Lawmakers, experts discuss ways to move ROK-US alliance forward to create conditions for reunification of two Koreas at 2022 International Forum on One Korea
By Kang Hyun-kyung
A nuclear-free North Korea has long been a policy vision that every South Korean president regardless of their political orientation has promised to pursue during their tenure.
It’s a shared, bipartisan, yet unfulfilled commitment, although no president has succeeded in actually denuclearizing North Korea. In fact, perhaps the opposite is true. While South Korea, with its democratic system, has had various leaders representing the two main political parties, with policies on the North that often zigzag back and forth with the change of administration, North Korea has had sufficient time to advance its missile and nuclear technologies to intimidate the world.
Now, denuclearization in North Korea seems distant, if not unrealistic.
With President-elect Yoon Suk-yeol’s inauguration coming on May 10, some experts, who gathered at a security roundtable held on Friday, called for resetting South Korea’s policy vision on the North by shifting its end goal from denuclearization to the reunification of the two Koreas in a manner that intends to benefit both. Some argued for the need for U.S.-led massive economic assistance equivalent to the U.S.-sponsored post World War II program, the Marshall Plan, which successfully helped the war-torn western and southern European economies recover, to persuade North Korea to join talks to build a shared, mutually-beneficial future for the peninsula.
Moon Hyun-jin, the founder of the Washington D.C.-based non-profit group, Global Peace Foundation, has ignited the discussion to advance South Korea-U.S. alliance to create the conditions for a unified Korea.
Moon, better known in the United States by his English name, Hyun-jin Preston Moon, encouraged President-elect Yoon to implement a durable policy for North Korea that can ultimately lead to peace on the Korean Peninsula.
“The United States and Republic of Korea to date have been piecemeal and reactive, with North Korea too often in the driver’s seat,” he said in a keynote speech for the “Congressional Roundtable and Forum on U.S.-ROK Alliance for Free and Unified Korea” held at Lotte Hotel in Seoul on Friday. “I have long advocated that it be replaced by a broad, forward-looking strategy focused on the end goal of a free and sovereign nation. A unified Korea that upholds fundamental human rights and values, should become the clearly stated and actively pursued policy of (South Korea’s) new Yoon administration, as well as of the U.S.’ allies and the United Nations.”
|Rep. Lee Sang-min of the ruling Democratic Party of Korea, center in front row, and other participants gesture as they pose for a group photo at Lotte Hotel in Seoul, Friday. Korea Times photo by Choi Won-suk|
The hybrid forum was held both online and in person. U.S. lawmakers, think tank analysts, Moon himself and some South Korean lawmakers participated in the event online via pre-recorded messages, while most of South Korea’s participants attended physically.
Moon noted that South Korea’s unification strategy must begin with the ideals that have motivated Korean people historically across the peninsula. “Their aspiration was to create a model nation, drawing upon a shared culture and identity that long predates the current division. In particular, it must look to Korea’s foundational philosophy of ‘Hongik Ingan,’ or ‘living for the benefit of all mankind,’ which aligns with the highest ideals of the principles of democracy,” he said. “I call this approach, the ‘Korean dream,’ and have explained it in my book with that title.”
Reunification of the two Koreas would require a complicated process and sophisticated diplomacy necessitating the full support from the United States and neighboring countries of South Korea, as was the case for Germany, which, as a formerly divided European nation, achieved unification following the collapse of the Berlin Wall on Nov. 9, 1989.
Some who are familiar with German affairs argue the reunification of Germany is the combined result of West Germany’s decades of policy consistency toward East Germany and the former’s active diplomatic efforts.
In South Korea, the unification discourse seems to have lost momentum currently as regional security has become more unstable than before, with some experts referring to the current global situation as raising concerns of a “new Cold War.”
Unstable geopolitics in East Asia, fueled mainly by North Korea’s incessant provocations and reliance on brinkmanship as well as the U.S.-China rivalry in the region, have complicated the discourse on the reunification of the two Koreas more than ever before.
