Is a unified Korea possible?


Ji-Young Lee, American University School of International Service

North and South Korean athletes will march under one flag during the opening ceremony of the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics in South Korea.

The “Korean Unification Flag” is both a highly symbolic marker of reconciliation and a reminder of a divided Korea, a condition that has lasted since 1945.

As a scholar of East Asian international relations, I’m fascinated by the question of reunification that has been a mainstay of reconciliation and dialogue between North and South Korea. Unfortunately, history suggests such efforts to reunite the peninsula as a single country often don’t go far.

What Koreans think

Most South Koreans are not optimistic about reunification. According to a 2017 Unification Perception Survey conducted by Seoul National University’s Institute for Peace and Unification Studies, 24.7 percent of South Koreans don’t think that unification is possible. Only 2.3 percent of South Korean respondents believe that unification is possible “within 5 years,” while 13.6 percent responded “within 10 years.”

However, the same survey indicates that 53.8 percent of South Koreans believe that reunification is necessary.

Beyond that, however, there is little consensus as to what kind of country a unified Korea should be. Nearly half of South Korean respondents want to keep South Korea’s democratic political system, while 37.7 percent support some form of hybrid, a compromise between the South and North Korean systems. Still, 13.5 percent of South Koreans answered that they prefer the continued existence of two systems within one country.

Three strikes

The first time North and South Korea held talks since the 1950-53 Korean War was in 1971. They agreed on basic principles of the reunification. According to the July 4 South-North Joint Communique, reunification should be achieved through 1) independent efforts of the two Koreas, 2) peaceful means, and 3) the promotion of national unity transcending differences in ideologies and systems.

Despite its significance for later agreements, this détente soon collapsed due to the leaders’ lack of genuine intention to follow through. North Korea viewed the inter-Korean dialogue as a way to wean South Korea away from the U.S. and Japan. South Korean leader Park Chung-Hee saw it as a useful tool for consolidating his authoritarian rule.

In the late 1980s, tides shifted as the Cold War broke down and inter-Korean reconciliation once again seemed possible. The 1988 Seoul Olympics spurred South Korea to pursue improved relations with communist countries to ensure their participation. The Olympics hosted a record number of countries from both blocs of the Cold War, including the Soviet Union and China. This, even in the face of North Korea’s attempt to throw the games off by bombing a South Korean airliner killing 115 people in 1987. With the help of South Korea’s rising international status and active diplomacy toward normalizing relations with the Soviet Union and China, Pyongyang agreed to talks with Seoul.

By 1991, North and South Koreans had once again come around to the idea of reconciliation and signed the Basic Agreement. In it, Koreans defined their relationship not as two separate states, but rather one going through a “special interim” – a process toward ultimate reunification. In 1992, they produced the Joint Declaration of the Denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. However, by the end of 1992, inter-Korean relations grew seriously strained. North Korea refused to accept inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency and objected to the resumption of a U.S.-South Korea joint military exercise.

Another milestone took place in 2000. North and South Korea held the first summit that amounted to the most substantial and frequent engagement between the two Koreas yet. South Korean President Kim Dae-Jung and his successor Roh Moo-Hyun’s Sunshine Policy meant to provide for a gradual change of North Korea toward the reunification through inter-Korean cooperation on humanitarian, economic, political, social and cultural issues. But in the face of Pyongyang’s continued provocations and nuclear development program, this type of engagement-oriented policy had serious limits. Over time, it became less and less popular with the public.

The conservative governments that followed upheld the goal of the reunification, but made inter-Korean reconciliation conditional upon Pyongyang’s behavior. North Korea’s nuclear and missile tests, and provocations like a torpedo attack on a South Korean navy ship and the shelling of a South Korean island, backpedaled much of the progress made during the 2000 summit.

After three major attempts and failures, is reunification feasible in 2018?

What these past talks show is that reconciliation has not been sustainable without the tangible progress in eliminating North Korea’s nuclear capabilities.

At the same time, the current South Korean President Moon Jae-In is more open to departing from the more conservative approach and pursuing engagement without such assurances. This may be a game changer. Without a doubt, he is much more proactive about creating opportunities for inter-Korean reconciliation.

The ConversationPresident Moon faces the same harsh realities as his predecessors. With Pyongyang’s increased threat, the South Korean government will have to work more closely with other countries currently implementing sanctions against Pyongyang. If Seoul works out a deal for inter-Korean exchanges and joint projects and North Korea continues to engage in a provocation, skeptical South Koreans will not likely support the government’s engagement policy.

Ji-Young Lee, Assistant Professor, American University School of International Service

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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VIETNAM: AUTHORITIES BULLDOZE HISTORIC BUILDING IN LAND DISPUTE


Promise of negotiated settlement fades; Catholic leaders threatened with legal action.

HANOI, September 26 (Compass Direct News) – Authorities in Hanoi have responded to months of Catholic prayer vigils and demonstrations over disputed land by destroying the one-time residence of the papal nuncio in central Hanoi.

In suddenly bulldozing the land that once served as the Vatican embassy and residence near St. Joseph’s Cathedral last Friday (Sept. 19), the government broke its promise to Catholic leaders in February to negotiate a settlement concerning the property.

The destruction of the building held sacred by Catholics is the latest blow to Christians’ long struggle to get the government to return confiscated church properties. Catholic, Protestant and other religious leaders deemed the government response to peaceful Catholic pressure a serious setback for religious freedom.

