SEOUL -- Cheon Seong-Whun, the president of the Korea Institute for National Unification, says German reunification can be a good model for Korean unification.
“The most important lesson that Germany can give us is that two different political systems can reach unification peacefully,” Cheon said in an exclusive interview with the Tehran Times in Seoul.
The KINU president also said that South Korea wants China to be more engaged in the North Korea issue.
“I think, in one word, we want China to play a constructive role,” Cheon stated.
Following is the text of the interview:
Tehran Times: What concrete steps should Seoul and Pyongyang take toward a final reunification of the divided Korean Peninsula?
Cheon Seong-Whun: Let me quote President Madame Park Geun-hye’s view about Korean unification, as an example. This administration’s unification policy has three main clusters. In 2007, at the Seoul Foreign Press Club, she explained her views on Korean unification, and she described her three-stage unification process.
The first stage is peace building, to establish solid peace between North and South Korea, without military provocation, reduce military tension, et cetera. That is the first step. The second step is economic integration. We expand our exchanges and cooperation, of course, not only in the economic area but also in the social and cultural areas, and it eventually leads to integration in economic areas. The third and the final stage is we move toward a political integration. This means we merge the two different political systems, in a way that we, both of us, agree, and then finish that entire unification process. So we put the political issues at the later stage of the unification process. This is very reasonable because we are basically politically very sensitive.
We are basically divided by these political differences, with different political systems. So I think in Korea it is very natural that we deal with these sensitive political issues in the last stage of unification. So these are the three stages of the unification process, and this administration will work according to this process.
So I think the first task is to reduce our military tension, and for that process I think North Korea should stop military provocations. For example, in 2010 they attacked a South Korean ship, killing 46 sailors, and they shelled our peaceful islands in daytime, killing 2 marines and 2 civilians and injuring many other civilians. Such incidents should not happen anymore. And also North Korea should accept its responsibility and also demonstrate its willingness not to repeat such provocations. That is a basic demand, I think, to establish genuine peace between North and South Korea and also bolster this ongoing relationship and movements between North and South Korea.
Tehran Times: Can German reunification be a model for Korean reunification?
Cheon Seong-Whun: I think so. The most important lesson that Germany can give us is that two different political systems can reach unification peacefully. Whatever disagreement the two sides had, they came to reconciliation by peaceful means. They sought the willingness of the majority of the people in East Germany. That is the method of unification we actually intend to pursue. We are going to seek the willingness of the majority of the people in North Korea to carry out the unification process peacefully, based on their willingness. So this is a good model.
And also, another important lesson from the German case is that both East Germany and West Germany, they were very careful to reassure their neighbors that the unified Germany would not be a threat to the rest of the nations’ peace and stability. For example, West Germany’s number one foreign security policy before unification was that they declared that they will not develop or possess WMDs (weapons of mass destruction), including nuclear weapons. So they demonstrated their peaceful, non-nuclear-weapon will to the international community, and that is very, very important. And both North and South Korea should follow that path, the non-nuclear path, in order to reassure the regional countries that the unified Korea will not be an element of regional instability.
So along that line, the Southern government has stuck to our non-nuclear policy, that we give up our option to develop nuclear weapons. At the same time we use nuclear energy only for peaceful purposes. And in this context, we ask North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons program and to go back to the NPT (nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty) and IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency) inspections. So this denuclearization is not just a security issue for South Korea, but it is also part of our unification efforts. Who can support Korean unification if either North or South Korea sticks to the nuclear weapon option? No countries. Even Iran, I think, would say it would oppose a unification of Korea. And also, even in the case of Germany… even Mr. Gorbachev would have opposed German unification if either Germany stuck to their nuclear weapons [that were stationed on their soil]. So denuclearization is a critical component for Korean unification. And it was a critical component for German unification.
Tehran Times: The division of the Korean Peninsula is a legacy of the Cold War but the Cold War ended more than 20 years ago, which led to German reunification. Do you think that efforts should be expedited to unify the peninsula, and why hasn’t this happened so far?
