[Viewpoint]A unified policy for reunification

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[Viewpoint]A unified policy for reunification


North Korea warned that it will shut down the tour programs to Kaesong starting Dec. 1 and cut off operation of Gyeongui railroad, the symbol of the two Koreas’ railway connection project. The North also said it will suspend all inter-Korean commercial exchanges and cooperative programs with civic groups. The Kaesong Industrial Complex was an exception, the North said, because it wanted to treat small companies specially. The Mount Kumgang and Kaesong tour programs, the symbol of the inter-Korean economic cooperation of the past decade, have vanished, and the two Koreas’ relationship is frozen.

The lack of true dialogue in inter-Korean relations prompted the current catastrophe. The Lee Myung-bak administration repeatedly said it intended to discuss the implementation of June 15, 2000 and Oct. 4, 2007 agreements and urged the North to sit down for discussions. Pyongyang, however, persisted that Seoul had to implement the 2007 agreement immediately.

The problem is nothing new, but it is clear that the inter-Korean issues and unification can never be resolved with either a strict conservative or progressive view. Ideologically imbalanced views cannot resolve the conflict that stems from 60 years of national division.

Simply put: It is hard finding ways to harmonize Koreans and unify the two Koreas. From now on, both Koreas must approach pending issues with open minds.

First, the two Koreas’ governments must have frank talks. Instead of merely urging the North to sit down for negotiations, it is more realistic to specify the date, location and the negotiator. A senior-level special enjoy should be selected to deliver specific messages.

Some may say that such actions will allow the North to control the South, but we must try our best to convey to the North our sincerity and seriousness in improving inter-Korean relations. Only then may Pyongyang budge.

All agenda items - including the larger framework of the inter-Korean relations, each side’s positions over the 2000 and 2007 agreements, the Lee administration’s North Korea policy, the Mount Kumgang tour project, the Kaesong Industrial Complex and humanitarian issues - must be on the table and the two Koreas must have comprehensive discussions to narrow down their differences.

If necessary, the two Koreas can adjust their positions in unofficial meetings and create a new Oct. 4, 2007-like declaration.

Most of all, the Kaesong Industrial Complex must be saved. It is a treasure that the two Koreas must carefully value. The four-year-old industrial park is not just any industrial manufacturing complex. It is a place where North Koreans and South Koreans work and live together for at least eight hours a day. It was a place where the two Koreas began to understand each other.

The South’s advanced technologies were provided to the North, reducing a gap between the two countries. The Kaesong Industrial Complex is performing the role of saving expenses for unification and creating the stepping stone for eventual national reconciliation. It is living proof of the possibility of Korean reunification.

If the Kaesong Industrial Complex is shuttered, tensions on the inter-Korean border will rapidly intensify, and South Korea will suffer from destabilizing the country’s economy and international reputation due to the “Korea discount.”

The North will also be harmed. It will have difficulty attracting foreign investments and its trade will decline. It will be virtually impossible to rebuild a special economic zone. The North was recently removed from the U.S. terrorism blacklist, but its rare opportunity to join the international community will evaporate with Kaesong.

It never benefits any of the two Koreas to repeatedly cut off their ties and then restore them.

It is important for the South Koreans to understand and reach a consensus on the future of a unified Korea. Conservatives, middle-of-the-roaders and progressives should blend their views and develop a long-term strategy for the Korean Peninsula’s future, including a detailed step-by-step action plan.

National unification cannot be achieved by an administration. It must be pushed forward as a nation.

The Berlin Wall did not come down suddenly. After the World War II defeat, West German administrations maintained a consistent policy of exchange and cooperation for over 40 years and provided unreserved support for East Germany’s democratization.

We must never forget that.

*The writer is the first chairman of the Kaesong Industrial District Management Committee, who served the position from 2004 to 2007. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.

by Kim Dong-keun
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