Authorities cite Vietnamese law stipulating that lands subject to “land management and socialist land reform policies in place before 1991” cannot be considered.

On Monday (Sept. 22) the Vietnam News Agency reported that the Catholic Church ceded the Nha Chung Vatican Embassy property to the state in 1961 and that it would be turned into a library and park.

“Bookworms will soon be able to enjoy the facilities offered by a brand-new library, located at 42 Nha Chung Street, in Hoan Kiem District,” the state reported. “In addition to all of the services usually offered by a library, situated on the premises of an existing three-story, French-designed building surrounded by greenery and including a childrens’ playground, the renovation, which began last Friday, aims to better meet Hanoians’ demands for relaxation.”

Sources said Vietnam’s frequent pronouncements of new openness to religion, and the formation of a joint Catholic/government working committee regarding relationships with the Vatican and other outstanding matters, may have led Catholics to test the waters. Late last year Catholics began to hold prayer vigils outside the fence of the long-vacant Vatican Embassy seized by the government in the mid-1950s.

The historic building property on Nha Chung Street is adjacent to the Hanoi archbishop and cardinal’s residence and only a half block away from St. Joseph’s Cathedral in Hanoi’s Old Quarter.

The daily morning and evening prayer vigils began to draw large crowds, especially on Saturdays and Sundays, when thousands came to Masses at the cathedral. Authorities in a country where demonstrations are not allowed became seriously worried when warnings to stop went unheeded.

In discussion with Catholic leaders in late February, the government agreed to negotiate a settlement in good faith on the condition that Catholic leaders would call a halt to the prayer vigils. Archbishop of Hanoi Ngo Quang Kiet told Compass in April that after agreeing to a joint working committee, the government showed no sincerity in building relationships or in settling grievances.

In late August an aide to the archbishop told Compass in Hanoi that the twice daily prayer vigils had resumed. At that time about 100 people participated each time, but the number and intensity was growing. Catholic leaders made no secret of their appeal to prayer and assembled people as their only tools in their struggle with the government for redress on confiscated properties.

In recent weeks the Redemptorists at Thai Ha, also in Hanoi, also began prayer vigils to recover some of their large property. Over the years their part of an original plot of 60,000 square meters had been reduced by government confiscation to less than 2,000 square meters.

According to observers, the Catholics conducted themselves during their vigils with decorum and order as they reverently marched, prayed and sang. The government’s response however, quickly escalated from accusing the Catholics of interfering with traffic to accusing them of all night public disturbances – and then accusing Catholic leaders of inciting riots and breaking religion laws.

 

Catholic Leaders Warned

Authorities this week delivered a written warning to Archbishop Kiet warning him of “extreme action” if he did not stop the daily prayer vigils. They also issued a warning to four priests at a Hanoi church locked in the land dispute. The archbishop and priests are accused of “stirring the population” and encouraging illegal religious activity.

State and Hanoi city media releases and radio and TV coverage during September painted the Catholics in the worst possible light; sources said the media fabricated stories and paid people to speak against the Catholics. With no opportunity to make their side of the story known through Vietnam’s state-controlled media, Catholics are reporting events through VietCatholic News, Zenit and other overseas news sites.

Catholic calls for media to retract specific, demonstrably false stories and appeals to press laws have gone entirely unheeded. Rather, sources said, improbable accusations and vicious slander against Catholics sharply escalated.

Vietnam Cardinal Jean Baptiste Pham Minh Man, archbishop of Saigon, wrote a letter to all priests, religious and faithful on Monday (Sept. 22) denouncing the state’s media lies. Unrest is spreading throughout Vietnam’s Catholic community, believed to number more than 7 million, as the letter by the cardinal and others by bishops are read in the churches.

 

Thugs Bussed In

Demonstrations escalated this week with estimates of 7,000 to 10,000 people, including students gathered at Thai Ha on Wednesday night (Sept. 24). It was said to be the largest public demonstration since the Communist unification of Vietnam 33 years ago.

Wednesday afternoon (Sept. 24), hundreds of police and plainclothes officers tried to control an upset crowd of Catholics as a statue of the Virgin Mary was removed from the Vatican Embassy area under police protection and taken to an unknown location. The next day, sources said, authorities recruited gangs that included uniformed Communist youth league members and others and bussed them to the site, where they attacked Catholic protestors outside the archbishop’s residence.

Similar gangs destroyed property, including sacred items at Thai Ha, the same day.

The state media also announced that the 17,000-square meter Thai Ha Redemptorist property in Hanoi is also to be turned into a public park.

The reversion to old-style, default Communist repression involving violence cloaked in lies is also worrying to Vietnam’s Protestants, some of whom have joined Catholics in the prayer vigils.

Protestant leaders contacted by Compass were united in their disappointment in and condemnation of the government’s belligerent response to peaceful prayer vigils.

“Sadly, the government has again shown its true attitude toward religions,” said one Protestant leader. “We have doubted the sincerity of recent improvements, and now they have clearly shown everyone what is still in their hearts.”

Some Vietnam observers fear the government’s belligerence may be evidence of hard-liners’ ascendance in an ongoing struggle with more moderate reformers. The timing of this property destruction, some Vietnamese church leaders said, is calculated to take advantage of uncertainty in the United States, especially as elections draw near.  

Report from Compass Direct News