[VIEWPOINT]Embarking on a new unity push

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[VIEWPOINT]Embarking on a new unity push

Thursday was the 57th anniversary of Korea's liberation from Japanese colonial rule. Our people have not been able to build a unified nation due to external intervention and internal disintegration. Nearly all countries of the world had established modern unified nation-states by the end of the 20th century, and are actively promoting globalization beyond the obstruction of sovereign power. Unfortunately, we still have not overcome this energy-draining partition of the Korean Peninsula.

A nation is a social group that shares a land, language, kin, culture, and lifestyle, but North and South Koreas have been severed into different zones, pursuing different ideologies and founded on divergent systems. After five decades, we are gradually losing what similarities we had possessed. Two generations after being divided, we have gone our separate ways both politically and socially, toward capitalism and toward socialism. So the most pressing matter for us is to restore our similarities through personal and material exchanges after acknowledging our differences.

Before the inter-Korean summit meeting, both the North and the South maintained "hostile interdependence," denying the other side's existence as a means of confirming its own identity. The Koreas agreed at their first summit meeting in June 2000 to overcome their mutual belligerence and re-establish a new paradigm of "reciprocal mutual dependence." However, it was impossible to escape from the deadlock of North-South relations because of the influence of such factors as the hard-line policy of the United States against North Korea, North Korea's military provocations and disputes within the South. The June 15 South-North Joint Declaration has not been institutionalized.

Fortunately, both parties have confirmed their will to carry out the terms of the June 15 joint declaration and agreed to restore their relationship during the seventh round of inter-Korean ministerial talks. The Koreas agreed to hold talks more frequently and to keep in close contact to discuss the implementation of additional undertakings they agreed to on April 5, reunions of separated families, military trust building and so on in order to make up for lost time. So it is very possible that North-South relations, which came to a standstill after the Yellow Sea naval clash, will progress rapidly.

The North is showing an enterprising spirit in social and cultural exchanges, beginning with its participation in the joint celebration of Liberation Day and the Busan Asian Games. From Thursday till Friday, for the first time in the history of the North-South relationship, a joint national unification event was held in the South with dignitaries of the North, representing various sectors of its society, in attendance. The North intends to speed up social and cultural exchanges under the logic of "national cooperation" to reach voluntary unification, following the spirit of the June 15 South-North Joint Declaration and its "theory of the people's great unity."

There are three reasons North Korea is trying to expand cooperative exchanges, despite the negative effects it may bring to its socialist structure.

First, it can be said that the North is trying to avoid external threats through national cooperation.

Second, it probably has the intention to furnish a basis for the implementation of the June 15 declaration through restoration of North-South relations before President Kim's term is over.

Third, in order for its internal plan of economic reconstruction to succeed, it is crucial for the North to broaden its foreign relations through better relations with the South.

Regardless of what the objectives are in embarking on a new direction in North-South relations, with frequent cooperative exchanges both our economies will develop and a restoration of national homogeneity will be possible. Some worry that the North might be using us to get what they want, but we must realize that the competition of political systems is long over.

As can be seen from history, socialism cannot overcome capitalism, and we must transmute our spirit of unity during the World Cup into the unification of the Koreas. Our assignment now is to keep the process on track and keep it from turning sour again.


The writer is a professor of North Korean studies at Dongguk University.

by Koh Yu-whan

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