Cheon Seong-Whun: The end of the Cold War actually led to German unification, of course. I think there were many factors that facilitated the German unification, and one of the major factors, of course, was this political upheaval that happened in Europe: the collapse of the Soviet Union and the collapse of the Eastern European communist countries, and that pushed Mr. Gorbachev to accept a new order in Germany, which was German unification. So this very big change in the international environment, especially in Europe, was one of the major factors that led to German unification.
Actually at that time, in the early 1990s, the Korean Peninsula faced a similar external environment. These huge changes in Europe had ripple effects in Asia, too. That led South Korea to have diplomatic normalization with China and the Soviet Union. There was a big change. And during that time, South Korean President Roh Tae-woo launched a North Policy, which was a grand strategy for South Korea to deal with not only China and the Soviet Union but also to open diplomatic channels with Eastern Bloc communist countries. This had never happened until the 1980s. South Korea, as an ally of the United States, was not allowed to normalize diplomatic relations with former communist countries, but after this big upheaval in Germany and the Soviet Union, we were willing to have new diplomatic relations with these countries.
And this huge external change also provided good opportunities to both North and South Korea to improve bilateral relations, and Seoul and Pyongyang at that time launched high-level talks chaired by each side’s prime minister. That was the highest level official dialogue that ever happened between North and South Korea up to that time, and that dialogue ran about three years and produced a beautiful agreement, called the Basic Agreement between North and South Korea, covering every aspect of bilateral relations: political reconciliation, military confidence building, tension reduction, economic cooperation, and social and cultural exchanges. This was signed in 1991 as a result of intensive dialogue between North and South Korea, and it was facilitated by the huge political changes in Europe and the Soviet Union. But unfortunately, this agreement failed to be carried out, largely due to North Korea’s reluctance to abide by this agreement. There are many reasons. One reason is that during that time, Kim Il-sung, the grandfather of the current leader, the founding father of North Korea, was pushed into the corner. He lost his allies. The Soviet Union and China had political normalization with South Korea, so he was diplomatically pushed into the corner. So he tried to find a way to get out of these difficulties, and the path he chose was to have dialogue with South Korea. So three years of high-level talks and this grand Magna Carta agreement (the Basic Agreement)… So after three years of negotiations, when Kim Il-sung believed he earned some time, when he judged that North Korea got out of this quagmire, he suddenly changes his attitude and refuses to implement this agreement. And then what they did is to set every energy and effort into developing nuclear weapons. So unfortunately, we failed to implement this Basic Agreement. But if he had successfully implemented this Basic Agreement, the Korean Peninsula today could have reached a virtual unification, to the extent it was a very beautiful and good agreement. And I am very sorry that this failed to be implemented. And this is much better than the two joint statements agreed between the two presidents in two summits in 2000 and 2007, and they should each time compare them (to the Basic Agreement) to the extent of depth of agreement. This Basic Agreement is much, much better compared to the two new statements.
So why is Korea still divided? Why can’t we achieve Korean unification? One major difference between Korea and Germany is that East and West Germany didn’t fight each other. They were just forced to be divided. But in the case of Korea, we fought each other, a very disastrous fighting. This is the 60th anniversary of the signing of the armistice. So we still have scars, casualties in many Korean minds, in both North and South Korea, and we also still have very high animosity between the two sides as a result of the heavy fighting. Several millions were either killed or injured during the Korean War. This animosity has persisted 60 years.
Tehran Times: Do you think that the Sunshine Policy initiated by former president Kim Dae-jung could have produced better results in regard to reunions of families and a reunification of the two countries as well?
