[Outlook]Staying the course

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[Outlook]Staying the course

It’s unlikely that many people remember the “Special Declaration in the Interest of National Self-Esteem, Unification and Prosperity” of July 7, 1988, exactly 20 years ago today. However, that very declaration dramatically reflected our endeavors to adjust to epoch-making changes in world history at the end of the Cold War, and seek a new South-North Korean relationship.

But now, the hope and enthusiasm for reunification has vanished, and we are overloaded with anxiety about the uncertain future of the South-North relationship. As prospects grow dim, we need to have the wisdom to deeply ponder the consistency and validity of the path we’ve taken to this point rather than seeking a quick fix.

There were growing expectations for peace and reconciliation in the summer of 1988, when we were to host the Seoul Summer Olympic Games. Koreans were expected to play a pivotal role in celebrating the global festival of reconciliation.

We were armed with a heightened sense of social awareness on the success of our democratization symbolized by the directly elected president and democratic legislature.

The consensus on the need to make new efforts to pave the way for national reunification was a natural consequence.

The 7.7 declaration suggested ways for the global community to cooperate in dealing with urgent tasks facing the two Koreas ?? such as mutual exchanges, opening, cooperation and, in particular, cross-recognition ?? based on the principles of autonomy, peace, democracy and common well-being.

It directly led to a concerted effort to devise new reunification measures. Ruling and opposition parties in the National Assembly gauged public opinion through a special committee on reunification and unveiled the “Korean National Community Unification Formula” in September 1989.

It was a blueprint that reflected concerted efforts by the South and North to build a national community of 70 million Koreans in a wide array of fields including economy, society and culture.

Soon after, the “Basic Agreement between South and North Korea” was adopted at the end of 1991. Both nations have agreed on the “Joint Declaration of South and North Korea on the Denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.”

The international community, as well as the Korean people, had great expectations for peace on the peninsula.

The South-North Korean relationship was initiated with these positive signs, which showed an ability to better cope with changes in world history at the end of the Cold War in early the 1990s.

The saga of the South-North Korean relationship and building the national community went back into a dark period of tension and distrust in the two years that followed. How should we assess and understand the current situation? It is unnecessary to clarify where the responsibility lies.

However, we have no choice but to feel unsatisfied about two unfortunate choices made by North Korea. First, it desperately avoided testing the market economy and opening policy, unlike China and Vietnam.

Second, the North decided to develop and possess nuclear weapons as the most effective means of guaranteeing its security. Therefore, the Korean Peninsula remains an exception in world history.

A series of more recent North Korean decisions, including the destruction of the Yongbyon cooling tower, have led us to have growing expectations about turning the clock back 20 years. We also have new hope with the resumption of the six-party talks.

For a bright future for a Korean people who wish to take a place at the center of world history, it would be best if the North decides to open and denuclearize. If the North succeeds in diplomatic normalization with the United States through its efforts, it can be regarded as a realization of the cross-recognition that should have been achieved 20 years ago.

However, we should be well aware of the fact that the basis for the South Korean reunification policy has remained unchanged over the past two decades. We should try to maintain our resolve and carry on a national consensus about the South-North relationship.

As already mentioned, the Korean National Community Unification Formula was based on a far-reaching national consensus, and the Basic Agreement and the Joint Declaration on the Denuclearization were solemn pledges for the Korean people as a whole.

The Sunshine Policy was aimed at inducing the North to become more flexible, and to secure basic rights for the 70 million Koreans, guarantee welfare conditions and achieve the goal of reunification. There were controversies surrounding the details of the way in which the past administrations have agreed with the North.

People reached a consensus regarding goals and methods in building a mutually beneficial cooperation system through the North’s efforts to open up and denuclearize.

If there were some cases in the past where people seemed split on some specific issues, it would be because conflicts between political ideologies or interests contaminated the forum of sane debate.

Except for the extremes of the left and right, a majority of people have maintained their firm resolve on the policy and direction of reunification. We have reached a silent consensus that the members of the Korean community will help each other in the face of fierce difficulty.

There is no need for the new administration to devise a new reunification policy.

Rather, even though it is belated, it is our sincere hope that the policy makers will concentrate their efforts on drawing up action plans to implement the Sunshine Policy, the Basic Agreement between South and North Korea and the Joint Declaration on Denuclearization in a calm manner that will help us build a national community.

*The writer, a former prime minister, is an adviser to the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Lee Hong-koo
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