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Two Koreas on a difficult way to reunification

23.10.2014 17:54

Anastasia Barannikova

Reunification of the Korean Peninsula remains a topical issue both in North and South for many decades. This year saw active steps from both countries. On Mar. 28, President Park Geun-hye made her "Dresden Declaration" on unification. Presidential Committee for Unification Preparation was launched in ROK later in July. DPRK government repeatedly called ROK for seeking "reasonable reunification proposals" and sent its top officials to attend the closing ceremony of the Asian Games. Finally, this year saw two high-level inter-Korean talks, first since 2007 and reunions of divided families, first since 2010.

Nevertheless, inter-Korean relations are generally not good. Immediately after announcing the creation of a special committee, Park Geun-hye urged Pyongyang to abandon its nuclear weapons program aimed at improving inter-Korean relations. In her Dresden declaration, Park also promised to help North Korea once it gives up its nukes. During the last United Nations General Assembly the issue of human rights was raised, very sensitive for Pyongyang. Moreover, military and political situation on the Korean peninsula remains tense. At the same time as the reunions of divided families, ROK-US joint military exercises were also taking place. DPRK, in turn, test-fired numerous missiles into the East Sea. Recently, patrol boats from North Korea and South Korea exchanged fire in the Yellow Sea. Against this background, talk of unification seems premature.

Along with tense inter-Korean relations, one of the main obstacles to unification is the difference in the approaches of South and North to the unification process. It is believed in South Korea that the unification should be achieved in a way that not only benefits both sides, but also takes place with the involvement of neighboring countries and in cooperation with the international community. On the contrary, the North argues that unification should take place without "outside interference". Taking issue of North-South relations to the outside is seen as a "betrayal of national interests". The main point of the North's position is that it was interference by external forces that led to the division of the Korean peninsula (in 1945, when the US and the Soviet Union signed an agreement for trusteeship by the UN). The USSR withdrew its troops from the peninsula in a timely manner, while the US maintains around 28,500 soldiers in South Korea up to this day. The presence of US forces is one of the major obstacles to reunification.

As it has been for many years, the North is still faithful to the principles of the federation, which means "the existence of two different systems and governments within one nation and one state'. The 1972 Joint Communique by North and South identified the main principles of reunification - independently, without reliance on external forces, peacefully and through "great national unity".

The North's approach has remained unchanged until now, unlike the approach of the South. The most constructive dialogue on reunification took place under presidents Kim Dae-jung and Roh Moo-hyun (1998-2008).

Kim Dae-jung carried out the "Sunshine Policy" which followed a few main principles: no unification by absorption and that the South would separate economic and political matters and offer dialogue as a means to settle problems. The June 15th North-South Joint Declaration was signed by Kim Dae-jung and Kim Jong-il at an inter-Korean summit in June 2000. This Declaration reaffirmed previous agreements recorded in North-South Joint Communique of 1972 and the 1991 Basic Agreement on Reconciliation, Nonaggression, Exchanges and Cooperation Between North and South. All these achievements had been negated by Lee Myung-bak who had taken a tough stance toward DPRK and considered reunification as creation of the "Greater Korean Republic ".

Given the fact that unification approach of one country is unacceptable for another, all the talks about the reunification are just unsubstantiated words. The other problem is that ROK leadership keeps insisting that abandoning nukes by DPRK is a prerequisite for improvement of relations and reunification. Pyongyang keeps reacting negatively to it and the two countries are trapped in a vicious circle. So the first step for South Korea should be giving up bad practices of such "preliminary conditions" and for both countries of Korean Peninsula - to treat each other with respect.