[Outlook]Unification Ministry still vital

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[Outlook]Unification Ministry still vital

It is natural that the restructuring of government organizations is being debated ahead of President-elect Lee Myung-bak’s new administration. Discussions about the status and future of the Ministry of Unification should be carried out with particular care.
This year is the 60th anniversary of the country’s founding and the 40th anniversary of the establishment of the Ministry of Unification. It is important to assess whether the ministry has strayed from its basic purpose, as well as the structure and functions of the ministry.
The duties of the Ministry of Unification are twofold. One is the administrative work of state affairs and the other is management of inter-Korean relations.
Over the past 20 years, the Ministry of Unification has developed tremendously and made progress when it comes to managing inter-Korean relations.
When the cold war began winding down 20 years ago, the ministry played a leadership role in preparing the laws on engagement and cooperation that would govern inter-Korean relations.
The Ministry of Unification has supplemented research institutions, such as the Korea Institute for National Unification, created the “Basic Agreement” between South and North Korea and made significant progress in making contact, pursuing dialogue and vitalizing exchanges with North Korea, including two summit meetings.
The ministry continuously collects information on North Korea and organizes it; works to set up exchanges, cooperation and meetings with North Korea; manages crises such as North Korea’s nuclear issue, and prepares for reunification and the challenges that will follow. This clearly defines the raison d’etre of the Ministry.
Thus, it will be good if the new administration improves the ministry and boosts the efficiency of work related to reunification.
These days, the focus is more on the ministry’s administrative work, which is related to managing state affairs.
This has two parts. The first is to sustain the desire and will for reunification. The second is to promote consensus among the people. As stated in the Constitution, reunification is what all Koreans wish for. The will to achieve a goal should intensify as time passes. The Ministry of Unification is in charge of leading the effort on this national task.
Fostering consensus among the people regarding reunification is an even more important task. If South Koreans are sharply divided over South-North Korean relations, the future of South Korea will be bleak and reunification will become unthinkable.
To prevent South Koreans from being divided over inter-Korean relations and to promote consensus among the people on reunification are important duties of the Ministry of Unification. Yet, over the past several years, many things have come up short and we need to think seriously about them.
Some organizations claim that they are the frontrunners for reunification and labeled those who opposed them as “anti-reunification.”
The Ministry of Unification needs to think seriously whether it has also been arrogant. It should look back on how hard it has worked to communicate with people who have different opinions and stances. The ministry’s stance cannot be categorized as being in line with the ruling party or the opposition party. The ministry should transcend political battles and work to promote consensus and forge political agreements.
The international political situation is changing and inter-Korean relations are also changing. This means the timing is optimal for helping the ministry get back to its original purpose with the new administration soon to take office.
Since the Ministry of Unification was launched 40 years ago, we have had Germany as a model, and that country achieved peaceful reunification 19 years ago.
Throughout the procedure of reunification, the Christian Democratic Union and the Social Democratic Party, which were the ruling and opposition party, respectively, succeeded in producing perfect agreements, understandings and political compromises, regardless of political interests.
Since the foundation of the country, the Republic of Korea has succeeded in industrialization, democratization and advancement.
Now, it must also achieve reunification. To make unified efforts to achieve that goal should become second nature for the country and the status of the Ministry of Unification should be elevated in the Lee Myung-bak administration.

*The writer, a former unification minister, is an adviser of the JoongAng Ilbo. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.

by Lee Hong-koo
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