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Dr. Moon J. Pak contributed a Thesis called <A New Korea For A New Year> - Korean peninsula led by a troika at a media of Korean Quarterly: Winter, 2019, VOL.22, NUM 02 and he also contributed this thesis to Minjok.com. -Editor's Note.
A new Korea for a new year
=Korean peninsula led by a Troika=
The past year was a remarkable one for the two Koreas, marked by a series of events leading to the beginnings of the conceptual framework of peace and re-unification of the two Koreas. As time has gone on, the decisions to be made on the way to a workable re-unification have become more complex.
Adding to the complexity of the more difficult decisions, is the necessity for participation and buy-in by a third party, the U.S. While 2018 was marked by high-profile meetings, symbolic agreements and plenty of photos, 2019 will require lower profile meetings and plenty of hard work to continue to advance the cause of permanent peace and unification of the peninsula.
Last year began with a new year’s address by Chairman Kim Jong-un of North Korea (DPRK; Democratic People’s Republic of Korea), including some remarkably eloquent and conciliatory comments about how the two Koreas can work together for peace.
This led to the North Korean participation in the International Winter Olympics in PyeongChang, South Korea. After that, the two Koreas were motivated to hold summit meetings between Kim Jong-un and President Moon Jae-in of South Korea (ROK; Republic of Korea). On April 27, the two leaders met on the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) in the village of Panmunjom, symbolic because it was the location at which the Armistice agreement was signed in 1953, which put an end to the fighting of the Korean War. The meetings of the two leaders led to the Panmunjom Declaration of April 27. This agreement was followed by a meeting between North Korean leader Kim and U.S. President Donald J. Trump in Singapore on June 12.
As expected, many of the inter-Korean issues were easy to agree upon. These included the establishment of permanent communications between the two military forces, and also, between the governments of the two Koreas. It also included elimination of military guard posts at the DMZ. As usual, family reunion events were quickly reopened at the Kumgang Mountain national park facilities in North Korea for North and South Korean family members who had been separated in the ‘40s and ‘50s by the division of the country.
Public media coverage of these incidents helped promote a positive image of re-unification efforts. TV and newspaper coverage showed leaders of both Koreas hugging each other and crossing the Panmunjom borders, and visiting the iconic Baekdu Mountain. Media also showed Moon addressing the North Korean public, and reported Kim agreeing to visit Seoul in the future.
At the June 12 Singapore Summit, President Donald J. Trump of the U.S. and Chairman Kim Jong-un of North Korea met amicably in an amazing shift of direction after 65 years of enmity. The meeting produced a helpful, though nonspecific and vague agreement, in which North Korea committed itself for the peninsula denuclearization, in return for U.S. commitment to a normalized diplomatic relationship between the two nations.
However, as 2018 ends and a new year begins, many hurdles are still emerging on the road to peace. There are many issues that will not be simple to resolve, in large part because they require the agreement of three parties, South Korea, North Korea and the U.S.
We should especially remember the people’s movement that immediately preceded the 2018, the year of peace for the two Koreas. That was the so-called “Candle-light Vigil” or “November Revolution” that began with a nightly, peaceful demonstrations by hundreds of thousands of South Koreans, beginning November 16, 2016 and continuing every night for many weeks. This mass movement of South Koreans called for the resignation of then-president Park Geun-hye and the election of a president who would work for peace. The arch-conservatism, provocations and warlike tendencies of Park (and by association, her predecessor Lee Myong-bak), and her illegal financial dealings were beyond the tolerance of South Koreans.
As a consequence, Park was impeached and the current progressive President Moon Jae-in was elected. However, the critical significance of this movement is that the people were the first to demand peace and reconciliation in the peninsula, which resulted in actions of Chairman Kim and President Moon and the positive events in the year of 2018.
Realization of the remainder of the “2018” objectives to bring about lasting peace on the Korean peninsula requires cooperative joint effort of the three parties, both Koreas and the U.S. However, each of these three countries have their own agenda, interest, and role perception on the peninsula matters. They will not work as a “Troika” pulling for the best interests of the peninsula.
Therefore, it is essential that each of the three understands each other and can find common ground on which to base peninsula policy for the realization of the “2018” objectives.
As we start a new year, here is a briefing on the motivations of each of the three parties with a big stake in the Korea peace process:
The DPRK position;
The economy is its main concern and developmental national objective, and the national security is the essential prerogative of economy, thus their “Parallel Progress Policy” and the development of the nuclear weapons system with credible delivery capability. The U.S. (and every other government) must understand that North Korea would never be denuclearized.
North Korea lived under near 70 years of sanctions, embargoes and enmity from U.S. and this U.S. pressure resulted in the stronger social integrity, rather than the regime collapse as many U.S. leaders had hoped. It is time that U.S. accept the DPRK as is, and develop normal diplomatic relations, and cooperate in its efforts for economic development. Many Americans view North Korea in a grossly distorted way, due in part to stories of human rights violations told by defectors. It is important that the DPRK work on its public relations to create a more balanced and realistic view of life in North Korean than has been provided by defectors who were chased from their homeland by poverty. It is also important that Americans view North Koreans as fellow human beings, worthy of a chance to bring up their next generation in a peaceful country.
What the U.S. wants;
The U.S. seems to strive for domination as a strategy for foreign policy matters, the hegemony. Its defense budget is the largest of any country, in fact, larger than the total combined defense budget of the next nine highest defense-spending countries! In Northeast Asian countries, it maintains multiple permanent military bases. It has a special military alliance with South Korea, where it stations 28,000 soldiers, and more than 80 military bases.
