A starting point for unification

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A starting point for unification

The biggest outcome from the JoongAng Ilbo’s Peace Odyssey 2015 was that I have confirmed the future vision of reunification that we must pursue. It is a task I have been studying for a while, with just a vague answer. But during my six-day journey, I was fortunate enough to accompany Korea’s most acclaimed intellectuals and see the route in person.

The reunification many people dream of only exists on a map. The Koreas are reunited and their people integrated to form a single country. However, this is a conventional concept of reunification, going back to the times before the division. It may be too harsh to say that it is merely a physical reunification, more of a still-life picture.

Of course, there is no doubt that the peaceful reunification we pursue is the completion of the Korean nation. However, that’s not enough.

History has already passed the age of closed nationalism and sailed through the age of a mutually dependent complex network. Our way of unification should be a “network unification,” beyond the completion of a Korean nation, connecting extensive political, economic and social bases. We can write a new history on overcoming seven decades of division and reaffirming the true meaning of independence once we utilize a mutually dependent network founded on open nationalism and expand the economic domain of a unified Korea.

We witnessed construction in China’s northeastern region as we traveled 1,400 kilometers (870 miles) over our Peace Odyssey route. The Duman River, which starts at Mount Baekdu and runs over 490 kilometers, stops in Fangchuan, 15 kilometers away from the East Sea. Because this sea route is blocked, China chose a detour. The first phase of this strategy is to construct a highway connecting Hunchun, Changchun, Yanji and Tumen to advance toward Rajin and Sonbong. It is the Eastern part of Xi Jinping’s One Belt One Road project, as the Silk Road is being promoted in the West. Once China completes the One Belt One Road vision, it will spread its wings and fly over Korea’s head.

Russia is also working on a triangular network, expanding the small triangle of Ptichye, Naseon and Hunchun to a bigger triangular network including Vladivostok, Jilin and Cheongjin. If this triangle is expanded further, it will encompass Russia’s Primorsky Krai and China’s three northeastern provinces. Excluding China and Russia, it would be the biggest economic cooperative arena in Eurasia.

Korea must pay special attention to the possibility that Russian President Vladimir Putin may reveal a plan for the new world in the East Russia Economic Forum in early September. Where Xi Jinping’s vision of Great China and Putin’s revival of Russia in the East meet is the very center of the network of unification Korea should pursue.

Fangchuan is where the Duman River ends in the easternmost village of China, where a Chinese sign stands: “One eye can see three countries.”

When I first came here 15 years ago, it was a military area covered in weeds, but now it has been reclaimed as a tourist site. However, the old railway bridge between North Korea and Russia barely connects Khasan and Naseon. A train from Naseon, North Korea, would cross the bridge into Khasan and Vladivostok and become a part of the Trans-Siberian Railway into the heart of Europe.

The longest railway in the world, 14,400 kilometers from Seoul to Berlin, will mark the end of the Cold War and the beginning of Korea’s grand journey to a network of unification. Once the severed 25.3-kilometer section on the Gyeongwon Line from Cheolwon, in the South, to Pyeonggang in the North is restored, the Korean Peninsula railway will be connected to the Trans-Siberian Railway.

Korea needs to prepare for a unified Korea, opening a new era of economic cooperation with neighboring countries as the railway starts from Busan and Mokpo, South Korea, through Sinuiju and Wonsan and into the vast space of China’s northeastern region and Russia’s Primorsky Krai. It will put an end to Korea’s constant struggle to overcome the physical limitation of existing within the continent but being unable to connect to the continent, and begin a new history of a peaceful, unified Korea.

Translation by the Korea JoongAng Daily staff

JoongAng Ilbo, Aug. 4, Page 29

*The author, a former ambassador to China, is the civilian vice chairman of the Unification Preparatory Committee and a professor at Seoul National University.

by Chung Chong-wook

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