Talk of Reunification Is Premature

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Talk of Reunification Is Premature

Rash Expectations on a Peaceful Reunification Are a Great Illusion

Frozen for half a century, inter-Korean relations have been thawing since President Kim Dae-jung of South Korea held a summit in Pyongyang with Kim Jong-il, the leader of North Korea, in June. The prospects of peace being established on the Korean peninsula are now brighter than ever.

The significance of the thaw should not be underestimated. As the risk of a war on the Korean peninsula diminishes, the concerns of foreigners who invest in Korea will also subside. Korea has foreign debts of about $150 billion. If the spread on the interest rates drops by even one percent as a result of the reduced risk on the peninsula, the economic benefits accruing from Korea''s engagement policy with the North would be immense.

President Kim succeeded in encouraging North Korea, one of the most isolated societies in the world, to come out of its shell, and thus opened a new chapter of reconciliation and cooperation in inter-Korean relations.

The possibility of achieving inter-Korean reconciliation and peace is now within our sight. Even so, it would be imprudent if not foolhardy to assume that these goals can be realized overnight. Harboring unrealistic expectations about achieving peaceful reunification is a recipe for disappointment. The road to peace is long and rocky, and the path to reunification is farther and thornier. While the possibility of achieving peace might be within sight, that of reunification is not.

President Kim Dae-jung honestly stated that he would concentrate only on bringing about reconciliation and peace between the North and the South during his presidency, and that reunification would be possible only in twenty or thirty years hence.

By speaking of the distant future, however, the president could have prompted some people with romantic notions about reunification to seek a more speedy resolution. If, as a result of the romantic notions propagated by the president, people believe they could help realize peaceful reunification in the near future by rallying around Kim Jong-il, it would be the result of a greatly distored picture of reunification they have been exposed to.

Kim Il-sung failed to reunify the nation after invading the South and waging the three-year Korean War under the premise that it was a war of justice for national reunification.

President Kim can take credit for initiating inter-Korean reconciliation, but the policymakers around him now appear to be trying to encourage the public to indulge in a fantasy about reunification.

Reconciliation, cooperation and progress in North-South relations can only advance in a well-planned and deliberate manner when they are grounded in an accurate perception of the reality of the two Koreas.

Pursuing Reconciliation and cooperation based on a mirage or illusion, either by embellishing or being blind to the reality, can fall like a house of cards.

Great differences mark the political and ideological systems of the two Koreas, as is the case with their structures of power, society, culture and media. South Korea''s clear distinction from the North is the basis of its citizens'' sense of identity and also a source of pride.

Willy Brandt became the chancellor of West Germany in 1969. In a policy speech delivered at the Bundestag in the same year, he unveiled his policy of Ostpolitik, aimed at easing tension between the East and West Germany, as well as between Eastern and Western Europe. In his speech, he emphasized the clear differences in the power structure, society and interests of the two Germanys, and said the differences cannot be resolved through dialectics or obscured with a smoke screen. He said Germans should not become intoxicated with unrealistic hopes.

Unlike President Kim who only painted a positive picture of the future by indicating reunification would be possible in twenty or thirty years, Mr. Brandt did not hesitate to dash such hopes by firmly declaring that the reunification of Germany would be impossible in the foreseeable future.

Mr. Brandt candidly admitted that a politician charged with the responsibility of overseeing the present should not engage in predicting the distant future.

His policy of recognizing East Germany as a state, and negating the possibility of reunification in the foreseeable future came under fierce attack by conservatives, who denounced him as an anti-reunificationist trying to perpetuate division.

From the viewpoint of conservatives whose greatest goal was in reunifying Germany, the chancellor deserved the severe criticism for failing to utter a single positive note on the possibility of reunifying Germany. On the contrary, Mr. Brandt declared he would establish a new relationship between the two Germanys and abolish the previous policy of pursuing reunification. His policy won the support of not only liberal politicians but also of virtually every intellectual in West Germany.

The opposite is true in South Korea today. Those opposed to reunification and in favor of continued division being denounced as conservatives by liberal-minded South Koreans.

In West Germany, it was the conservatives who called for reunification but it is the liberal intellectuals in South Korea who are championing reunification as their deepest-held desire.

The writer is a professor emeritus at Ulsan University.


by Choe Chung-ho

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