Even as diplomatic negotiations make progress between North and South Korea and attract global attention, the International Relations Forum (IRF) at KDI School found it to be the right time to address the long-awaited peace negotiations between the two Koreas.
In this context, the IRF invited Professor EDGE Lonnel, Professor PARK Hun Joo and Professor ROBERTSON Jeffrey to lead a panel discussion on the theme ‘Korean Peninsula; The Way Forward’ on October 5 this year. The objective of this seminar was primarily to provide insights into the peace process and negotiations, and to discuss the potential outcomes of a peace treaty.
Here are some of the questions our students had, with the answers from our guest speakers.
What do you suppose will be the fate of the Korean Peninsula? Do you believe the current development of events will lead to an eventual reunification?
Edge: “In addition to the unclear political agenda of each State – North Korea, South Korea and the United States – the question ‘What will happen now?’ is another mystery which lingers over this topic. Often times, the fate of both Koreas has been attached to the overrated talks and desire for reunification. However, the implications of today’s economy and generational construct speak a different language. Although the North Koreans’ views, along with their opinions on potential reunification, cannot be confirmed, the South Koreans’ perspective seems to be changing. As I mentioned before, despite South Korea’s aging population, the older generation who tend to support reunification is dying, and the younger generation who remain have other aligned priorities such as employment which may be further affected through reunification, if it were to happen. The main reason for that is because, unfortunately, the younger generation lack a vital piece to the puzzle, the connection to North Korea. Unlike the older generation, the ties with known relatives from the Northern Peninsula are nonexistent among the younger generation and, in turn, reunification is less favored.”
What do you think will be the benefits and consequences of reunification?
ROBERTSON: “From a business perspective, although a reunified Korea would open up the market for Korean construction companies and other business, a battle of superiority complex tendencies will inevitably lead to a social clash, possibly challenging the integration process. Furthermore, at a macro-level, reunification in the peninsula would be a great reversal of trend in politics, as countries have the tendency to separate permanently. However, it would be most interesting to see which governing system will be chosen. On the one hand, Kim Jong-Un is a Supreme Leader with leadership handed down by blood, whereas South Korea is a democratic state. Which raises the following questions: will the peninsula become a federal state, with free movement of people and capital, or will it become one state with one president? As for the armies, how will the integration unfold?”
How feasible is reunification?
PARK: “There’s a need to acknowledge that although there is the ethnic bond, the division has fostered two different Koreas and Korean identity which bear tremendous differences. The development process for both Korean societies cannot be denied when discussing reunification. Therefore, the idea of reunification should rather be a question to the public rather than a decision made by politicians without sourcing the civilians who are directly affected by such a decision. In short, “Unification sounds pretty, and nice, and it sounds wonderful, but it’s probably not feasible”. As a result, perhaps attention should be drawn to how the current and future negotiations can be oriented towards a peaceful coexistence of both countries over a potential reunification; because it is inevitable that there will always be the need to address the elephant in the room, “Who will compromise” if reunification were to happen?”