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Closing remarks by Dr. Katsumi Otsuka in the webinar on 11 May 2023

Closing remarks by Dr. Katsumi Otsuka, Chair, UPF Europe and Middle East, in the webinar on the theme "EUME IAAP Considers a Neutral Korea" on 11 May 2023.

 

I would like to send my deep respect to all of the panelists for your investment and dedicated study of the Korean peninsula. Thank you very much.

For my closing remarks, I would like to speak a little bit about the unification of the Korean Peninsula.

Many proposals for the unification of the Korean Peninsula have been discussed since the North-South division came about in 1953. Up to now, however, we have not found acceptable measures for both sides. Furthermore, the domestic and international environment which surrounds the Korean Peninsula has greatly changed. I think that now is the time to find an effective and creative way to bring about peaceful unification. I believe that we need new inspiration, ideas, or views of the Korean peninsula. Let me first speak a little about the South Korean President’s state visit to the USA.

South Korean President’s state visit to the USA

The South Korean President, Yoon Suk Yeol, visited the USA this April with First Lady, Kim Keon Hee. His visit was very meaningful for both nations and attracted world media attention, as it marked the 70th anniversary of the Armistice Agreement for the Korean War. This summit meeting will be remembered, in my opinion, as the turning point of their bilateral relations. In the Washington Declaration they announced on April 26, the two presidents sent a very strong message that the US would take strong countermeasures against North Korea’s provocation and a decisive counterattack in the case of a nuclear attack.

The Washington Declaration has the following implications:

  • The US-South Korea alliance was upgraded from Korean security to Indo-Pacific security. The tension in the Peninsula is clearly understood as a crisis and significant threat to the stability of the Indo-Pacific region. Currently, the biggest threat to South Korea is North Korea’s nuclear missiles and the other offensive weapons they have. Since nobody can imagine that poorer North Korea will absorb richer South Korea peacefully, some scholars say that the only option for unification left to North Korea is unification by force. Accordingly, the current concern for South Korea may not be unification, but national defense.
  • The USA tried to overcome the distrust among the Asian nations. The agreement they reached has helped the US Government to dispel the South Korean people’s distrust of them which emerged after the US troop withdrawal from Afghanistan. President Biden strongly stressed the importance of the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, which means to block any attempt to develop nuclear weapons in South Korea. For your reference, surveys in South Korea show that three quarters of the population support the development of nuclear weapons.
  • National security and the economy are strongly linked. As you know, the economic and industrial conflict between the US and China is at its peak now. In particular, the war over semiconductors is the one of the biggest factors in the US-China conflict. I can say that without joining the US, Japan and Taiwan semiconductor manufacturing alliance, South Korea’s future economic development in this field would be difficult. South Korea’s national strategy “economy with China and national security with the US” is shifting to “security and economy with the US”. With regard to the peaceful reunification of the Korean Peninsula, it was reaffirmed that cooperation between South Korea, Japan and the US is an essential matter, as was strongly pointed out by the UPF Founders.

Challenges for the unification of North and South Korea

The North Korean supreme leader seems to be just focusing on maintaining and protecting his regime at all cost, rather than the unification of the Korean Peninsula. South Korea’s main concern is National security, as I mentioned, i.e. not allowing North Korea to attack South Korea. At present, the current president’s foreign policy is well received by the public. South Korean domestic issues, however, have been very challenging. The greatest challenge for the unification of the two Koreas is the declining interest of the Korean people in this possibility. They have learnt from German reunification about the impact such reunification would have on their economy. As the economic gap between North Korea and South Korea is 50 times or more, the South Korean people feel that they would be obliged to bear an extremely heavy cost in the case of reunification. International support, particularly from Japan and USA, would be needed to solve this problem.

Conclusion

Taking all of this into account, I would like to share with you the following points.

  • South Korea’s public opinion towards the unification must be upgraded beyond the conflict between conservatives and liberals. The old-fashioned ways of unification do not work out any more. The UPF Founders have proposed a new view on the peaceful unification of the Korean Peninsula.
  • It is necessary to establish wide cooperation in the international community. The emergence of a powerful militarily state in the Korean peninsula would pose a major threat to neighboring countries, so security guarantees for China, Russia and Japan need to be made.
  • The establishment of a Peace Zone and the implantation of the United Nations organization on the Korean Peninsula should be seriously considered.
  • Youth and student exchanges between North and South, which the UPF founders emphasized, would produce positive results. It would also be very effective to include youth and student and from China, Russia and Japan.

Let me finish at this point. Thank you very much.

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