This is a transcription of Dr. Courmont's intervention at the webinar on the theme "Prospects for Peace on the Korean Peninsula" on 16 November 2020 by Mrs. Maria Nazarova, President of UPF Russia.

Dr. Barthélemy Courmont, Professor of modern history and international relations at the Catholic University of Lille, France.Dr. Courmont first spoke about the changes in the relationship between Pyongyang and South Korea and USA. He reminded us that after the election of president Moon Jae-in in May 2017, the current administration in Seoul has engaged in a new dialogue, a new relationship with North Korea, that has led to several meetings - very symbolic, but also constructive meetings when it comes to the lifting of sanctions. The wish of Seoul is to accompany the lifting of some economic sanctions, but also the future development of the North Korean economy and North Korean diplomacy. So, we have seen a lot of meetings, involving leaders on both sides, but also several levels of decision makers, not only in the political sphere, but also in the economic one. There has been very intensive activity in the past two years. It really started with the winter Olympic games in Pyeongchang in January 2018 and just after that we have seen the implementation of a new framework when it comes to a dialog between the two Koreas.

Then, Dr. Courmont took some time to analyze the possible future with Joe Biden’s administration, saying that “perhaps he will resemble more what Barack Obama was doing during his eight years in the White House.” But Dr. Courmont also stated that Biden cannot ignore what has been done. Therefore, it is very unlikely that we will come back to a situation of high tension between Washington and Pyongyang, at least as long as Pyongyang does not test any new missile or any new nuclear weapons.

“When it comes to the relationship between the two Koreas”, he continued, “of course one has to look at the coming presidential election in South Korea, which will be in less than two years now, in 2022. Unification is pricey, unification is difficult to implement and somehow unification does not even interest the younger generation in South Korea. So what will be interesting is the future of the stronger dialog between South and North Korea in South Korean society and how much they will be willing to go further and not only limit their approach to North Korea with symbols and implementation of peace. How we are going to have something stronger than what we have seen? If we look at what has been achieved in the past two years - it was really spectacular, but yet nothing really concrete has been achieved so far. What is interesting now is whether we are going to see the transformation of those symbols or whether we are going to see some slowdown in the approach that South Korea has engaged with North Korea.”

Answering questions, Dr. Courmont expressed the strong wish of Europe in general and France in particular to play an important role in trying to solve security notes on the Korean peninsula. Considering the relationship between South Korea and Europe, economically for instance, with the Free Trade agreement, also when it comes to diplomatic implications, I believe that there is a room for a stronger implication of the EU on the condition that we find some compromise among Europeans to see who among us has what and at what speed exactly we can go. From a technical point of view and financial point of view, I do not think that the European Union is willing to accompany North and South Unification at the moment. Again, if the situation changes, then why not? Unification will become, let's say, possible because the gap will be reduced between the two countries; yes, the situation will evolve. But, at the moment it is too costly, it is too difficult. On top of that, as mentioned before, the European Union is facing a lot of challenges and does not find any common ground when it comes to addressing Korean policy. We have a lot of differences and diversity unfortunately if we have to address this kind of issue. I am not very optimistic here; I do not think that the EU will be very strong in facilitating and accompanying Korean unification.

Dr. Courmont also compared the situation of the unification of Germany and situation now with Korea, especially in terms of the lack of desire of young people for unification. With the isolation that Korea experienced, if you compare that to Germany re-unification, it was backed up by the European Union, by Russia, by the United States and basically everyone cooperated and supported these efforts both diplomatically, but also on top of that economically. Unfortunately, this is likely not to be the case if such things happen in Korea. Of course, I am not saying that unification will not happen, because it may happen at any time if the North Korean regime falls for any reason, in which case it will inevitably in the current context lead to unification. But, as I said, South Koreans are not really willing to go in this direction and, therefore, they prefer maintaining North Korea on the condition that this country is not a threat to South Korea – a military or political threat. They are more willing to accelerate the movement that will establish a strong solid partnership with North Korea, instead of considering unification.

Answering the question if North Korea is really communist, Dr. Courmont said that for him it was just a political slogan. It was the way for Kim Il Sung, back in the 1960s, to increase his legitimacy and increase his power. “I never believed in the reality of Juche.”, he said, “To answer the question is Juche communism? - I do not think so, because to me Juche is simply a slogan. Is North Korea a communist regime? Well, it depends on what is the need of North Korea and it looks like the current leader is more likely to follow the Chinese example, so the question will be is China a communist country? I think it would take hours to answer that”.

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