Europe and the Middle East—The first webinar of the Think Tank 2022 Global Forum presented parliamentarians’ views on Korean reunification.
A brief Opening Session on the morning of February 1, 2022, led into the session titled “Peace and Stability in East Asia and the Korean Peninsula,” which was organized jointly by the Europe-Middle East (EUME) and Japanese branches of UPF’s International Association of Parliamentarians for Peace (IAPP).
The moderator of the Opening Session, UPF-EUME Co-Chair Jacques Marion, welcomed the online audience to the first of eight webinars being held from February 1 to 3. He explained that the Think Tank 2022 Global Forum webinars were a precursor to the events of World Summit 2022, which would be held in Seoul, South Korea, and online from February 11 to 13.
The Think Tank 2022 webinars were being held not only in Europe and the Middle East but also in Asia, Africa, and the Americas by UPF and its associations, he said. Several of the online sessions were being held jointly with UPF associations from other continents.
Mr. Marion then introduced Dr. Katsumi Otsuka, the co-chair of UPF for Europe and the Middle East, who gave an introduction to Universal Peace Federation and the Think Tank 2022 Forums. Dr. Otsuka highlighted the UPF approach, which emphasizes cooperation, dialogue, empathy, and living for the sake of others.
As the IAPP session started, Peter Haider, the IAPP coordinator for Europe and the Middle East, and the president of UPF-Austria, explained that IAPP was established in 2016 in Seoul by UPF co-founder Dr. Hak Ja Han Moon to bring together parliamentarians in the search for peaceful solutions to the world’s problems. It was launched in Europe in the United Kingdom’s Houses of Parliament in September 2016.
Then IAPP-Japan President Yasushi Matsumoto explained that the association was now officially registered in the Japanese Diet and included 78 current parliamentarians. It had engaged in two-plus-two forums with US congressmen last year and wanted to do the same with EUME politicians.
The session moderator was Dr. Beatrice Bischof, a member of the managing board of the Foreign Affairs Association in Munich, Germany, who has specialized in Asian foreign policy issues, including the Korean Peninsula. Her questions to the main speakers revealed a keen understanding of the issues.
Hon. Yoshiaki Harada, a former Japanese parliamentarian and government minister who is now the president of the IAPP-Japan Forum, highlighted the key points for Japanese foreign policy, such as the tension with China over the Senkaku Islands and its threat to Taiwan; the current Ukraine-Russia tension; and the limitations placed upon military spending since World War II by the Japanese constitution.
The status of the Korean Peninsula is a very important issue for Japan, Hon. Harada said. Japan is watching and hoping for North and South Korea to get together, but Japan does not have an effective role in this issue. Japan has tensions with the Republic of Korea (South Korea) over the ownership of the Takeshima Islands and the past issue of “comfort women,” for example. The North Korean missile tests are a concern for Japan, which would like the DPRK to be much more established within the international community of nations.
Hon. Harada explained that just as the United States returned Okinawa to Japan about 50 years ago, he would like to see Russia return the Kuril Islands to Japan. Another speaker, Dr. Yevgeny Kim of Russia, responded to this by saying that Japan acknowledged the Russian ownership of these islands upon its accession to the United Nations in 1957.
Hon. Harada added that the Japanese government wants to make very clear that China should stop the human rights violations of the Uyghurs. He said he hoped that Chinese human rights issues could be ended during the Winter Olympics.
Hon. Glyn Ford from the United Kingdom, a former member of the European Parliament, explained that he has visited the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea) almost 50 times. Many of those visits were part of a European Union parliamentary delegation. He has had a dialogue with the DPRK International Department for approximately 10 years. Based on these experiences, he has authored two books on North Korea, of which the latest, Talking with North Korea: Ending the Nuclear Standoff, articulates his desire to bring a negotiated solution.
DPRK President Kim Jong Un believes he faces two existential threats, Hon. Ford explained. Externally he feels threatened by the United States, South Korea and Japan. The DPRK spends 25 percent of its budget on the military; however, South Korea outspends North Korea on defense spending by a factor of six. The DPRK spends 50 times less than South Korea, Japan and the United States.
Hon. Ford explained the DPRK’s perspective by outlining its perceived internal threat. The people who matter in Pyongyang must be able to maintain their standards of living. There is an inherent contradiction, he said, because the development of nuclear weapons brings both the protection that cannot be guaranteed by conventional forces and also the consequent UN sanctions that make economic development very difficult. The DPRK says that, without those sanctions, it could grow its economy like other Asian tigers.
The path to peace is very long and will have to go step by step, maybe over a decade or more, Hon. Ford said. U.S. President Donald Trump was trying to conclude a peace treaty in a short time without going through those steps, he said.
Hon. Ford expressed the view that the DPRK would require a multilateral agreement like the Iranian treaty, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) (China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States) or maybe including the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) but also would be looking for $15 billion to $20 billion to denuclearize. This would need a wider international donor program, because the United States could not pass this through Congress.
There are new hopes for a Six Party Talk format, he said, maybe with other bodies such as ASEAN or South Asian states. China was very keen for the Six Party Talks to develop, but the widely held DPRK view was that Tokyo was sabotaging them during the administration of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. Under the new Japanese prime minister, Fumio Kishida, there could be new hope. Mr. Kishida was probably the last senior Japanese politician to meet senior DPRK officials. The sticking point, Hon. Ford believes, is getting the United States and the DPRK at the same table, as they have a low level of mutual trust at the moment.
Dr. Yevgeny Kim (Kim Young Woong), a leading researcher at the Center for Korean Studies, Institute of the Far East, Russian Academy of Sciences, agreed with Hon. Glyn Ford that the imbalance of military spending between the DPRK and South Korea, Japan and the United States has led to the current situation. He explained that the threat of an attack by the DPRK was very unlikely, given that it would lead to its destruction.
Dr. Kim contrasted the lack of Chinese or Russian military bases in the DPRK and the presence of US military bases in South Korea. American nuclear weapons are sometimes in South Korea, he said. China will not want to invade Taiwan, he said, because the economic cost would be so great. He said he has found the North Korean people to be resilient despite sanctions and even COVID-19.
Dr. Kim suggested that the ending of US and South Korean military exercises would be a good confidence-building measure.
Both Dr. Kim and Hon. Ford considered that until recently the DPRK had unilaterally imposed a moratorium on its intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) tests for four years. They believed the DPRK had been looking for the United States to make a concession in response, either on sanctions relief or military exercises with South Korea.
Hon. Nina Nováková, a member of parliament of the Czech Republic, spoke of her passion for peace and the prevention of the crime of war. She considered the plight of the divided Korean Peninsula in relation to the experience of the people of Germany and other peoples of Central Europe. She perceived a similar result when powerful nations draw lines on maps to suit themselves without consulting with the people concerned.
Hon. Nováková perceived a tension between the strong identity that the Korean people’s 5,000-year history brings and the dwindling desire of South Koreans to reunite with North Korea, now that the separation has lasted more than 70 years. She emphasized that a parental mindset is needed to draw together a divided people. She noted the power of intermarriage to overcome divisions between her own country and Slovakia, which until the end of 1992 were one nation.