Reunification an end to OdysseyTo me, Dandong is the east. The Chinese city near North Korea’s Sinuiju is where the sun rises, where I place my heart for North Korea.
When I first visited Dandong, I interviewed a North Korean with Chinese nationality and treated him to dinner. He had starved for so long he couldn’t really enjoy the feast. I hoped I could offer a meal to North Koreans someday.
In June 2015, I returned to Dandong as a member of the Peace Odyssey team. From the window of the high-rise hotel, I looked over to the North Korean side, and my heart was aching to think about the people suffering from hunger and tyranny for decades. I could see a few new buildings in Sinuiju and prayed the quality of life for the North Koreans had improved just as the city developed.
Korea’s modern history is dotted with painful chapters about Japanese colonization, World War II and the Korean War. In the devastating situation, Koreans worked diligently, fought for independence, built schools and educated the young generation to found the Republic of Korea. Tenacity, loyalty and dignity are traits of the Korean people. We turned tears into joy.
“I’ve lived quite well,” cried Deoksu, and his tears are full of sorrow, yearning and gratification. Koreans overcame sorrow and suffering and accomplished the fastest industrialization in the world. We also fought against military dictatorship with sacrifice and yearning for freedom and attained democracy.
Korea has a history of success, but we can only celebrate half the joy. While Koreans fought off foreign invasion and went through Japanese colonization, the country was divided into two and went on a war against each other, and the peninsula is still in a confrontational state with no permanent peace. Reunification is the way to prevent further sacrifices of the sons of Korea in the Yeonpyeong naval clash and Cheonan sinking. Let’s normalize the abnormal situation of 1.6 million men who died in the military.
We need to pursue reunification through peace, and we can find recovery, restoration and prosperity. I dream of Korean people becoming one and advocate the value of peace. We hope to become a country with the highest civilization that respects humanity, cares for others and opens up to the world. But such a civilization cannot be achieved as a half. When we still have to hold up arms and fight, security is a matter of survival.
A new axis of the Korean Peninsula’s prosperity is in the North. From the 1960s to 1980s, the Korean economy was centered in the South. Busan and Gumi were the bases for exports to Japan and the United States. As China emerged in the 1980s, a western axis was developed. But the markets developed using the southern and western axis are already saturated. North is the only remaining engine for prosperity. If South and North Korea can integrate a market economy peacefully, the North Korean economy will grow by 13 percent annually. With the economic integration encompassing three northeastern provinces of China and Primorsky Krai with South and North Korea, the South Korean economy can grow by an additional 1 percent a year.
What we need is the courage and passion for peace, and the first step can begin with consoling the separated families and those who left their hometowns. Just as President Park Chung Hee cried holding the hands of miners and nurses sent to Germany, President Park Geun-hye needs to hold the hands of separated families and promise reunions, and she must work to arrange meetings with lost families in the North as soon as possible.
Mount Kumgang tourism can resume for the separated families. When the people who left their hometowns on the other side can visit, we can discuss Mount Baekdu tourism. This is about value
and human rights, not politics and
South Korea needs to embrace North Korean defectors and seek the best way to help them settle in the South. Let’s embrace them with our hearts. While we cannot offer immediate help, we need to be caring and sharing, feeling empathetic to their pains and offering a share of our prosperity.
Let’s resolve the past of “Ode to My Father” and the present of the Yeonpyeong clash with the future of reunification. Reunification is the way to lead North Koreans suffering in the North into recovery and healing. It is the way to present the sons and daughters of the Korean Peninsula with rewarding jobs and pride. Let’s go to North Korea and bring peace. Let’s spread mutual success and seek ways to prosperity. Our contribution to peace and reunification will determine the value of our lives. Peace and reunification is the final destination of our Odyssey.
Translation by the Korea JoongAng Daily staff
*The author is an economics professor at Seoul National University.
by Kim Byung-yeon