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Kim Ye Jin
Kim Ye Jin is a researcher at the Institute for Disarmament and Peace, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Korea D.P.R. (North Korea)
This article was contributed to NK News by the DPRK’s Institute for Disarmament and Peace, Ministry of Foreign Affairs. While it has been edited for content and to conform with most aspects of NK News style, the North Korean state media custom of lower-casing the first letters in “north” and “south” Korea – reflecting the view that they are legitimately one nation – has been maintained.
Since World War II, the power architecture of Northeast Asia has been compressed on the Korean Peninsula, where both the north and the south aspire for reunification. Under these circumstances, all of the neighboring countries, having political, military and economic interests on the peninsula, are deeply concerned about the reunification formula since it is directly connected with security and peace in Northeast Asia.
Danger of Korean reunification through confrontation of systems
The two sides of Korea have traveled along different paths of development, maintaining different ideologies and political systems for almost 70 years since the division. Neither of them wants to abandon their respective ideologies and systems, although reunification remains their common aspiration.
Under this stark reality, if one side tries to force its ideology and system on the other, it will bring about a war, severely threatening peace and stability in Northeast Asia. The geopolitical position of the Korean Peninsula remains unchanged. The Korean Peninsula is surrounded by great powers and their interests are intertwined in it. Due to this geographical peculiarity, the Korean Peninsula may prevent or instigate conflicts among the great powers. Confrontation and conflict between the two sides in Korea will inevitably invite the great powers into the conflict, while reconciliation and cooperation between the north and the south will promote stability in the region, including among the great powers, and check the outbreak of possible conflicts. A north-south fratricidal war, caused by the confrontation of systems, would draw neighboring countries into that fight, but the peacefully reunified peninsula could serve as a buffer zone ameliorating strategic confrontation among neighboring countries.
The new U.S. Asia-Pacific Strategy is aimed at containment and control of other major powers and the Korean Peninsula is considered the main stage of this strategy. To cope with U.S. maneuvers, neighboring countries have strengthened their strategic countermeasures and expanded areas of cooperation. This reality makes the security of Northeast Asia even more dependent upon the reunification formula of the Korean Peninsula. In 2012, the U.S. came up with its new defense strategy and since then has annually dispatched the aircraft carrier fleet to conduct the U.S.-Japan-South Korea joint naval exercises in waters around the peninsula, while accelerating preparations for the establishment of a trilateral missile defense system. In response to the U.S. moves, Russia and China stage joint naval exercises around the peninsula and join in their efforts to counter U.S. attempts to establish a missile defense system in Asia.
Under these circumstances, a continuing confrontation of systems will only bring war to the Korean Peninsula, where no mechanism for preventing an armed conflict and war exists, as the Armistice Agreement has been nullified. This war would not only continue until a winner is decided, but also fan the flames of strategic confrontation among neighboring countries, so as to cause the complete destruction of the security balance in Northeast Asia and, in the long run, face the region with catastrophe. If a war broke out on the peninsula, it would be a clash of fires and nukes and its catastrophic aftermath would be incomparable with the 1950s Korean War, recent Middle Eastern turmoil or the Ukraine case.
The north and the south should refrain from pursuing confrontation of systems and absolutizing their own ideologies and systems
In conclusion, reunification through confrontation of systems is an unrealistic attempt against the interests of the two sides in Korea as well as the neighboring countries and might be an act of opening Pandora’s Box, destroying the long-term interests of the Korean nation and Northeast Asia. The north and the south should refrain from pursuing confrontation of systems and absolutizing their own ideologies and systems, so as to realize national reunification peacefully and play a pivotal role in efforts to shift an unstable peace into a durable one in Northeast Asia.
Korean reunification through system coexistence-the only way
As it is obvious that a confrontation of systems will only induce a war, the peaceful way of Korean reunification is, as a matter of course, a coexistence of systems between the north and the south.
Some misunderstand, as if the differences in systems between the two sides in Korea might be a reason for them to be unable to coexist. However, it can by no means be a reason for the two systems to be unable to do so. The difference in systems is not an Achilles heel for the cause of promoting reunification but a compelling reason for the coexistence of systems. This is proven by the fact that the Korean nation’s aspirations for reunification have never weakened but continue to grow stronger, even though the different systems have formed and been consolidated on the two sides of Korea.
Two different systems, diverse political activities and various forms of possession can coexist in a state. It has been proven in practice in other countries.
The two Koreas recognize that each side has its own system. Therefore, when they respect one another, cooperation between the two sides will be easily realized and the achievement of reunification won’t be a question.
