“As momentum builds for the creation of a new reunified nation, it is crucial that the South prepares itself to lead the greatest merger in human history up until this point,” Global Peace Foundation Chairman Dr. Hyun Jin P. Moon told an international economic forum in Seoul on October 8, 2015. “German unification will pale in contrast to the opportunities and challenges afforded by Korean reunification,” he said.
The forum, “Peaceful Unification and Economic Development,” invited scholars, economists, and government ministers to explore the economic incentives for the reunification of the Korean peninsula in a geopolitical environment that is starkly different than the Cold War paradigm that has largely defined relations between the two Koreas.
The forum was hosted by the Global Peace Foundation as part of a series of academic forums and public events to support the advance of peaceful reunification of the Korean peninsula on the seventieth anniversary of the division of Korea at the conclusion of World War II.
“We are gathered at a special moment in the history of the Korean people,” Dr. Moon said. “New winds of change are sweeping this land and the region, making the promise of reunification ever more real. . . .
“For the first time since 1945, a new movement for reunification united around a singular vision, the Korean Dream, is gaining momentum in the South and spreading its appeal to the diaspora communities in Japan, the United States, China and Russia as well as other parts of the world.”
Former Deputy Prime Minister of Strategy and Finance Kim Jin Pyo drew attention to the experience of Germany, a country once similarly divided and with disproportionately developed economies. “Twenty five years ago, when Germany succeeded in unification as a democratic and free-market economy, the excitement of unification was not only felt by Germans; the entire world was also astonished,” he said.
“I am confident that we can make a miracle on the Korean Peninsula more flourishing than Germany’s miracle on the Rhine River. A united Korea [with] the North’s abundant natural resources and the two Koreas’ brilliant human resources can be combined and create synergetic effects of the inter-Korean economic cooperation.”
Former Ambassador to Germany Choi Jung-il also noted that the economic gap between eastern and western Germany has largely narrowed, and young people born and educated after unification have advanced into society’s mainstream. “Even critical views regarding unification have shifted to positive,” he said. “Today more than 90 percent of Germans are supportive of their unification.”
Rooted in our founding aspiration, we have an opportunity to reinvent Korea based on the best models from the East and the West as well as the past and the present.
Korean National Assembly member Na Seong-lin reminded participants of Korea’s shared history of thousands of years, saying reunification “is not only historically reasonable but also a guarantee for the peninsula’s bright future from economic, social and cultural perspectives.” He said that peaceful reunification can be a “breakthrough for the Korean economy” which is faced with weakening growth, a low fertility rate and an ageing society.
While acknowledging that the younger generation is skeptical about reunification because of the North’s provocations and enormous costs, Kim said the reunification costs “pale in comparison with costs of division caused by continuous strained relations.
Economic reform and peaceful reunification
In his keynote address GPF Chairman Moon presented a critique of South Korea’s economic policies which he said were preventing the economy from unlocking its full potential and hindering progress toward successful reunification. “Korea’s greatest asset is its well-educated and hardworking people,” he noted. “While the South boasts one of the highest education standards of all developed countries, it also has one of the highest unemployment rates in this age group, at over 10 percent, its highest since 1999.”
Economic reforms to unleash the South’s true potential should be made a national priority, he said, “a prerequisite for advancing the issue of reunification between the two governments. This is a problem that the South can and must fix if it is to be healthy enough to lead the reunification process.”
“Korea stands at a crossroads,” the GPF Chairman concluded. “Rooted in our founding aspiration, we have an opportunity to reinvent Korea based on the best models from the East and the West as well as the past and the present. . . . We need to ensure that the culture and the systems of our nation will support the full potential of the Korean people now, and as a unified nation in the near future.
As the only nation still divided from the Cold War era, we need to ensure that this new nation is greater than the one we are currently living in, both in form and in substance. This will require our best efforts. However, with everyone joining hands, I have no doubt that the unified Korea will truly stand as an inspiring global model for successful peace and development and play a leading role on the world’s stage for many years to come.”
Following a series forums on economic development, Korea’s global role in sustainable development, and civil society and global cooperation in furthering a unified Korea, a Unification Concert with leading K-pop artists performed at the Seoul World Cup Stadium on October 9 to build popular support for peaceful reunification.