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Tae Guk Gi and Stars & Stripes
Six Pary Talks
Asian Peace Philosophy
☞ Issue 234
Frame of mind needed for “One Korea”
Missed Opportunities for Korean Peninsula Reunification
Moon J. Pak
Frame of mind needed for “One Korea”
=Missed Opportunities for Korean Peninsula Reunification=
By Moon J. Pak
Looking at the ethnicity, history, culture, and language of the two Koreas is like a mirror reflection. They are exactly the same. There is only one small sliver of time, the last 60 years, that separates the two from the state of unity Koreans enjoyed until shortly after World War II. It seems like a small degree of separation. It seems ridiculous. But some days, it also seems enormous to those of us who lived through the division and the long years of separation that followed.
The end of World War II in 1945 brought about the liberation of the Korean peninsula from a 36-year Japanese colonial rule, which was cruel and ethnically devastating to the Korean people. Except for some scattered resistance movements by some Koreans, mostly in China and Manchuria, the liberation of Korea was chiefly due to the military victory of the Allied Powers, which at that time included the U.S., the USSR and China.
Since that time, all of the major geopolitical decisions about the Korean peninsula have been made by these countries: the establishment of political boundaries between north and south and subsequently, the establishment of two ideologically-opposed governments; the nature of the foreign occupations; the involvement of Korea in the Cold War and the subsequent Korean War.
Indeed, the lack of any significant anti-Japanese movement by the Korean people during their occupation eventually deprived them of the right of self-determination. As an example, there was no Korean voice at the San Francisco Peace Treaty Conference, the 1951 event that officially ended World War II, and Japan’s position as an imperial power. No Korean peoples’ structure was prepared to step into the gap; the country was at the mercy of the military powers.
Therefore, following the division of the country along the 38th parallel, the two separate governments were established between the north and south as the consequence of the evolution of the “Cold War” between the two foreign occupiers, the U.S. and USSR. This happened without any input from the Korean people, many of whom actually strenuously opposed to the idea, predicting that this would lead to future civil war in the peninsula. This nightmare scenario became reality in 1950 when the Korean War broke out (1950-1953).
In the next half century, the two halves of the peninsula lived under strict separation under the rules of an armistice, each licking its war-wounds and becoming their own nations. The North became a politically-stable, militarily-strong (nuclear), socialist regime, with limited economic development mainly due to the isolation imposed by a U.S. trade embargo. In the South, even under a series of military, dictatorial regimes, a remarkable level of economic development was realized, the so-called “Miracle on the Han River.”
The South has almost twice the population of the North, although it is rapidly aging, and its revenue is nearly 27 times that of the North, in terms of gross domestic product (GDP). It is 11th in the size of its economy, among developed countries, according to measurements established by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). The South has cutting-edge technological expertise with free-market access to capital resources.
The North on the other hand, has the fifth largest defense force in the world, spending nearly one fifth of its GDP on its military, which also has nuclear capability. The North also has a well-educated youthful population and mineral and energy resources.
There are many complementary qualities; it seems so obvious that the two must become one, or at least coalesce and cooperate with each other. This need for unification, or tong-il in Korean, is a concept which is written into the ideology of the North, where it is emphasized as almost a national fervor and defined in its constitution. However, the real initiative for tong-il will have to come from the bigger and richer of the two Koreas, the South.
In South Korea, during the long series of dictatorships, starting with Syngman Rhee and followed by Chung-hee Park, Doo-hwan Chun, Tae-woo Roh, and the democratic regime of conservative Young-sam Kim, there was no motivation for tong-il. That happened during the first liberal leadership of South Korea, when President Dae-jung Kim moved into the Blue House and announced the “Sunshine Policy,” whereby the South would do cooperative exchange and aid projects for the North with no agreement for reciprocation. He held the first ever summit meeting between the two Koreas in Pyongyang with North’s Jong-il Kim on June 15, 2000, which Koreans call the “6-15 event.” It was an epic meeting that produced the Joint Declaration, which moved the two Koreas closer together, for the first time, through a few significant steps.
This historical summit agreement and momentum was never fully carried during the years of the progressive South Korean regime of Kim Dae-jung, followed by that of Moo-hyun Roh. There should have been a rapid series of initiatives, ideas and bold actions as well as succession of summit meetings. Thus, there was little action after the initial meeting, and notably, the personal visit by Jong-il Kim to Seoul, laid out in the 6-15 documentation, was never realized. The second summit meeting was held finally, in October 4, 2007 between Moo-hyun Roh and Jong-il Kim again in Pyongyang, fully seven years later.