The north’s position, to reunify the country with the formula of maintaining the two systems, is not aimed at forcing its interests and system upon the south, placing a burden and suffering on both the north and the south. The north does not force its socialist system on the south and has never done so. However, this does not mean that the former would tolerate the latter forcing its system on the north.
When reunification is promoted through the formula of system coexistence, the two sides have no need to dance with death to achieve reunification, nor to sacrifice their interests. On the contrary, they can butter both sides of their bread.
The reunification formula through the coexistence of the two systems is not aimed at imitating the unification experiences of other countries but achieving reunification in conformity with the reality of the Korean Peninsula. In other words, it is a formula agreeable to and already agreed upon by the north and the south. If the north and the south, the key parties in reunification, fail to respect the spirit and articles of previous agreements, and instead try to copy other nations’ experiences and apply them to the Korean Peninsula, this would be naïve, equivalent to building a cloud-cuckoo-land.
Unification experiences and formulas of other countries may conform to the realities and conditions of the relevant countries, but will not definitely be suitable to the reality of the Korean Peninsula.
On the road to reunification the north and the south have already agreed on a charter and great program for reunification, such as the principles of national reunification through their historic June 15 Joint Declaration and the October 4 Declaration, thus demonstrating to the whole world the nation’s determination to reunify the country.
When we refer to the three principles of national reunification, they are the principles of independent, peaceful reunification and great national unity.
The three principles of national reunification serve the two sides of Korea as a foundation of all previous agreements and declarations between the north and the south and a cornerstone of system coexistence reunification. When our nation promotes the reunification issue in accordance with the three principles of national reunification, there is no need for our nation to pick others’ brains in terms of a reunification formula and beg for the approval of outside forces, but to choose a way of coexistence based on the great national unity instead of the war that would result from confrontation.
… the reunification issue can be addressed fairly and smoothly in conformity with the common interests of the nation
The current south Korean authorities should greatly respect and value the three principles of national reunification, although the other inter-Korean agreements also deserve respect.
Nothing is impossible if our nation joins together in its efforts.
When we resolve all the issues in inter-Korean relations on the basis of the reunification charter and the great program of the whole nation, the reunification issue can be addressed fairly and smoothly in conformity with the common interests of the nation.
Korean reunification through coexistence of systems and its positive impact on Northeast Asia
The north and the south agreed on improved inter-Korean relations and the reunification formula set out in the June 15 Joint Declaration and the October 4 Declaration. They are, in a nutshell, improving inter-Korean relations and achieving national reunification peacefully while leaving the two different systems intact. When the north and the south resolve the reunification issue according to this formula, it will promote regional peace and stability by turning the Korean Peninsula, the hot-spot zone in Northeast Asia, into a buffer zone.
In terms of the politico-military aspect, it has been rigidly viewed that only when the armistice is terminated and a peace mechanism is established on the Korean Peninsula could the hostility be ended and reunification be achieved. However, if reunification through coexistence of systems is promoted by the north and the south, the armistice and hostility will naturally recede and a peaceful environment will follow.
Reunification through coexistence of systems inevitably gives birth to a neutral state. The process of guaranteeing the neutral position of neighboring countries will disintegrate the confrontational security structure, forming a peace-promising one in Northeast Asia.
In terms of the economic aspect, this format will create tremendous benefits not only for the Korean Peninsula, but also Northeast Asia as a whole.
Recently, many region-wide initiatives of bilateral and multilateral economic cooperation projects can be found. They are aimed at moves to connect railways, roads, gas pipelines, electric power networks and the development of energy, natural resources, seaports, special economic zones and environment cooperation. Of course, these initiatives require the stable development of inter-Korean relations on the Korean Peninsula. Therefore, promoting peaceful reunification through the coexistence of systems agreed upon by the two Koreas will satisfy the demands for regional cooperation so that the peninsula and the region will get off to a flying start. It will further serve other regional member states, including Europe, by providing chances for economic cooperation around the Korean Peninsula.
Consequently, smooth resolution of the reunification issue according to the formula agreed upon by the north and the south is a well-balanced resolution in favor of the peaceful environment on the Korean Peninsula and in Northeast Asia, so as to push and enlarge regional economic cooperation.
These points prove the validity of the reunification ideas clarified by the respected 1st Chairman Kim Jong Un of the National Defense Commission of the DPRK in his 2015 New Year’s address. He stated that the north and the south should refrain from seeking system confrontation and from absolutizing their ideology and system, instead satisfactorily resolving the reunification issue in the common interests of the nation, transcending differences in ideology as they have already agreed to do. Reunification through system coexistence is the only way to resolve the Korean issue peacefully and reasonably. When this is realized, the world will give its blessing and credit to the wisdom and dignity of the Korean nation.
Main photo: Eric Lafforgue