Starting with small steps

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Starting with small steps

The Presidential Committee for Unification Preparation, commissioned to act as an architect for the peaceful reunion of the two Koreas, held its first meeting on Thursday. The 50-member committee, chaired by President Park Geun-hye, is comprised of 30 experts from the civilian sector with the rest coming from relevant committees of the National Assembly, government offices and state research institutes.

In the opening address, Park asked the committee to incorporate public wishes and design a clear and smart road map for unification. Chung Chong-wook, the former ambassador to China and the vice chair of the civilian group, proposed that the committee’s first task should be to draw up a “charter for unification,” a lasting and all-encompassing guideline on national unity.

There is some skepticism about the timing of unification discussions. Inter-Korean relations remain as cold as ice and geopolitical uncertainties have never been so high. North Korea has been strongly critical of Park’s overtures on unification, claiming that she has ambitions to forcibly absorb the North into the South through her “unification as a jackpot” comments and the Dresden initiative. The president has repeatedly clarified that Seoul recognizes Pyongyang as a partner in dialogue and wishes to expand cooperation and exchange to build trust and work toward lasting peace on the Korean Peninsula.

Unification cannot be achieved by one side only. Seoul proposes to help Pyongyang improve ordinary people’s lives by sharing its technology, expertise and funds to advance various infrastructure projects. However, it will be an empty slogan if North Korea refuses. The two Koreas must first talk to each other and gradually increase exchanges. When followed up with action, Seoul’s genuine intentions will be accepted.

Some of the committee members suggested that Seoul should lift economic and trade sanctions on North Korea, which were put into place after its attack on the Cheonan warship in 2010. Building the foundations for peaceful reunification will be impossible if the sanctions remain intact. Pyongyang has suggested it could reconsider sending athletes and a cheerleading squad to the Asian Games in Incheon next month. Germany accomplished a reunification not through words but consistent trust-building and exchanges. Seoul must also be patient, consistent and bold, starting with small yet meaningful steps.

JoongAng Ilbo, Aug. 9, Page 26

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