Cheon Seong-Whun: I do not want to either criticize or reject the previous administration’s unification policy, but just let me say a few words about maybe unintended negative repercussions from the Sunshine Policy to our society, some basic drawbacks. When we deal with North Korea, one thing we have to remember is that we are still in a very intense political struggle between the two different political systems. That is the inherent fate of the two Koreas. We are maintaining our democratic market economic system. On the other hand, the North Koreans still maintain their own communist socialism -- two dynamically different political systems. This is the basis of inter-Korean relations, every day, every minute, every second…
That is the reality, and these days North Korea uses… methods, including the internet, to create disorder in our society. They are hacking our banking system, our major government facilities… This is the reality on a daily basis. That is why we have to maintain our alliance system with the U.S., and also we have to keep our regular exercises of our own or with our ally the U.S.
My point is that the Sunshine Policy, I don’t say neglected, but it at least did not highlight this reality of political struggle between South and North Korea and also North Korea’s very hard nose to South Korean policy to attempt to influence our society with their principles, philosophies, and policies. So there was a little bit of negligence from the administration’s part to recognize this reality of North and South Korea.
Also, I think they didn’t pay appropriate attention to the military reality between North and South Korea. For example, on the afternoon of June 29, 2002, we had the World Cup third-place match in Seoul (South Korea vs. Turkey), and the next day there was the final match in Tokyo. That morning, a North Korean ship crossed the border, the Northern Limit Line in the West Sea. They made a preemptive attack on our ship, killing six sailors. This was a very deliberate, preemptive, well-calculated, well-planned, and sudden attack. So our navy had no choice but to be attacked. So we lost our forces, six or seven sailors. President Kim Dae-jung got a report about this incident. It is very natural that any president is the supreme commander of our forces. The first thing I think that any president has to do is to visit the sailors who were injured and (the families of those) who were killed. But what President Kim did was just turn away and leave for Tokyo that evening in order to attend the World Cup final in Tokyo, and there was no official government ceremony for the people who were killed. That’s one of the examples about the Sunshine Policy’s negative effects on our security policy, which is under criticism in our Korean society these days. Of course, President Kim Dae-jung did many good things for Korea, for our democracy, etc., but no man is perfect.
Tehran Times: South Korea has suggested that China could be a role model for economic reform in North Korea. Do you think that Pyongyang will change its political behavior if it adopts the Chinese model?
Cheon Seong-Whun: Of course, if North Korea adopts the Chinese reform model. Actually that is what we want, and that’s what China wants. That will lead to many positive changes in North Korea. I think they can maintain their political system, at the same time develop their economy and feed their people and increase welfare for our fellow North Koreans. But North Korea refuses to accept our recommendations and China’s recommendations to follow the Chinese model. And many people hope, believe, and argue that someday North Korea will be able to adopt the Chinese model. But especially they fear the security aspect. For example, if the U.S. withdrew its forces from the Korean Peninsula, or the U.S. dropped its hostile anti-North Korea policy, that would create a more comfortable environment for North Korea to adopt the Chinese reform model.
That is one argument. But I don’t agree with that argument because the reason why North Korea doesn’t accept the Chinese model is not because of external threats. Rather, it’s because of their purely internal reasons -- the three-generation system. That is the difference between North Korea and China. In the case of China’s Deng Xiaoping, he could call for reform in Chinese society because he was a victim of the Mao Zedong leadership. When someone says reform, let’s make change, that should acknowledge that there is something wrong in our society, so we have to correct the wrong things. That is the starting point of a reform. Deng Xiaoping could make such a statement since he was a victim of the Mao leadership. His eldest son was crippled during the Cultural Revolution, so he was a victim, so he could say to the Chinese people that some of Chairman Mao’s policies are wrong, so we have to correct them, and that leads to reform.
But here in North Korea, once either Kim Jong-il or Kim Jong-un say let’s make a reform, he has to accept that there was something wrong. So we can expect very little hope for reform any time soon. Of course, they try to carry out some modest minor reforms -- they did. He tried to open the system, but when they reach a certain line… he stops. That happened many times. So that’s a limitation of North Korea.
Tehran Times: What are the differences between the policies of the Park Geun-hye administration and the Lee Myung-bak administration toward North Korea, although both are from the Saenuri Party?
