This year's conference asks you all to do so under the theme “North Korean Studies Today, Talking about Korean Unification.” I deeply thank Minister of Unification Hong Yong-pyo and Chairperson of the Korean Association of North Korean Studies Cho Seong-Ryoul for the invitation to speak at this year’s conference.
Since the division of the Korean peninsula, we have made various endeavors to unify our nation. However, the determined exertions to unite the nation paradoxically have prolonged the separation and furthered the estrangement of North and South Korea.
Although the two Koreas share the view of the necessity of national unification, they disagree on how to unify the nation. South Korea has sought a peaceful unification on the basis of liberal democracy and market economy. North Korea has held its own socialist system as the ultimate goal of the unification. Because of these opposing approaches, the unification of Korea has remained a ‘mission incomplete’.
The many years of division and confrontation have led to the two Koreas’ mutual alienation. On the 70th anniversary of the national liberation, it is regrettable that we have been unable to create game-changing momentum in inter-Korean relations. Despite the end of the Cold War that ideologically pitted Seoul against Pyongyang, hostile relations persisted until the late 1990s. While the Kim Dae-jung administration jumpstarted a reconciliatory and cooperative policy toward Pyongyang fifteen years ago, no breakthrough has been witnessed in inter-Korean relations.
The Lee Myung-bak administration held on to its “Denuclearization, Openness, 3000” plan, insisting that Seoul would not promote exchange and cooperation with Pyongyang without the resolution of the nuclear issue. North Korea responded by augmenting its nuclear weapons capabilities. To break the political deadlock, the Park Geun-hye administration proposed the “Trust-Building Process on the Korean Peninsula” as a key policy. At the heart of the policy lies the diffusion of trust-building from socioeconomic areas to politico-military ones that enable the two Koreas to expand exchanges and cooperation. The Park administration also launched the Presidential Committee for Unification Preparation where President Park herself assumed the chairpersonship. Despite all the efforts that South Korean governments have made to improve inter-Korean relations, Pyongyang has misconstrued them as attempts at unification by absorption of the North.
Except for North Korean political leaders, few would disagree with President Park’s idea that Korean Unification can be a ‘jackpot’ that enables us to deal with North Korean problems and accomplish our national aspiration. It is evident that the challenges facing the Korean peninsula today differ immensely from those that confronted the two Germanys twenty-five years ago. Today’s inter-Korean relations are much more complicated than yesteryear’s inter-German relations. The two Koreas must build reciprocal trust to fill the gap that has been made during the seventy years of national division, removing various barriers to the unification. In particular, dealing with the under-development of the North Korean economy will be the hardest part of the unification and post-unification processes-- indeed, many are anxious about the costs.
Because of this concern, it is necessary to promote cooperation with stakeholder countries and the international community for developing North Korea? economy.
At the seventieth session of the United Nations General Assembly, President Park delivered a keynote address, emphasizing that “Should the DPRK boldly give up its nuclear ambitions and choose the path towards openness and cooperation, the Republic of Korea will work with the international community to actively support North Korea in developing its economy and improving the quality of life of its people.” In developing its economy, North Korea will overcome its international isolation in cooperation with South Korea as well as global society and resolve various issues derived from its misconduct with other nations. South Korea should work in conjunction with its neighbors and the international community by initiating a “two-track” strategy that simultaneously endeavors to 1) resolve security issues including North Korea’s nuclear weapons and long-range missile development and 2) helps to improve the country’s economic situation via cooperation and assistance.
Both Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il expressed a desire for the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula. In 2000, Kim Jong Il said that he “decided to develop nuclear weapons capabilities in order to prevent the United States from pursuing a strategy of unification by absorption after seeing the German unification.” He then coined the slogan, “No Nuke, No Chosun,” for the spiritual armament of the people. In 2005, he explained that one of the dying wishes of his father, Kim Il Sung, was that the North could denuclearize if the United States, stopping its hostile policy toward Pyongyang, pledges to secure the survival of the North Korean regime and to provide economic compensation. Kim Jong Un should follow the dying instructions of his father and grandfather to abandon the country’s nuclear weapons development. This would be a decisive policy change that would enable him to stabilize relations with South Korea and the countries directly involved in the six-party talks and to promote international cooperation to develop the North Korean economy.
It is necessary for the South Korean government to have a strategic plan that prevents prolonged political gridlock with North Korea and carries on the preparation for unification in a more active manner. Earlier this year, both President Park and Kim Jong Un conditionally expressed willingness to hold an inter-Korean summit. To make a new leap forward in inter-Korean relations and peaceful unification, it is imperative that a summit be held in 2016--the time for a summit is way overdue. As a symbol of unification and economic cooperation rooted in the June 15 Joint Declaration, the Gaeseong Industrial Complex was born after much difficulty. It is crucial for the South Korean government to seriously contemplate the second- and third-stage development of the Gaeseong Industrial Complex, which remains stuck in the first-stage. In particular, as an extension of inter-Korean economic cooperation, we should contemplate the building of a second or third industrial complex like the one in Gaeseong elsewhere in the North. In addition, the South should actively engage the North to allow the reunion of separated family members and to reopen the Mount Kumgang Tourist Region.
It is time we start in earnest the preparation for a desirable unification. The South Korean government has carried on the Inter-Korean Cooperation Fund to initiate the change of North Korea through dialogue and cooperation. As shown in the process of the German unification, an astronomical amount of money will be needed for inter-Korean economic cooperation and to assistant the development of North Korea’s underdeveloped regions. It is necessary to look for sources of revenue not only from the government budget but also from the people’s participation. Through such synergy, we can rally a great deal of support for the national task of unification. The National Assembly should back these efforts by enacting a bipartisan law that ensures the accumulation of the fund until the unification process is complete.
To the domestic and foreign scholars joining this conference, I would like to say a few words about the state of North Korea and Korean Unification studies.
First, we should not forget what the raison d’etre of North Korea and Korean Unification studies is. Studies on North Korea and Korean Unification, in which political science has played the pivotal role, now permeate other social sciences including sociology, economics, and law as well as natural sciences such as medical science. This diversification across disciplines evidences the development of the field and the preparedness for our future.
Second, we should take an interdisciplinary approach to North Korea and Korean Unification issues and its policy implications. North Korea has been changing in numerous ways. Various approaches should be employed in order to comprehend the dynamics. This will lead to a better understanding of the generalities and uniqueness that define North Korea and Korean Unification issues.
Third, I would like to emphasize the need for collaboration and communication among scholars, who are all striving to gain a better understanding of North Korea and Korean Unification issues. . . . The unification of the Korean peninsula itself is unlikely to come about without the support and cooperation from neighboring countries and the international community. I hope that the WCNKS enables foreign scholars to increase their interest in this academic field of study.
Last, but not the least, I would like to urge everyone to strive for quality research outcomes so that we may realize our aspiration for a future unified Korea. In this regard, I hope that the WCNKS can play the role of a “lighthouse keeper” who can deepen our understanding of North Korea and Korean Unification issues, propose constructive and creative policy solutions for the development of inter-Korean relations, and illuminate the path to Korean unification.