10-8-14 – Korean Reunification Awaits History’s Verdict

By John J. Metzler

UNITED NATIONS—“This year marks the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall.  But the Korean Peninsula remains stifled by a wall of division,” stated South Korean President Park Geun-hye.   In a landmark address to the UN General Assembly, President Park made the bold assertion, “I call on the international community to stand with us in tearing down the world’s last remaining wall of division.”  

Stirring words.  Stirring themes.  Especially, punctuating the diplomatic drone of many of the General debate speeches.  

Though Park recalled, “The two Koreas were separately admitted as member states to the UN in 1991. Having two separate seats despite a single language, culture and history is clearly not normal. ”  Since the end of WWII, the historic Korean nation has been divided by the demilitarized zone (DMZ) which has tragically become part of the national geography.  

The DMZ dividing South and North Korea is 4 km wide and 250 km long and while serving as the demarcation line, also has blocked the free flow of people for 60 years. 

President Park presented a broad brush view of contemporary Korean history.  “Once a country that barely managed to survive with the UN’s assistance, the Republic of Korea is today a nation that has achieved both an advanced market economy and democracy.”  

Yet the quaintly-titled Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) the North,
remains a communist state which is both a threat to its own people and beyond, given the regime’s nuclear weapons program.

The South Korean leader called for urgency in “resolving the North Korean nuclear issue, which presents the single greatest threat to peace on the Korean peninsula and in Northeast Asia.”   She added, “The DPRK is the only country to have conducted a nuclear test in the 21st century.”   This is a sobering reality. 

Naturally, North Korea’s abysmal human rights situation remains a key concern.
She praised efforts by the UN Human Rights Council to keep the political light of transparency on the communist state.  

Not surprisingly, North Korea’s Foreign Minister did not agree.  In a scornful rebuff, Ri Su Yong stated, “The nuclear issue of the Korean peninsula is a matter of sovereignty and right to life of a UN member state before peace and security. “ 

Foreign Minister Ri added, “The nuclear deterrent of the DPRK is not intended to threaten or attack others. Neither is it a bargaining chip to be exchanged for something else.” 

Interestingly in his wide ranging discourse, the North Korean official only made one mention of the “Great General Kim Jong il” and the current ruler, “the respected Marshall Kim Jong Un” once as well.  Most DPRK speeches and documents usually constantly invoke the names of the Marxist monarchy ruling this neo-Stalinist land. 
Also too no mention of the dictatorial dynasty’s founder Kim Il-sung, always a standard rhetorical honorific in the chorus of regime adulation.  

Both North Korea’s nuclear issue and human rights conditions remain serious obstacles in dealing with the isolated regime, especially for South Korea.   

Yet, prosperous South Korea, ever hopeful, calls on its impoverished and isolated cousins to forsake nuclear weapons and come in from the cold.  Should the DPRK choose reform and opening, the Seoul government “together with the international community, will provide our strong support for developing the DPRK economy.” 

Political decompression leading to reunification is something President Park is pushing for as to lessen the humanitarian anguish of its northern cousins as much as to diminish the military threat to South Korea’s prosperous cosmopolitan society. 

Visiting Germany earlier this year, Park Geun-hye  admired many of the places connected with that nation’s peaceful unification nearly a quarter century ago.  

Addressing the UN, Park opined, “A unified Korea will be the starting point for a world without nuclear weapons, offer a fundamental solution to the North Korean human rights issue, and help unlock a stable and cooperative Northeast Asia.”  

Speaking hopefully, Park extolled, “Just as the unification of Germany laid the grounds for a new Europe by integrating Europe, a unified Korea will set in motion a new Northeast Asia.”  

Yet as with Germany’s reunification, there’s a political and diplomatic price to pay.
In Korea’s case this shall be the tacit agreement of  the surrounding powers; China, Russia, Japan and the USA as to the final formula.  

Given the DPRK regime’s decrepit state, President Park’s wish could come sooner than she may think.  Yet, even few optimists would wish to calculate the real cost and sacrifice for South Koreans to see through the price of national reunification.

John J. Metzler is a United Nations correspondent covering diplomatic and defense issues.  He is the author of Divided Dynamism The Diplomacy of Separated Nations; Germany, Korea, China (2014).

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