The reunification jackpotWe are often mistakenly told that Willy Brandt’s Ostpolitik brought about German reunification. Although it was an important turning point in the process, German reunification was a long journey from the 1949 establishment of West Germany to the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. The Constitution of West Germany, initiated by Chancellor Konrad Adenauer, was called “Grundgesetz,” or basic law, instead of “Verfassung,” which stands for Constitution in English, in order to avoid giving the impression that the German separation would be permanent. None of the five succeeding chancellors deviated from such a vision of reunification. If it were compared to a relay race, all the runners would have run in the same lane of the track.
West Germany steadily established a foundation for reunification “from below.” Since the 1970s, the government of West Germany continued to encourage civilian and student exchanges with East Germany. It never gave up, although East Germany’s initial response was cold. East Germany eventually responded with more enthusiasm and 5,000 students from West Germany and 1,250 students from East Germany visited each other in 1982. During the student exchanges, they became to understand each other through homestay programs. In 1983, East Germany stopped the student exchanges because it felt a sense of crisis. The program, however, resumed two years later and continued until the day of reunification. At the same time, more than 50 cities in West and East Germany formed sister city relationships until 1988, and local autonomous governments of West Germany provided substantial support to the residents of their East German sister cities. The tight network of the civic societies was called “capillaries” after the vessels that deliver blood to every centimeter of the human body.
The reunification of the two Koreas suddenly became a hot topic starting this year, with the discussions focused on the appropriateness of Korean reunification. The discussions highlight that reunification is a must and a great thing, and it will eventually prove to be a jackpot for the Korean economy. Without discussing the tough process ahead on the difficult path to reunification, some people merely express enthusiasm in the rosy future that will befall a unified Korea. Our reunification will unify the two Koreas under a liberal democracy and market economy. North Korea, however, still promotes unification under Communism. If that is not possible, it wants the status quo of national division. The North’s nuclear weapons program is also a kind of survival strategy to protect its regime’s security. That is why there is a long way to go for the two Koreas to agree on reunification. The greatest weakness of the current discussions in the South is that they are simply praising reunification without talking about which kind of reunification we need or are likely to get.
At the beginning of this year, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un issued a rare New Year’s address and proposed improvements in inter-Korean relations. President Park Geun-hye, in a practical response to Kim’s proposals, declared that the South will reinforce civilian assistance and exchanges with the North to establish a foundation for reunification. Park also reaffirmed that she is willing to meet with Kim anytime if necessary. Park’s remarks were far more promising than the Unification Ministry’s unproductive commentary on Kim’s address. The ministry was supposed to present new North Korea policy ideas, but instead it analyzed Kim’s speech by presenting every single precedent in which the North had proposed talks and then staged a provocation and violated its previous promises. The Unification Ministry is not a government body whose sole task is to analyze and interpret North Korean affairs. It has to push for the future as well.
Kim’s New Year address was also a gesture to China that Pyongyang was trying to reconcile with Seoul. The idea of Nam Jae-joon, South Korea’s National Intelligence Service director, that unification will be based on the North’s collapse or the argument to actively pursue change in the North to achieve reunification could trigger the North to stage a provocation or an attack. The execution of Jang Song-thaek confirmed that the fearless young North Korean leader is fully capable of staging an armed provocation against the South if he thinks it is necessary. Some experts say the North’s military is now leading its South Korea policy after the purge of Jang’s associates, who were known as moderates seeking economic development. If their observations are true, the possibility of an attack by the North is higher than ever.
President Park said the government will provide substantial support to the livestock and agricultural industries in the North, and that could be the starting point of the Korean version of West Germany’s “capillary” programs. Such exchanges from below will be the most certain way toward reunification. When the two Koreans open a path for training and helping North Koreans in the agriculture, livestock and light industries and narrow down the distance between the two Koreas through youth, student and sports exchanges, meaningful reconciliation and cooperative efforts for reunification will build even when bilateral ties are rocky or an actual crisis takes place. There is no reason for Seoul to hesitate to act more proactively by lifting the May 24 sanctions and resuming tours to Mount Kumgang with the precondition of strong security. Inter-Korean ties always have ebbs and flows. Only after going through the process can we can talk about a jackpot from reunification.