Cheon Seong-Whun: Overall, they are two conservative presidents, so I think that the basic philosophy is the same: We value our constitution, political system, democracy, economic system, market economy, human rights. That is the common ground of the two conservative governments, but in the details there are some subtle changes, of course. Actually, one of President Park’s ideas is evolution of the North Korea policy, which means that we acknowledge and accept the previous administrations’ North Korea policies, but we also acknowledge that there are some drawbacks, that there are good points and bad points. We want to inherit good points, but we want to discard some negative policies of the previous administration toward North Korea. This is evolution. So we want to upgrade our North Korea policy based on the experiences of the previous administrations, not only Lee Myung-bak, but also Kim Dae-jung’s Sunshine Policy, President Roh Moo-hyun’s policy, and even the ones before.
One of the differences between Lee and Park is President Lee’s North Korea policy --Denuclearization, Openness, 3000 -- which means that North Korea should give up its nuclear weapons program, and he put this in the first place. So many people regard this as a precondition to any exchanges or business with North Korea. He said if North Korea denuclearized, then he would provide all the economic assistance, and he would launch a grand economic project to increase North Korea’s per capita income to 3000 dollars per year. That is the Denuclearization, Openness, 3000 policy.
But it was a pity that he put the condition of denuclearization in the first place. So without any action of denuclearization from North Korea, no movement or action could be taken between North and South Korea. So that was kind of a drawback. As a result of this policy, we haven’t had any meaningful inter-Korean exchanges for five years. Inter-Korean relations were almost frozen.
Of course, there was a period in North Korea -- with nuclear weapons, missiles, and also they made military provocations, attacks -- but basically part of the blame goes to President Lee’s policy. North Korean denuclearization is very difficult to do from North Korea’s point of view in the first place, and the end result is almost a freeze of inter-Korean relations.
President Park wishes to get out of this situation, so, regardless of denuclearization, regardless of political differences, she wants to have dialogue. She always opens the window of dialogue with North Korea. She always offers her hand to North Korea.
Of course, it depends on North Korea to accept our hands, to accept our offer for dialogue, but we are always open, and we are ready anytime for dialogue with North Korea. That is her number one North Korea policy.
And she is also very concerned about the North Korean people’s suffering, especially infants, children, women, the vulnerable, isolated, unprotected class of the North Korean society. Basically the weak people, the elderly, children, ill people, etc. So we are willing to provide assistance without condition. And that is what is happening. Recently the government allowed South Korean NGOs to send necessities to North Korea. She repeatedly says that without any condition, we are willing to provide these basic necessities to the North Korean people to reduce their suffering.
Without condition of denuclearization, we are also willing to continue exchanges and cooperation, and to also have some modest level of economic cooperation. One example is the Kaeseong industrial park, which just recently reopened. We are willing to set up a new industrial park in some other part of North Korea, if North Korea agrees, and President Park. She also said, in her Independence Day address, that we are going to establish a ‘demilitarized zone world peace park’ as a symbol of reducing military tension and bringing peace to the world. And of course we will start with small pieces of the DMZ, and then we hope to expand the region step by step, and in the end we will fully make the whole DMZ a world heritage and peace park, and that is the start of reconciliation, reducing tension, and eventually we reach Korean unification. So we have many lists of good cooperation programs that we are willing to do with North Korea.
Tehran Times: South Korea has said that Seoul’s policy toward North Korea centers around trust-building. How can this be achieved?
Cheon Seong-Whun: Trust is a basic philosophy of President Park and trust covers every aspect of this administration: domestic policies, inter-Korean relations, and even international relations. She thinks trust should be the essence of any government policy. For example, in terms of domestic policies she wants to earn trust from our people. She wants to see her government be a trustful government in view of the South Korean people. She wants to give trust to people and she wants to receive trust from the people to create this trust capital. And she intends to use this ‘trust capital’ to launch all the major domestic policies. So trust is the basis between the government and the people.
