[Viewpoint]Change to surviveThe presidential transition committee is seriously discussing abolishing the Ministry of Unification by integrating it into the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade.
Of course, there must be convincing reasons for this. Still, I don’t believe that abolishing the ministry is the right thing to do. We need a government agency to be responsible for the special relationship between South Korea and the North. If the Ministry of Foreign Affairs takes charge of inter-Korean relations, that would mean recognizing North Korea as a separate country. That, in turn, conflicts with Article 3 of the Constitution, which defines the territory of the Republic of Korea.
Germany, another divided country that has been reunified, followed a different precedent. West Germany pursued contacts with East Germany through its Ministry of Inner-German Relations, not through its foreign ministry.
Nevertheless, I agree that the Ministry of Unification needs to be transformed. Some unification ministers have misunderstood getting a meeting with Kim Jong-il to be an accomplishment, and have made efforts to create unofficial networks with the North.
Throughout the Roh administration, the Ministry of Unification has continued to curry favor with Pyongyang with both shameless comments and behavior. Sometimes it will hold a simple meeting, then exaggerate things to make it sound as if a great outcome has occurred.
The biggest problem is that the ministry has craved inter-Korean meetings. As a result, the ministry has followed strange tendencies and was habitually dragged around by North Korea.
The Ministry of Unification encouraged a disproportional and abnormal relationship with the North, offering enormous amounts of cash in return for merely agreeing to talk.
We no longer live in a time when holding an inter-Korean talk itself should be considered an indication of improvement in inter-Korean relations.
The ministry was so obsessed with its achievements that friction with other government agencies handling foreign and security matters occurred. The agency also did not take international cooperation and the progress on the nuclear issue into account.
It also presumptuously meddled with the Northern Limit Line issue, insisting on an economic approach to what is a security issue.
The right direction for the North Korea policy is to induce reform and the opening of the North through exchanges and cooperation, while reinforcing the territorial identity and security.
One of the duties of the Ministry of Unification is to create a national consensus regarding the reunification policy. However, it is questionable whether the ministry has made any effort to reach such a consensus.
First of all, the ministry has to weed out the unnecessary parts of its organization.
It has expanded excessively by greedily getting involved in every area of inter-Korean relations, including politics, the economy and culture.
For example, an apparatus such as the Inter-Korean Dialogue Office, which is only fully operational when talks are occurring between the two countries, needs to be integrated with the Policy Office.
The office that collects North Korea-related information should consider working with the National Intelligence Service. If it relied on the NIS for most of its intelligence, it would not need to operate a large separate office. Collecting information on special areas such as shipbuilding and social overhead capital, in particular, should be entrusted to the related ministries.
The Ministry of Unification should focus on contemplating how it will handle the pending issues with the North rather than squandering its limited resources to cover areas that are beyond its expertise.
Along with the organizational restructuring, it is more important that the people responsible for the operation of the Ministry of Unification have a solid sense of national identity, a conviction for peaceful reunification based on the principles of freedom and democracy defined by Article 4 of the Constitution, and a strong will and capacity to faithfully follow their beliefs.
If not, the ministry will repeat the blunders of the past.
I would like to ask the Ministry of Unification officials to fundamentally change their perception of inter-Korean relations.
*The writer is a professor of law at Chung-Ang University. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.
by Jhe Seong-ho