Banner

Intervention of Mr. Jacques Marion in the webinar on 23 June 2023

Dear panelists, dear participants

Representing UPF Europe, I would like to bring a European viewpoint to this webinar. Let me begin with a caricature entitled “Fishing Play” by the French artist Georges Bigot, in 1887, showing China, Japan and Russia’s eagerness to catch Korea. That was nearly 140 years ago, and this shows how long the Korean Peninsula has been coveted by the Great Powers, due to its strategic location.

The merits of Korean reunification

The peaceful unification of Korea would foster political stability and multilateral cooperation in East Asia, leading to a reduction of the military tension in the region. Peace would stimulate the dynamic economic development of Korea and allow the establishment of an East Asian Economic Community, which would have a great impact on the world level. Clearly, if South Korea’s technology and natural resources in the North were combined, a unified Korea would become a very powerful nation in Asia. But this could not be done without the active involvement of the four major powers surrounding the Korean Peninsula: China, Russia, the USA, and Japan, which were in great part the cause of the division of Korea. Their strategic interests are at stake, and we cannot conceive Korean reunification without their participation.

All four nations would greatly benefit from the creation of an East Asian Economic Community and a powerful unified Korea. It would provide a great market for the United States, Japan, China, and would allow Russia to develop its gigantic Far East Region and sell its oil and gas to this new economic powerhouse.

But these nations will have obvious concerns: Which political system would a unified Korea adopt? Would it be pro-USA, pro-China, anti-Japan? What would be the cost – probably substantial – they would have to bear to support the process of reunification? A great concern would be defense and security matters, because of the nuclear issue. Besides, each of these nations has in its background some historical or territorial contention with North or South Korea: an island in dispute with Japan, the question of Manchuria or the Korean Chinese province in the case of China, etc.

North-South Korean unification in the light of German unification

Regarding the challenges of reunification for North and South Korea, I will turn for a summary to Dr. Ruediger Frank, a professor of East Asian Economy and Society and Head of the Department of East Asian Studies at the University of Vienna. Born and raised in East Germany and the Soviet Union, he studied in North Korea, and his views are of great interest. He analyzed the question of Korean unification in reference to the German experience, which I will summarize (largely quoting the two papers referenced below).

One central issue for Korean reunification would be its cost: According to Prof. Frank, “The National Assembly Budget Office (2015) estimates that the total unification cost for the 45 years from 2016 to 2060 will amount to about $9.2 trillion”1. He thinks that this cost may be overstated and could be reduced. He adds: “If South Korea has a reason to be afraid of unification, it is not because of its huge costs, but because of the massive structural change that would result in a dramatic loss of jobs and tax income in the South. This points to the fact that the costs and benefits of Korean unification will not be distributed equally among all Koreans.”1

Then, he lists several points on how the situation in Korea would differ from that in Germany2, highlighting the fact that Korean reunification is likely to be a more challenging enterprise.

Regarding local people’s attitudes towards unification:

“Germany’s division was by many seen as a form of punishment for the German aggression in WWII, [but] the Koreans were among the victims of Japanese aggression and thus regard their division as a great injustice. This history impacts the acceptance of division in both Koreas and adds a nationalist undertone to the unification debate.”

Unlike in the case of Germany, “Koreans…killed each other during the Korean War and continued to do so thereafter. This is a heavy legacy that must be overcome to make unification work.”

“German nationalism was completely banned from official discourse, preventing its use as a much-needed unification ideology… In Korea, nationalism grew especially strong in resistance to Japanese attempts at assimilation… and is still widely accepted today in both parts of the peninsula. It can serve as a joint ideological foundation for a unified Korea.”

Regarding the costs of unification:

More than East and West Germany, “North and South Korea have economic structures that are complementary in many ways; among the best-known examples are the South Korean capabilities to extract and process mineral resources of the North. This would provide opportunities for immediate economic growth in the North that were absent in East Germany, ultimately reducing unification costs.”

“The economic gap between West and East Germany was undeniable, though mainly in the form of luxury goods…North Koreans are still primarily interested in a stable supply of food and other basic needs… which will in time result in lower unification costs.”

Regarding the relative power of both sides:

In Germany, only the West officially supported unification. In Korea…unification is officially the top political objective of both sides according to the respective constitutions. Therefore, if Korean unification proceeds… South Korea will find it harder to impose its position on the North.”

In Korea also, “both sides have for decades been promoting their competing unification blueprints…Any attempt by South Korea to impose its own system on North Korea will be faced with Kim Il Sung’s alternate proposal for the Democratic Confederal Republic of Koryo.”

“East Germany relied on the Soviet Union, which was about to collapse economically and politically by the time of German unification. North Korea is much more independent, and its ally China will soon challenge the global leadership of the United States.”

Besides, in North Korea, socialism is of the nationalist Juche type,…“is much more ‘Koreanized’ and will thus be more resilient after unification.”

Regarding the process of unification:

The potential for violence is greater in the case of Korea. “It was a big surprise to many that no major acts of revenge surfaced during German unification, but the situation is unlikely to remain as calm in the Korean case.”

“Nuclear arms in the hands of the East Germans were not conceivable for the Soviets. But

North Korea already claims to be a nuclear power. There is a risk of a major military conflict in the event of political destabilization.”

