[VIEWPOINT]First Spark of a Beautiful Relationship

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[VIEWPOINT]First Spark of a Beautiful Relationship

Just 50 years ago, relations between the neighboring nations of France and Germany were as charged with tension as Cold War-era relations between North and South Korea. The two countries had gone to war three times in the preceding hundred years: the Franco-Prussian War in the late 19th century and the two world wars.

But the way the bloody tensions between the countries were dealt with after World War II is instructive - not through military confrontation but through economic integration. This economic approach went on to take in other European economies and was rewarded with the fruits of economic prosperity and security.

In 1950, Robert Schuman, then the French foreign minister, suggested that European countries should establish a collective coal and steel market. In 1952, the European Coal and Steel Community was launched and, with the 1957 Treaty of Rome, was expanded into the European Economic Community. Now Europe is moving toward political integration and a single currency. It has resolved political problems through economic means.

South Korea needs to widen the scope of its approach toward North-South relations. We need to look at inter-Korean economic cooperation not through the short-sighted lens of strict separation of politics, the military and the economy, but in the long-term, far-sighted view of foreign strategy. Whether North Korea likes it or not, the United States military in Korea has provided a stable national security environment. We should use this stability to improve the quality of relations with the North by economic means. Unlike in the 1980s when they had relative economic independence, North Korea is now strongly inclined to leave its door ajar, lending economic measures by us a rare promise of success.

Meanwhile, South Korea needs to push ahead with its long-term foreign economic strategy and beef up its regional engagement. There are two avenues open. One is the establishment of official links, such as free trade treaties. Although the Korean government has tried to establish free trade agreements with Chile and other countries, it has encountered several political difficulties.

Just as important is unofficial, "soft" regional cooperation policy. In 1985, when the Plaza Accord boosted the value of the Japanese yen, Japanese private capital flooded into Southeast Asian countries. The Japanese government also poured a huge amount of development aid into the area, which helped Japanese companies penetrate regional markets and increase their exports. That movement eventually lead to the establishment of Japanese economic communities in those areas.

We should see economic cooperation with the North as a starting point for our "soft" regional engagement. With the economic integration of North and South, railroads between Seoul and Shinuiju, Wonsan and Kaesong industrial complex would be linked, through which Korea could connect with the continental economies of northeast China, Mongolia and Siberia and with the economies of Japan, the United States and South-east Asia.

From this macroscopic point of view, we need to consider in a positive light the supply of electricity to the North - currently seen as an obstacle to inter-Korean relations. The United States is impatient to solve short-term military security matters with North Korea. The South Korean government should persuade the United States that long-term economic cooperation with North Korea is a priority, and request its cooperation in supplying electricity to the North. Experts say the technical problems in transmitting the electricity to the North do not pose an insurmountable obstacle.

The Korean people should revise their short-term view that electricity supply is "pampering" the North. That level of support is unremarkable in foreign economic strategies. Since 1985, Japan has provided a huge amount of official development aid to East Asia. In 1990, the Roh Tae-woo administration even provided Russia with $3 billion to oil the wheels of friendly relations. Why are we so hostile to the idea of this support for North Korea? It could be the start of a productive, long-term foreign economic strategy.


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The writer is a professor of political science at Seoul National University.

by Yoon Young-kwan

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