Narrowing Economic Gap Key to Reunification

Korea Times
Jung Sung-ki

Former Unification Minister Park Jae-kyu said reducing economic inequality between the two Koreas is the foremost task to achieve reunification of the two Koreas.

In an exclusive interview with The Korea Times in Seoul on Sept. 6, the former point man on North Korean affairs reiterated the importance for closer cross-border economic ties, which he said would make the North open to the outside world and eventually help achieve reunification.

Park, however, said a “unilateral give-away”policy centered on huge inter-Korean business projects should be refrained from and any economic assistance for North Korea should contribute to opening up the communist neighbor, as well as proceed in tandem with progress in six-party talks over the North’s nuclear program.

He also said big-budget programs for the North, a so-called “Marshall Plan,” touted by some of President Roh Moo-hyun’s aides, is premature and not feasible.

“But a proposal for a second industrial complex on the Gaeseong model may be within the realm of feasibility,” he said. “Even though few people expect the Roh government to make any covert cash payments to the North either before or after the second inter-Korean summit, the possibility that a huge economic cooperation project may be unveiled cannot be ruled out.”

Lee Hae-chan, who served prime minister and as Roh’s political adviser, said last month that President Roh would propose several joint economic projects to North Korean leader Kim Jong-il at the Oct. 2-4 summit in Pyongyang.

He cited plans to build industrial parks in the North’s port city of Nampo and other cities, modeled after the Gaeseong industrial park, as well as invest in the North’s public infrastructure projects, including the renovation of the 170-kilometer Pyongyang-Gaeseong highway.

Launching South Korean-backed tourism projects in the North’s scenic mountains modeled on the Mount Geumgang program is also considered, said Lee, a presidential hopeful of the pro-government United New Democratic Party.

Roadmap for Korean Unification

Park referred to the German reunification process as a case in point from which South Korea should take a cue for the reunification of the peninsula.

“Since March 1970, East and West Germany had held a total of nine summit talks for about 20 years before they achieved the goal of reunification,” said Park, president of Kyungnam University.

“Through the summits spanning two decades, West Germany focused on exchanges and economic cooperation with East Germany,”he said. “In return, the West demanded of the East offsets like the opening of news media and exchanged visits by separated families. Such efforts bore fruit and paved the way for eventual reunification.”

West Germany provided East Germany with $2 billion-worth economic support annually before the reunification. Even after reunification, however, a disparity in economic strength between the sides has caused many social problems in Germany, he said.

“When the two sides were reunified, a gap in economic powers between West and East Germany was a three-to-one level. The West continued to offer $150 billion worth support to the East annually for 16 years after the reunification,” he said. “Still, Germany sees a jobless rate between 15 and 20 percent and has various social problems.”

The German reunification model should serve as an important lesson for South Korea to not try to achieve Korean reunification in a hasty manner without proper preparations, said Park, who served as unification minister between 1999 and 2001 under former President Kim Dae-jung.

“I expect inter-Korean reunification will be achieved 20 to 30 years from now under the condition that a gap in economic capabilities between the South and North is to be narrowed to a five-to-one level,” he said.

“But we should not forget we are still in theearly stage of inter-Korean cooperation. It, therefore, behooves us not to make haste, although envisioning and conducting in-depth research on various ways of attaining unification should not be discouraged,”he said. “If the two Koreas are to be reunified suddenly without preparation, the unified Korea will face severer social problems and conflicts than experienced by Germany.”

Park said the idea of establishing an inter-Korean federation or confederation on the heels of the Joint Declaration issued at the end of the historic 2000 summit is premature at the moment.

The former unification minister added setting the stage for institutionalizing the inter-Korean summit should be a small but most important goal for the upcoming Roh-Kim summit.

“In Germany’s case, the institutionalization of the summit had contributed significantly to exchanges and economic cooperation between East and West Germany, laying the groundwork for tearing down the Berlin Wall,” he said. “The same is the case with Korea. Institutionalizing the inter-Korean summit is a key step toward the reunification.”

POWs, Abduction Issues

Besides issues of the North’s nuclear program and peaceful reunification, PresidentRoh should put high priority on the issue of South Korean abductees and prisoners of war (POWs) in the planned talks with Kim Jong-il, Park said.

“I cautiously anticipated that Kim will make a bold decision on the topic in exchange for Roh’s possible offer for social overhead capital investment in North Korea,” Park said, referring to the meeting between Kim Jong-il and then Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi in 2002.

In the summit in September 2002, Kim apologized to Koizumi for the kidnapping of Japanese nationals in return for normalizing ties with Japan. After Koizumi’s second visit to Pyongyang in 2004, the North allowed five victims to return to Japan. Japan calls on the North to allow the other victims to return home.

“It is of utmost importance that Roh broach the topic in a conciliatory way, summoning all of his diplomatic skills, love for compatriots, and humanistic instincts,” Park said. “He should find a way of accentuating the benefits that would accrue to the North should it display a constructive attitude.”

“Chairman Kim may be the only person who can spring a surprise that may spawn unexpected consequences, both positive and negative,”he continued. “`Let us hope that the surprise that will emanate from the upcoming inter-Korean summit will be of a positive variety.”

The Seoul government has been reluctant to take up the kidnapping issue not to harm relations with North Korea, especially since the Kim Dae-jung administration that advocated engagement policies toward the North.

NLL Controversy

As for a controversy over a redrawing of the Northern Limit Line (NLL) in the West Sea, Park said it is not desirable for the issue to be included in the summit agenda.

“Given its controversial nature in politicaland military terms, especially in the context of presidential elections in the South, I believe that it will be prudent to leave the NLL issue for future discussion in inter-Korean military talks,”he said. “But the North is certain to raise it, hence the South should be well prepared to defend its long-standing position on the issue.”

Park said Defense Minister Kim Jang-soo’s planned visit to Pyongyang with Roh would be a good opportunity to help ease tensions between the two militaries.

“Whether it would be an open or closed meeting, if Kim is able to have talks with the North Korean defense chief, that will be meaningful,”he said. “And if the two defense chiefs set a schedule for the second defense ministerial talks, that would be great.”

Kim will be the first South Korean defense minister to visit the North in the 54 years since the armistice was signed at the end of the 1950-53 Korean War. The defense ministers from the two Koreas met in September 2000 following the first summit.

Drawn by the U.S.-led United Nations Command (UNC) at the end of the 1950-53 Korean War, the NLL has served as the de facto maritime boundary between the two Koreas. But the North has refused to recognize the line and insisted it be nullified and redrawn.

Seoul maintains a firm stance that the NLL cannot be a matter of discussion, which it sees as a territorial concession.

The 1992 Basic Agreement stated inter-Korean inviolable borderlines and boundaries are recognized as in the armistice signedat the end of the Korean War. But the agreement added the two Koreas could discuss the matter later.

The NLL has emerged as a hot potato ahead of the summit as some government officials expressed support for discussing the matter at the summit, citing the 1992 agreement.

Presidential Chief of Staff Moon Jae-in told a National Assembly session last week if the North offers to discuss the issue, the South would accept it.

Unification Minister Lee Jae-joung said last month that he believes the NLL isnot a territorial concept open to future discussions. He also said the inter-Korean naval clash in 2002 was caused by Seoul’s refusal to negotiate the NLL.

Park expected that unless the North gives up its “military-first” policy, progress in military confidence building between the South and North would take time, and it is likely to follow the escalation of economic cooperation and the building of a peace structure on the peninsula.


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