“Germany had been divided into two separate states for 41 years, or less than two generations…But the division of Korea continues after [73 years], or almost three generations. In South Korea, the young generation’s interest in unification is decreasing, so harmonization will take much longer and will be harder to achieve.”

The population ratio regarding West and East Germans was 1 to 4. For South and North Koreans, the ratio is roughly 1 to 2. Therefore, “economically, fewer South Koreans would have to finance more North Korean recipients. Politically, an opposition party based in the North would have much greater weight in a joint parliament than any East German equivalent.”

The quest for a new vision: A third path toward reunification

This brings me to conclude with the title of this webinar: the quest for a new vision.

There was a first attempt at Korean unification, by force, through the Korean War. It brought, however, tremendous damage to the Korean land and people. Nobody wants a second Korean War on the peninsula.

The second attempt was unification by competition. This means that whoever wins in terms of national development and international recognition will absorb the loser. This competition has lasted for 70 years, with great economic development in the South – and military development in the North. But today, we are at a deadlock.

So, we need a third path toward unification. That is the one promoted by our Founders.

In their view, the fundamental issue is the South Korean people’s desire for unification. According to a survey conducted in 2017 by the Korea Institute for National Unification, 57.8 percent of South Koreans responded that unification was needed; however, 60 percent of young people in their 20s said that they didn’t want unification. Political or economic measures are certainly needed, but more urgently, the enthusiasm for unification needs to be revived in the South, and trust-building to be developed with the North.

Dr. and Mrs. Moon visited North Korea in December 1991 for the sake of building peace on the peninsula, at the risk of their lives. They eventually held peace talks with the North Korean supreme leader, Kim Il Sung. Surprisingly, an important peace agreement was signed, which became a fundamental framework of North Korea’s diplomatic policy in the 1990s and the early 21st century. The agreement covered these five points:

  • The implementation of separated-family visits
  • The peaceful use of nuclear energy
  • The welcoming of investments by overseas Koreans
  • The realization of Summit Talks between North and South
  • The development of the Mount Kumgang Tourist Region

The agreement was implemented in the following years, with investment projects in North Korea, and in 1998 with a cultural exchange visit by the Little Angels to North Korea. This laid the foundation for the first meeting in 2000 of the two heads of state, Kim Jong Il and Kim Dae Jung, who signed an agreement reflecting the main points of the 1991 agreement.

There is one story worth telling, in conclusion, that testifies to the spirit of the UPF Founders in regards with reunification.

A strategy of trust-building

After he met with President Gorbachev in Moscow in April 1990, Dr. Moon asked his staff to reach out to Kim Il Sung and assert that he was a friend of North Korea, and that he could help in the mediation with the United States. This resulted in the invitation to North Korea early December 1991, as mentioned above. The UPF Founders were warmly welcomed by Kim Il Sung.

On the foundation of that meeting, in May-June 1992, the American Freedom Coalition (an organization founded by Dr. Moon) organized a visit to Pyongyang of a group of 40 former US congressmen and governors, led by Congressman Ichord. They discussed with North Koreans about easing the US – DPRK relations. Then, Kim Il Sung gave in the Washington Times his first interview to the West, which allowed him for the first time to directly express his views to western people.

In June 1992, the North Korean Representative at the United Nations contacted Congressman Ichord and explained that in recognition for these gestures of friendliness, Chairman Kim Il Sung had decided to suspend the annual “Hate America Month” 3 that year. Kim Il Sung had asked his ambassador at the UN to convey this news to US National Security Advisor Brent Scowcroft through Congressman Ichord, so that President Bush understood the central role the UPF Founder, Dr. Moon, had played in this diplomatic breakthrough.

In the following years, several representatives of the UPF Founders played a role as informal emissaries between the US administration and the top North Korean leadership. This testifies to the power of heart and trust-building that were at the core of Dr. Moon’s strategy to reach out to North Korea, and which his spouse Dr. Hak Jan Han Moon is pursuing today.

References

  1. “The costs of Korean Unification: Realistic Lessons from the German Case”, by Ruediger Frank, in Korea’s Economy – Volume 30, Korea­ Economic ­Institute ­of America and ­Korea­ Institute ­for ­International ­Economic­ Policy, 2015
  1. “The Unification Cases of Germany and Korea: A Dangerous Comparison (Part 1 of 2)”, by Ruediger Frank, 38 North, Stimson, November 3, 2016

    “The Unification Cases of Germany and Korea: A Dangerous Comparison (Part 2 of 2)”, by Ruediger Frank, 38 North, Stimson, December 8, 2016
  1. The “Hate America Month” is an annual demonstration against US imperialism organized on the national level in North Korea, between June 25 and July 27, respective dates of the Korean War (1950) and the Armistice (1953).
Follow on Facebook Follow on X (Twitter) Follow on Vimeo Follow on Youtube Follow on Instagram Follow via Flickr Follow via RSS Follow on Linkedin
Save
Cookies user preferences
We use cookies to ensure you to get the best experience on our website. If you decline the use of cookies, this website may not function as expected.
Accept all
Decline all
Read more
Analytics
Tools used to analyze the data to measure the effectiveness of a website and to understand how it works.
Google Analytics
Accept
Decline