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National unification is necessary but how?

Posted January. 18, 2014 06:58,   


There are active debates this year over the national unification. As President Park Geun-hye said that unification is a "jackpot," it is desirable to publicize advantages of unification and preparing for it. But how? There is little talk about the methodology. I have been to two lectures on unification. Both lecturers were top-notch experts in theory and experiences in South Korea. However, their proposals were totally different. Which one is right?

A former Army general predicted that the North Korean regime would collapse soon. He argued that South Korea should accelerate the collapse because it can achieve unification by drawing up a good plan and work on it for three to five years. He thinks it is the sunshine policy of engagement with the North, North Korea followers in the South and China that obstructs unification and providing the life support for the Pyongyang regime. The following is a gist of his lecture:

"North Korea can no longer be called a state. Nearly 36 percent of its people are in the state of near-malnutrition. Bureaucrats are so corrupt that money can make anything possible. There was a chance for unification after Kim Il Sung died in 1994. However, South Korea`s assistance revived the fragile Kim Jong Il regime. The Kim Jong Un regime is more vulnerable. No leaders of Eastern European (communist) countries survived after opening up their countries. Kim Jong Un will never open the North unless he is willing to risk his own life. North Korea is bent on military buildup. There is concern that North Korea takes over the South if the North sends special forces troops to the South to destroy major facilities and if North Korea followers correspond. We should strengthen the alliance with the United States. We should seek unification before China becomes stronger."

A former diplomat asked, "What can we have for unification but to pursue the sunshine policy that seeks to change the North through exchanges and cooperation?"

He asserted, "North Korea endured 66 years despite hunger. The North Korean regime would not collapse on its own. China, which does not like the United States` increased influence in Northeast Asia, would not let that happen."

"In order to change the North, we should make it experience the sweet taste of liberal democracy and capitalism. Before reunification, West Germany provided all kinds of economic assistance to have exchanges with East Germany, which was reluctant to open itself up. West Germany`s Neue Ostpolitik (New Eastern Policy) became the catalyst for the collapse of East Germany and the German reunification.

What Pyongyang wants is the stability of its regime. The purpose of its nuclear development probably includes safeguarding the system. We should slow down its nuclear development by resuming the six-party denuclearization talks and beef up humanitarian aid and economic cooperation. In a long term, we should help the North normalize relations with the United States and Japan so that peace will settle on the Korean Peninsula."

The two lecturers – a military expert and the other diplomatic one – represents the views of the hawks and the doves. The former`s methodology is hard to openly pursue. If the North Korean regime does not collapse easily, it would only aggravate the inter-Korean confrontation. The latter`s view raises the question as to whether an engagement policy would really change the North and whether it would only extend the North Korean regime. The two theories can be mixed or altered. For example, the South pursues exchanges while carrying out anti-Pyongyang operation clandestinely or implement the sunshine policy on strict terms. If none of them is agreeable, there is no other way but to give up reunification or simply wait for the North`s collapse.

No one would be able to say for sure whether the North will fall soon or last long or whether which lecturer is right. However, a choice should be based on South Korean citizens` safety and practical national interest. It is time to have serious debates about what would be a realistically feasible and desirable way of unification. Needless to say, South Korean won an overwhelming victory in the competition of system with the North. Based on the self-confidence, South Koreans should overcome exhaustive factional struggles and ideological debates to reach a national consensus.