In particular, clashes of the United States and China in many issue areas, not to mention the security of the region, have led to growing skepticism about the possibility of a unified Korea, as the United States and China are two of the countries whose full support for the reunification of the two Koreas matters.
Moon, however, stayed hopeful. “It is in the interests of the United States to take the lead in this effort,” he said. “Not only would a free and unified Korea diminish the nuclear threat to Korea, Japan and the United States; it will create, in effect, a new nation, which upholds liberty and democratic principles in a region where statist approaches are on the rise.”
|Edwin Feulner, the founder and chairman emeritus of the Washington D.C.-based conservative think tank, Heritage Foundation, is seen on the screen as he delivers a speech for the hybrid event held both online and in person. U.S. Congress members, think tank researchers and Korean lawmakers participated in the event online. Korea Times photo by Choi Won-suk|
Edwin Fulner, the founder and chairman emeritus of the Washington D.C.-based conservative think tank, the Heritage Foundation, showed his full support for Moon’s vision for durable peace in East Asia, stressing the role of civil society as one of the core factors that could make Moon’s “Korean dream” happen.
“Advancing freedom and democracy cannot just be left to our governments: it is in fact the work of all of us, working through private organizations collectively, like the sponsors of this forum, to promote those values of freedom around the world,” he said.
Nicholas Eberstadt, the Wendt Chair of Political Economy at the Washington D.C.-based conservative think tank, the American Enterprise Institute, concurred with the idea of achieving a free and unified Korea, saying that the continued division of the Korean peninsula comes at “a very real price.”
“It is being paid every day by North Korea’s captive population. They suffer a human rights nightmare, an oppression exquisitely perfected under three generations of totalitarian rule by the Kim dynasty,” he said.
Eberstadt called on South Korean and U.S. officials and politicians to jump-start policy planning to help with North Korea’s smooth transition to a post-DPRK Korea. “Those who price the North Korean threat around zero may be making a fateful economic miscalculation. The longer unification is postponed, the greater the potential cost of that particular reckoning.”
On top of international support, there is another, more daunting task for South Korea and like-minded countries: persuading North Korea to join the discussion.
Speaking in a pre-recorded message to the roundtable, Rep. Lee Gwang-jae of the ruling Democratic Party of Korea (DPK) claimed that the ball is in the U.S.’ court, calling for a “Marshall Plan for North Korea.”
He underscored the “will of the United States” as being a critical factor to convince North Korea to join any such talks on reunification.
“I think the United States needs to have the will and determination to transform North Korea into a country like Vietnam,” he said. “Vietnam had a war with the United States in the past. Although Vietnam is close to China, their bilateral ties were once put to the test. Vietnam has introduced a socialist system but adopts some capitalist measures.”
Rep. Lee argued that South Korea, and probably the United States as well, need to be specific about a roadmap to make sure North Korea joins the multi-lateral discussion for the reunification of the two Koreas.
“We need to give them (North Korea) trust… I’m not saying that we should give them security assurance or vision for economic assistance ― such as a promise that South Korea would help the North achieve an economy with per capita income of $5,000 or something ― or both in return for their decision to denuclearize,” he said. “What I’m saying is that we need to be specific. We should assure them with a detailed plan that says clearly when, how and which countries will help them rehabilitate their economy. We need to prepare a Marshall Plan for North Korea.”
The 2022 International Forum on One Korea is the tenth such forum since it was first held in 2016. Friday’s event was co-hosted by five organizations, namely Action for Korea United, Global Peace Foundation, One Korea Foundation, Alliance for Korea United and Leaders’ Alliance for Korean Unification.
Consisting of two main events ― a Congressional roundtable and a forum among think tank experts of Korea and the United States ― lawmakers and experts shared their thoughts about the Korea-U.S. alliance and how it should adapt to the changing security environment of East Asia to achieve peace in the region through the reunification of the two Koreas.
|Gen. Vincent Keith Brooks, a retired four-star U.S. army general and former commander in chief of Republic of Korea-United States Combined Forces Command, speaks online during the event. Korea Times photo by Choi Won-suk|
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