The action-oriented purpose of the Global Peace Leadership Conference – Korea 2014 held in Seoul was to build a consensus on principles and strategy in South Korean society to prepare for future reunification. Participants came from a wide spectrum of Korean society to discuss the theme: “Vision, Principles, and Values for a Reunified Korea.” They included politicians of both main parties, government officials, scholars, leaders of six main faiths in Korea, and humanitarian aid and human rights groups.
The Global Peace Foundation(GPF) and its founder, Dr. Hyun Jin Moon, put great emphasis on the need for civil society engagement with the issue. This was reflected in the major role played at the conference by civic organizations and NGOs.
Action for Korea United (AKU), the main organizer, brings together almost 400 South Korean religious and civic organizations, in a coalition representing a broad range of views. AKU was established in 2012 as a result of a GPF initiative to establish a cooperative approach toward North Korea-related initiatives among private organizations.
Also playing major roles were the Korea NGO Association, and the Buddhist-related Korean Sharing Movement whose representatives, Mr. Gap-san Lee and the Venerable Young Dam respectively, served as co-chairs of the organizing committee. Mr. Lee said that civic organizations and NGOs should take the lead in advancing reunification.
The government is encouraging these efforts, laying the groundwork for an effective public-private partnership working to prepare for reunification. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Unification were both among the conference sponsors. From the legislative side, the National Assembly’s Forum on Future Unification was also a sponsor.
National Assembly member, Sung-tae Kim, told participants there were no in-depth discussions in the legislature about preparation for reunification and vowed to remedy this. “Government and civil organizations should cooperate in these discussions,” he said and they should then be reflected in the work of the National Assembly.
In his keynote address, Dr. Moon said that the theme of the conference was an essential part of preparation for reunification. So far, vision had been “the missing dimension of reunification,” he said. That vision was to be found in Korea’s history and cultural traditions. “To prepare for the future we need to look to the past,” he told participants.
He highlighted three features of that past: Korea’s founding spirit, associated with the principle of Hongik-Ingan which means living to widely benefit humanity; a spiritual consciousness forged through a long history of suffering; and the traditional Korean extended family model that nurtured virtuous citizens and passed core cultural values from generation to generation.
Prominent speakers included Dr. Se-il Park, honorary professor of Seoul National University, highly respected in Korea for his scholarship. Among the international speakers were Dr. Edwin Feulner, founder of the Heritage Foundation in Washington, DC, Dr. Victor Cha, Korea Chair at the Center of Strategic and International Studies in Washington, DC, and Professor Feng Zhu of Nanjing University in China.
Dr. Park said that the global axis was shifting towards an Asia in which China was rising. Korean reunification would be a key factor in whether that rise was peaceful or not. Korean reunification would lead to the emergence of an East Asian economic community.
Dr. Feulner urged the continued importance of the U.S.-South Korea alliance in any move toward reunification, with South Korea taking the lead. He commended the conference initiative to bring organizations together to challenge the indifference of many South Koreans and remind the world it needs a peaceful reunified Korea.
Professor Zhu said, “International dynamics in the Asia-Pacific region have never been better for the grand enterprise of Korean reunification since the end of the Cold War.” He pointed to the growing cooperation between China and South Korea, a reassessment of China’s policy on North Korea, and public opinion that was 75 percent in favor of reunification under South Korean leadership.
Dr.Cha said that China and South Korea’s interests would overlap significantly once China stopped believing it needed North Korea as a buffer state. He did not believe that this might lead to a deal that excluded the U.S. “South Koreans … know that their outreach to China is only credible if it is grounded in a strong alliance with the U.S.”
He concluded by saying reunification was something “many of us in this room will witness, perhaps not next week or next year, but certainly within our life time.”