Europe and the Middle East—“Peaceful Reunification of the Korean Peninsula: Quest for a New Vision” was the title of an online discussion organized by the Europe-Middle East branch of UPF.
The webinar on June 23, 2023, was moderated by Gudrun Hassinen, the vice president of UPF-Germany, who explained that in July 1953, an armistice was signed that officially put an end to the Korean War. However, 70 years later, the Korean Peninsula is still divided at the 38th Parallel. Although both North and South affirm their determination to reunify the peninsula, all attempts have failed.
Today, in the context of renewed conflict throughout the world, reunification strategies have come to a deadlock. A new plan must come forth, one that goes beyond the ideological confrontation between North and South.
Mrs. Hassinen explained that the webinar would examine whether the Korean people’s common cultural heritage could serve as a bridge of trust to connect the two Koreas. The webinar also would address the quest for a new vision for Korean peace and unification.
Dr. Insoo Kim from South Korea, a professor at Sunhak Universal Peace Graduate University, described the current viewpoints of South Koreans about Korean reunification.
An annual study by the Unification and Peace Institute of Seoul National University found that there is a significant difference between the younger and older generations in this regard, Dr. Kim said. The younger generation no longer views reunification as a legitimate obligation.
As regards the main reasons given for reunification, the older generation expressed that it was because they considered that the two peoples come from the same ethnic group, whereas the younger generation said it was to eliminate the threat of war.
The main reasons given for not reunifying were the political and sociocultural differences between the two countries, as well as the high cost of reunification. Dr. Kim concluded by asking how UPF could help to reverse South Koreans’ declining interest in reunification.
Dr. Vladimir Petrovsky from Russia, chief researcher at the Russia-China Center, Institute of Far Eastern Studies, Russian Academy of Sciences, approached the situation on the Korean Peninsula in a broader regional and international security context by presenting a new approach to the so-called nuclear problem that he had discussed with his Russian and Chinese colleagues.
One of the main reasons for reunification is to eliminate the threat of war, Dr. Petrovsky said, particularly in the context of the buildup of nuclear weapons on the North Korean side and the need to eliminate this threat. Since North Korea withdrew from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, from the viewpoint of international law, none of the nuclear powers would be willing to accept the North’s nuclear status. However, it is unlikely that North Korea would be willing to give up its nuclear weapons.
Therefore, Dr. Petrovsky suggested a shift of focus, which was proposed by his Chinese colleagues: Both sides would concentrate on how to eliminate so-called strategic risks and how to develop mutual trust. North Korea needs some guarantees for their security, which is why they developed their nuclear armaments, and South Korea also feels threatened by the current situation in the North. Therefore, security guarantees are needed by both sides.
To develop a new vision, Dr. Petrovsky said, we need to develop a new level of trust, which can be achieved only by addressing these security concerns.
Mr. Jacques Marion, the co-chairman of UPF for Europe and the Middle East, began by presenting an 1887 caricature by French artist George Bigot, showing how Korea has long been coveted by the great powers because of its strategic location.
The merits of reunification can be clearly envisioned, Mr. Marion said: It would foster political stability and multilateral cooperation in East Asia, reduce military tension in the region, and contribute to the establishment of an East Asian economic community that would have a significant impact on the world level.
However, this cannot be achieved, Mr. Marion said, without the active involvement of the four major powers surrounding the Korean Peninsula: China, Russia, the United States and Japan. A plan for reunification would offer these nations many incentives, such as the opportunity for Russia to develop its gigantic Far Eastern region and sell its gas and oil to this new potential economic powerhouse. At the same time, it would raise obvious concerns regarding the future balance of power in the region.
Mr. Marion cited Dr. Ruediger Frank, head of the Department of East Asian Studies at the University of Vienna, who analyzed the question of Korean unification in light of Germany's experience. Although the cost of Korean reunification would be a major challenge, the main problem would be massive structural changes that would lead to an unequal distribution of the costs and benefits of Korean unification among all Koreans.
The unification of North and South would have advantages compared to the German situation, such as the complementarity of their economies, which would provide opportunities for immediate economic growth in the North that were absent in East Germany. But a unified Korea also would be faced with stronger political and ideological obstacles.
In conclusion, Mr. Marion said, reunification attempts by military power failed with the Korean War, and reunification attempts by competition and absorption have come to a deadlock after 70 years. A third path is needed, which is the path of trust-building promoted by the founders of UPF.
The final speaker, Dr. Changshik Yang, the chairman of Universal Peace Federation International, explained that to talk about Korean unification, we need to understand the historical background of Korea, which has been one nation for 1,300 years, since the unified Shilla dynasty.
Following the Japanese colonial era and the end of World War II, the Korean Peninsula was divided into North and South, under the control of the Soviet Union and the United States, leading to the establishment of communist and democratic regimes, respectively. The Korean War broke out on June 25, 1950, and concluded with an armistice on July 27, 1953.
Dr. Yang announced that UPF would organize a major “Peace Road” event to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the end of the Korean War. He explained that during the war, 63 countries supported South Korea, of which 16 sent troops, whereas Russia and China supported North Korea.
According to the UPF founders, the complex problem of unifying these two nations, with their diametrically opposed political systems of democracy and communism, cannot be solved by politicians or religions, but only by “true love.” UPF co-founder Dr. Hak Ja Han Moon recently said that an international support base is needed for reunification, namely, cooperation among the four powers surrounding Korea: the United States, China, Russia and Japan.
The dream of God, Dr. Yang said in conclusion, is to achieve a heavenly unified Korea and a heavenly unified world—that is, a world of interdependence, mutual prosperity, and universal values. Dr. Yang said he is confident that a free and democratic unified Korea would become a central country in the world in the future.
There ensued an interesting question-and-answer session, which concluded with a proposal by Dr. Petrovsky to fill the gap left by the 2009 collapse of the six-party talks between China, Japan, North Korea, South Korea, Russia and the United States. Dr. Petrovsky proposed that UPF organize six-party talks among civil society by bringing together Ambassadors for Peace from these six nations, similar to the meeting of civil society representatives that occurs each time the leaders of the Group of Seven countries meet.