In South Korea, there is also a special anti-missile installation, known as the Terminal High Altitude Air Defense (THAAD). They are controversial because they are seen internationally as a destabilizing force in Northeast Asia. Although they were billed as a defense against North Korea, the THAAD system is in fact a defense against missiles from China. U.S. also annually conducts joint naval maneuvers with South Korea along the western coast of North Korea, which North Korea views as provocative. Most significantly of all, the U.S. maintains war-time operational control of the South Korean armed forces; that means that in the event of war, South Korean troops would be under the authority of the U.S. Thus, President Moon is the only head of a state of the world who cannot command his own nation’s military during a war.
There are many characteristics of the military relationship between the U.S. and ROK which are objectionable and provocative to the DPRK. To realize the “2018” peace objectives, the relationship between the U.S. and ROK will need to be abolished or at least drastically modified. Especially, returning the war time operational control of the ROK defense force to ROK leader is essential.
The U.S. under the leadership of President Trump must accept the DPRK as an equal partner in the peace process. It must implement the commitments promised in the Singapore Agreement, including normalization of the diplomatic relationship between the two countries.
South Korea’s goals;
Re-unification is an essential goal of the South Korea. The GDP of the country is estimated to be the 11th largest among the world’s developed countries (OECD). Its population is 45 million, far more than the half of the 70 million total living in the two Koreas, about the size of Italy. However, its birthrate is in decline, and is at the second lowest in world just above Japan. People are well-educated, due to the emphasis Koreans place on education. In spite of the prosperous economy, the income gap between richest and poorest is large and has been widening. It maintains 650,000 soldiers, its defense budget is one of the world’s largest and it pays almost 50 percent of the U.S. military expenses in Korea.
The presence of the DMZ physically separates the ROK from the rest of Asia, preventing access to the rail routes to Siberia and Europe.
Due to the conflicting self-interests of the nations involved in the 2018 peace agreements concerning the Korean peninsula, the concept of triumvirate approach or the idea of Troika leading the realization of the “2018” objective of the Korea peninsula is out of question, unless of course there will be a drastic metamorphosis of the U.S. position by the actions of President Donald J. Trump, who is known for his unpredictability.
Therefore, the continuation of the “2018” objectives beyond the year 2018, requires mostly the bilateral cooperation and creative initiatives of President Moon Jae-in and Chairman Kim Jong-un.
The following are some recommendations for them to consider in the continuation of the peace process, offered from the prospective of a Korean American;
1. Following through with a “One-Korea” concept;
The concept of Korea as one nation, and all the implications that flow from that idea, is paramount. For example, because Korea is one, the sanctions placed on North Korea by the U.S. via the UN, should not apply to commerce between the North and South, especially when it comes to meeting the North’s humanitarian needs. The South should start supplying a massive level of aid to alleviate the suffering of the North Korean people. To do this, North and South need to use the existing Korean rail system and develop networks of people-to-people crossing points across the DMZ.
2. Moving people across borders, “Intra-Korean Passport”;
It is important also to legalize and promote the movement of North Koreans and South Koreans across the border with an “Intra-Korean Passport”, bearers of which could move across the border any time freely and stay for whatever period they need and desire in either sides. Make available for them public transportation systems including rail and bus and create multiple cross-border highway systems across DMZ. This way it will do away with, the dramatic and unnecessarily-political, three-day family reunion event of the past,
3. Creation of “Korea-nomics”;
Reunifying the politics and economies of the two Koreas will be the biggest challenge ahead. Korea was divided and new systems of politics and economics were introduced in 1945, when the Soviet Union imposed its system of rule on the North and the U.S. took over the South. Soviet-style socialism and American-style capitalism were both foreign political and economic concepts to Koreans at that time, and how to resolve this has become a major hurdle in the journey to re-unification.
In the coming year, Koreans need to take a look at the two concepts and develop a unified politico-economic ideology uniquely suitable to Koreans, taking advantage of beneficial elements of the both systems, a concept that might be called “Korea-nomics”!
4. A “Coalesced Korea”;
In the summits between Moon and Kim in 2018, and the one between Trump and Kim in Singapore, a confederation or association of the two Koreas was discussed as a step towards the unification, with no clear end date of the achievement of “One Korea”. However, if the two Koreas work diligently on a unified political and economic system on which to model a unified Korea, i.e. “Korea-nomics”, the confederation step could be skipped. The “Coalesced One Korea” could be established and led by a group of multiple leaders from both sides, not just Kim and Moon only.
In addition, a legislative congress could also be formed composed of representatives of professional and occupational associations of both Koreas, rather than traditional politicians representing geographic areas.
The “Coalesced Korea” will not need the huge defense budget it has now. The military could be partially converted into a youth force to rebuild the agricultural and industrial infrastructure of North Korea.
5. Permanent neutrality and joint management and control of nuclear power;
Lastly, when considering the future of Korea, we must consider the blessing and curse of its sensitive geopolitical location. Surrounded by China, Japan, Russia and the U.S., it has a 4,000-year history of foreign invasions and occupations. To insulate the country from foreign invasions in the future, a unified Korea should consider declaring itself a permanently neutral nation, in the model of Austria and Switzerland. However, unlike these countries, whose neutrality is guaranteed by their neighboring countries, Korea will guarantee its neutrality by maintaining its own strong defense force. This force will include a high-tech army, oceangoing sea-navy, aerospace force, and defense-oriented nuclear weapons developed by the DPRK, but jointly managed and controlled by the “Coalesced Korea”.
This condition of permanent neutrality and joint nuclear weapons ownership is a new conceptual framework by the people of Korea, which will require further in-depth study and research.
(Korean Quarterly: Winter, 2019, VOL.22, NUM 02)
Moon J. Pak is a medical doctor in Detroit, and is senior vice president of the Korean American National Coordinating Council, which facilitates exchanges between Korean Americans and North Korean people.
Oakwood Medical Center
811 Oakwood Drive #201
Rochester, Michigan 48307
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