U.S. and North Korean leaders.  In terms of agreements for peace, there were broad but vague promises of a future good relationship between the two nations, but no specifics were agreed-upon.  Therefore, expectations were high for the next meeting, and when the Hanoi, Vietnam summit held on February 27 ended early and without an agreement, the outcome was a disappointment for many.


Korea, due to its geographic location, surrounded by ocean and on the boundary of China, has always lived under the influence of and under threat from its neighbors. According to one estimate, in its nearly 4,000-year history, Korea was invaded almost once every other year (including attacks by Japanese pirates).  Korean territory once encompassed an area of China now known as Manchuria.


The territory shrank southward due to incessant invasions, and is now limited to the land east and south of the natural barriers of the Yalu and Tuman rivers.  Even the Baekdu Mountain is currently shared with China. During the Lee Dynasty, the last feudal kingdom of Korea was also within the current boundary for about 500 years.


This stable border changed only in 1945, when World War II ended and Russians came over the northern border to control the northern part of the peninsula. The U.S. quickly drew a line along the 38th parallel, to keep the southern half under its control. The Korean War, a war of proxy between the two Cold War superpowers resulted in the current division of the peninsulas along a modified version of the 38th parallel, the so-called Demilitarized Zone (DMZ).


The Korean peace process, a reconciliation of two halves of a country that were one for many centuries, cannot be held up because of an unsuccessful meeting of the North Korean leader with the U.S. president.  That reality may have been underlined by the failure of the Hanoi summit to come up with a peace deal.  It is becoming clearer that it is only Koreans who are responsible for crafting what the future of their own country will be.


If Korea were one country, it would economically and militarily formidable. South Korea (the Republic of Korea (ROK) ) is now 11th in gross domestic product (GDP) among the 36 member countries of the Organization of Economic and Cooperation and Development (OECD). With a population of 45 million, South Korea is a high technology leader, and supports major industries, such as shipbuilding and steel manufacturing.  It also maintains a defense force of 650,000, including armed forces, a space air force and an oceangoing navy.


Although the DPRK has 25 million people, its GDP is low, at about $30 billion.  Its land contains some of the world’s richest sources of minerals.  It is a strong and highly-structured socialist society.  It has a military force of 1.25 million, and has developed a controversial nuclear weapons system with sophisticated delivery capabilities.


There are great economic disparities between the two Koreas. It is due mainly to embargos, sanctions, and isolation imposed on the North by the U.S. and the UN.  Yet the two Koreas have many complementary qualities.  One can imagine the strength, diversity, energy and creativity that would be unleashed by a reunified Korea.


In developing the concept of One Korea, Moon and Kim should avoid using the organizational models of other societies. Rather, the One Korea framework should be uniquely suitable to the Korean people, tradition and history.


In envisioning a Korea of the future, one of the most important and difficult steps will be to change the existing political and economic systems of the two Koreas. One of many challenges on the list of tasks to be accomplished to facilitate reconciliation is to establish a committee to study the beneficial and unacceptable characteristics of the existing systems, and to design a new political and economic system suitable to a unified Korea.


Another on the list of urgent reunification tasks is the matter of divided families. These are the people who were on opposite sides of the Demilitarized Zone at the time Korea was divided, and who are still separated from one another today.  The surviving divided family members are all old.  Both Koreas should drastically relax their cross-border communication policies, so that people can freely move across the border to visit, tour, or even migrate to northern or southern Korea if they wish to.  


Koreans are one people – I believe they will quickly adapt to each other’s subcultures. The free association of all Korean people, not just family members, should be encouraged and organized by the leadership of both Koreas.


The Panmunjom Declaration of April 27, 2018 between Moon and Kim reinforced the need for the two Koreas to proceed toward reunification together. This declaration was symbolized by the two leaders as they walked across the DMZ holding hands. As a further symbol of the march toward One Korea, the two leaders should declare that sanctions imposed on North Korea do not apply to the two Koreas, and South Korea should immediately supply needed aid, especially medical aid food aids to the North, utilizing the new rail routes and other land transportation routes across the DMZ. The North may be able to send raw minerals, such as coal and iron ore, to the South via an East Sea shipping route.  


The reunification process will strengthen both Koreas, will also benefit neighboring countries, including China, Japan, and the U.S. The Northeast Asian region will be more stable, and trade and economic cooperation will be enhanced. Another benefit of this cooperation may be to speed the pace of denuclearization of the peninsula, since an economically-strong North may not need  to maintain its nuclear capability.


Since Korea’s division in 1948, there have been many efforts to re-unify the peninsula. The best-known attempts include the June 15, 2000 Joint Agreement between South Korean President  Kim Dae-jung and North Korean leader Kim Jung-il and the October 4, 2007 agreement between South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun and North Korean leader Kim Jung-il, both of which were held in Pyongyang. These agreements contain numerous ideas for reunification.


Interestingly, both agreements use the word “confederation” inferring increased cooperation between the two states until they reach the final goal of re-unification. A confederation also suggests that each country would remain independent in some ways, and that either party could put the process on hold or abandon it.


However, if from the outset, the two sides decided to “coalesce” the two states, committing themselves to a common final goal, the task of unification would be more difficult to give up. Such a process also presumes an irreversible commitment by the two leaders.  


A coalesced Korea could be led jointly by both Kim and Moon (or their successors) or by a small group of representatives. The group need not be elected by a geographical region; the legislative body of a coalesced Korea could be composed of the representatives of various professional associations, thus eliminating the regional enmity so typical of Koreans.


A coalesced Korea will inevitably lead to a greatly-reduced defense budget and reduction in size of the combined armed forces (which together total nearly 1.9 million today; 4th largest in the world, after India, China, Russia and the U.S.) The current military could be partially converted over time to a national service youth corps, to help rebuild North Korean agriculture and industry.


Lastly, the coalesced Korea will eventually declare itself to be a country of permanent neutrality, modelled after Austria or Switzerland, whose neutrality is guaranteed by its large neighbors. However, the neutrality of Korea should not depend on its neighbors! A coalesced Korea must maintain a strong national defense force with a high technology military, oceangoing navy, and a defense-oriented nuclear weapons system which will be jointly owned, controlled, and developed by both Koreas, and eventually owned by the coalesced Korea.


=The End=


(Korean Quarterly; Spring, 2019. VOL. 22, NUM 03)


Moon J. Pak is an internal medicine physician in the Detroit area, who serves as the senior vice-president of the Korean American National Coordinating Council, an organization which facilitates educational and professional exchange opportunities between Americans and North Koreans. He can be reached at;

[이 게시물은 편집국님에 의해 2019-04-06 07:35:43 새 소식에서 복사 됨]
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