At the same time, trust should be a basis between North and South Korea. The reason why inter-Korean relations were frozen during the Lee era for five years, in her explanation, is due to lack of trust. Our level of trust was at the bottom during the Lee administration. She thinks that this is the right moment to rebuild trust between South and North Korea. Trust building is another major component of her North Korea policy. Every action, every motion towards North Korea she thinks is a process and means to create additional trust to accumulate in inter-Korean relations. Based on this trust, she can expand the relations as times goes. This is a time-consuming process between South and North Korea.
And also one way to build trust is to reset inter-Korean relations according to international consensus and norms. In the past, she thinks, and I agree with her, that inter-Korean relations sometimes were disrupted or outside of international consensus. We neglected rules and norms and we just paid attention to meet North Korean demands, and our neglect of the security aspect of inter-Korean relations is another area where this consensus or international norms and rules are not followed. Also, human rights in North Korea. Previously, President Kim Dae-jung, our democracy leader, did a lot of things to improve our rights in South Korea, but unfortunately, he didn’t pay much attention to the human rights issue in North Korea, and the South Korean government did not even attend the voting at Geneva human rights conferences. Sometimes, South Korean governments refrained or abstained from voting. That is against the international consensus, our basic understanding, (and) Korean common sense. So such things, wrongdoing, happened. This should be corrected. Resetting inter-Korean relations based on common sense, common understanding, and international norms and rules is a way of building trust.
Tehran Times: Will South reward the North if it sees changes in Pyongyang’s policy or behavior?
Cheon Seong-Whun: Of course. This is another way to build trust. If North Korea shows good intention or they do a good policy or meet our demands, of course. President Park has repeatedly said that we should respond positively: positive action, positive response. But if North Korea makes a negative action, another provocation, fails to meet international agreements, we have to use our sticks, too. Not just punish them but let the North Korean leadership know that there is something wrong and you need to correct your behavior and policy. So this is the two-way (approach) (good behavior-good response, bad behavior-bad response) to rebuild trust. So every policy goes to this concept of trust, to guarantee sustainable and healthy inter-Korean relations.
Tehran Times: What do you expect from China in regard to North Korea?
Cheon Seong-Whun: I think, in one word, we want China to play a constructive role. This means that if North Korea shows positive behavior, of course we will be willing to collaborate with China to make a positive response toward North Korea. But if North Korea does something wrong -- for example, nuclear testing or exporting their WMD items to other countries -- then I hope China joins this international mechanism and fully implements what China has demanded of the international community at the UN Security Council and makes some negative response to North Korea and teaches North Korea that they should not do such things and should behave well. So, I think what we should ask China is that China should act as a responsible member of the international community. As a member of the G20, as an international stakeholder, as a member of the new great power relationship with the United States, China should feel responsible to maintain the stability of the regional order, and one major part of regional stability is to denuclearize North Korea. No one in China, of course, wants to see a nuclear-armed North Korea. For that to be so, they have to take action not just use words -- actions consistent with their words.
Tehran Times: Are you satisfied with China’s policy toward the North Korea issue? What about Russia?
Cheon Seong-Whun: I think China can do a lot more than now, to make North Korea have positive changes. [But] I don’t want to say that Russia is less important than China. I also want to see Russia contribute more to North Korean denuclearization and peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula. Russia has a border with North Korea, they have interests, of course, and also economic interests, and I expect and hope Russia also will do a lot more to contribute to building stability and prosperity in Northeast Asia. I understand that Russia has a certain stake, too, for example, economic interests. We want to connect our railroads from South Korea to Europe, and for this we have to cross Russia. This is in Russia’s interests, too. Also, a gas pipeline to South Korea along the eastern coast of the Korean Peninsula. We can persuade North Korea to join this huge economic project, and this greatly depends on how the Russian government persuades North Korea.
Tehran Times: Are you optimistic about Korean unification?
Yes. I am optimistic about the unification of South and North Korea.
At the end, I hope Iran and South Korea have better relations, and I hope Iran supports peaceful Korean unification.