[Viewpoint] Bracing for unification

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[Viewpoint] Bracing for unification

On the night of Dec. 21, I looked up from my year-end workload and gazed out the office window. The moon - which was full the other night - was strangely disfigured. I suddenly remembered the news that a total lunar eclipse would be taking place. A lunar eclipse - which takes place when the sun, earth and moon are all perfectly aligned - has a mystical allure that triggers childlike enthusiasm and awe.

But at the same time it is a scientifically explainable phenomenon that no longer sparks argument. Strangely, in our society, we waste emotion and energy on perfectly explainable ideas. One of the hot topics is unification.

Lee Myung-bak, as a candidate running for the Grand National Party in the early stages of his campaign, met with foreign correspondents in Seoul. In a rare meeting between an opposition camp presidential candidate and foreign reporters - conducted in English - Lee spoke about his platform of unification and foreign policy. It included his so-called “denuclearization, openness, 3000” plan, which demanded that North Korea completely dismantle its nuclear facility. In return, South Korea would provide extensive financial support to ensure North Korea’s per capita income rose to $3,000 within a decade. He announced plans to forge a new Korean Peninsula, including a pact to form an inter-Korean economic community in September 2007, ahead of the second inter-Korean summit.

The Blue House issued a statement criticizing the policy of the opposition candidate, saying it threw cold water on the upcoming meeting between President Roh Moo-hyun and North Korean leader Kim Jong-il. The criticism was that Lee’s proposal was on par with the agenda for the summit between the two leaders.

But that should not be considered so bizarre. In essence, President Kim Dae-jung’s Sunshine Policy, President Roh Moo-hyun’s policy on Peace and Prosperity, and the incumbent government’s “denuclearization, openness, 3000” proposal all come from the same root of the Agreement on Non-aggression, Exchanges and Cooperation (Basic Agreement) and the Korea National Community Unification Formula outlined by President Roh Tae-woo.

The original outline of Kim Dae-jung’s prized Sunshine Policy and efforts toward unification, which was followed by Roh Moo-hyun’s, sprouted from the ideas of an the authoritarian government that preceded his. To be precise, South Korea has been more or less consistent in its approach on North Korea over the last two decades. In return, we received nuclear threats and numerous military provocations that recently included the deaths of 46 sailors from a torpedo attack, and civilian deaths from the shelling of Yeonpyeong Island.

Even under the indulgent policies of the Kim and Roh administrations, North Korea repaid us in deadly skirmishes near the maritime border and submarine invasions.

If North Korea vowed to forsake nuclear weapons and instead opened up, the Lee Myung-bak administration would have responded with extensive assistance to rebuild its economy, education system, infrastructure, and welfare, together with the international community. A per capita income of $3,000 could give each household a refrigerator, television set or even a car.

But the Pyongyang regime turned all that down by shutting the doors to the outside world in order to cling to its nuclear weapons program. But there is a limit to which a state can guard against world currents and changes. The world is quickly evolving, especially in the areas of information and communications. North Korean residents are no longer restricted to a hermit kingdom.

The collapse of East Germany and the former Soviet Union is a testament to how perilous severe economic hardship can be on the viability of a government. Unification by absorbing North Korea and a joint community is the unrealistic talk of dreamers.

North Korea does not have a future as long as it holds fast to its nukes. We instead must brace ourselves for a sudden tsunami from the northern side of the border. We must make progress in setting aside financial reserves whether they are in the form of taxes or a public fund.

On the day of lunar eclipse, the giant Christmas tree on Aegibong Peak near the demilitarized zone was lit for the first time in seven years. But lighting up the heavily fortified border does not bring unification. We must stop romanticizing and fantasizing about unification.

The Basic Agreement is in jeopardy due to North Korea’s deviations. Instead of following previous policies, the government should forge an entirely new route to the future by preparing for inevitable unification.

*The writer is the chairman of the Presidential Council for Future & Vision.

By Kwak Seung-jun
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