President Park Geun-hye’s Korean peninsula unification strategy
SELÇUK ÇOLAKOĞLUIn the beginning of the Cold War, the Korean peninsula was divided into two parts to be administered by respective socialist and capitalist regimes, just as was the case in Germany and Vietnam. These divisions had no legitimate basis and were instead entirely the products of Cold War ideological polarization. There were no ethnic, religious or cultural differences that would prompt such a division between North and South Korea; the same was also true for North and South Vietnam and East and West Germany. It is unacceptable on both political and humanitarian grounds that a nation be divided as a result of supranational ideological warfare, much less that such an arrangement be promoted if not actively implemented by external states.
Indeed, after an extensive war, Vietnam was united as socialist North Vietnam annexed capitalist South Vietnam in 1974. And Germany, in concert with the end of the Cold War, saw peaceful reunification in 1990 after capitalist West Germany absorbed socialist East Germany. However, Korea, which was divided into two parts just like Vietnam and Germany, still remains separated.
Nonetheless, since 1988 Seoul has made numerous attempts at rapprochement with North Korea, including the development of strategies that seek to promote collaboration and unification. However, so far Seoul’s every attempt has been debilitated by Pyongyang. The main reason for North Korea’s unwillingness to unify, or even pursue political rapprochement, with South Korea is seen its aversion to being annexed.
President Park’s Dresden Declaration and the new unification model
Despite these bleak circumstances, South Korea has launched a new initiative to show that it is not giving up on the unification of Korea. In this regard, South Korean President Park Geun-hye unveiled her own unification model in a speech in the former East German city of Dresden in March 2014. This model, now known as the Dresden Declaration, prioritizes three main fields of collaboration that will lay the groundwork for reunification.
The first feature of the model is “humanity” and it prioritizes family reunification. For more than 70 years it was impossible to bring the families that were separated by the war and subsequent territorial division back together; it has only been since 2000 that a limited number of family members living on opposite sides of the border were able to meet, albeit for only a few days.
The second element of the model is “co-prosperity,” which can be achieved through the development of inter-Korean infrastructure projects and improvements to be made to the livelihoods of all people in Korea. In this regard, it is proposed that cooperation increase between the North and South with respect to multi-farming agricultural and livestock complexes and in the field of forestry management.
The third element of the vision emphasizes “integration” of the people of North and South Korea. The prominent point here is to redress the overwhelming absence of people-to-people contact among those living on opposite sides of the border.
North Korea’s response
The statement of North Korea’s National Security Council in April 2014 rejected President Park’s unification proposal, pointing out that these issues are of secondary importance in inter-Korean affairs.
Pyongyang’s principal response to the model declared that such a vision was indicative of South Korea’s desire to annex North Korea rather than to unify with it. Again, it deserves mention that one of the reasons for such a reaction by Pyongyang stems from the fact that President Park revealed this proposal in an East German city that was annexed by West Germany. Meanwhile, that North Korea didn’t completely close the door to dialogue with South Korea can be interpreted as a positive sign for the future. In any event, no one expects a sudden unification on the Korean peninsula, whether today or tomorrow.
Overall, with her concrete proposals, President Park has moved Korean unification onto the global agenda once again, showing the international community that Seoul will not accept division as the definitive status on the Korean peninsula and that the desire for and commitment to unification will continue. This case has indicated that Seoul is attempting to be an active and decisive player in every aspect of Korean unification, from family reunification, to the spreading of wealth throughout the entirety of the Korean peninsula.