In light of the recent past, this was a tragic missed opportunity for re-unification, since the liberal Roh regime was subsequently replaced by the conservative Myun-bak Lee leadership, followed by the present conservative leadership of Geun-hye Park in 2012.
In retrospect, it is clear that there was a lack of political willpower concerning reunification, among the leadership and the people of both South and North. Now is the time to define the frame of mind necessary for the future of unification movement;
Firstly, it is essential to recognize that unification can only be achieved by the Korean people themselves. Korea is surrounded by countries that benefit from having the peninsula existing as a buffer zone. The neighbors do not want to see the emergence of a unified, strong and independent entity in the peninsula. Secondly, reunification is not the economic jackpot as touted by some politicians in South Korea. The long-term economic benefit of course is a real possibility, but the integration of two divergent economic philosophies will require sacrifices from both sides.
Thirdly, although there is significant economic discrepancy between the two Koreas, socio-economic stability cannot be measured by GDP alone. Strong socio-economic stability has helped North Korea overcome so many crises in the past 64 years and still exists as a stable and equal partner in the process of integration into the unified entity. Fourthly, the Korea is a de facto nuclear power, whether that capability is provided by North or South. Being surrounded by nuclear powers, and having a history of so many foreign invasions, nuclear deterrence, controlled jointly by the unified Korea is essential to its existence. Both Koreas have tolerated their nuclear neighbors and have suffered through their threats in the past half century. Korea’s nuclear neighbors must now accept and tolerate the unified Korea’s nuclear deterrence.
There will have to be major changes in the frame of mind among Koreans in dealing with each other. Firstly, the perpetually confrontational stance must be abandoned. The war between the two ended over 60 years ago and that war was forced on Koreans by an external force. Koreans are one ethnicity, and actual divisions between us are few. We share one history, language, culture, and DNA. We need to embrace and help each other as a family. Secondly, we must accept the differences brought upon us by the last half century of separation; economic discrepancies and differences in political ideology. Given time and effort, the two systems will eventually coalesce.
One good example of the success of this approach in bringing about the improved relationship between the two sides is the achievements made by the organization that I belong to, the Korean American National Coordinating Council (KANCC). Since its inception in 1990’s, it has embraced the idea that the eventual unification will only come by understanding the other side, North Korea in depth and with sincerity, to the extent that it will become almost indistinguishable from one of their organizations. It speaks the same political language, follows their demeanor, even study their eccentricities, so as to be accepted by them as one of them. It tries to see their needs before their cry for help, and offer assistance unconditionally. It has helped to equip their hospitals, train their physicians, provide food aids, agricultural seed technology, family reunion, some cultural exchange programs, etc., however providing guidance and advise on many issues where it sees idiosyncratic trends in their diplomatic, political or cultural actions. The KANCC has over the years, thus developed such a trust by North Korea, that some conservative elements in Korean American community denounce them as “Pro-North”. Yes, indeed one needs to be “Pro-North” to bring about the Tongil so that the other side will become ”Pro-South”. These significant improvements in people’s development happened because people were willing to share their resources and expertise across cultures, without preconditions, for mutual benefit.
I am convinced through my own experience that unification will only come in an environment of partnership and mutual respect. Discrepancies in economy, military strength, food production, and quality of health care should be set aside.
Instead of conditional proposals, the two Koreas should move into the future with trust and blind generosity based on brotherly love and family concern; for example, the South Koreas should reduce their defense budget and military size unilaterally and unconditionally without requesting matching changes by the North. The North will reciprocate the action. They need the reduction in defense budget more urgently than the South.
Lastly, the two Koreas should have representatives permanently established as observers and advisors in each other’s governments. Here again, the South should invite and offer the presence of North Korean representative in Seoul without any precondition. This would ensure the close communication of both sides on matters of importance and North will reciprocate by offering South’s presence in Pyongyang. Through such formal and informal associations, many other avenues of contact could be established in a more natural and informal way, always remembering that we are one.
Korea Quarterly: (Summer, 2014) VOL.17 NUM 04
Moon J. Pak, M.D., Ph.D.
Senior Vice-President, Korean American National Coordinating Council (KANCC)
Chair, US-DPRK Medical Science Exchange Committee (UDMEDEX)
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