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International Forum Urges Support for a Free and Unified Korea as a Catalyst for Regional and Global Transformation

by Eric Olsen

Dozens of experts from China, the ROK, Japan, Russia, Mongolia, India, the UK, and the United States evaluated the complexities of resolving the North Korean threat, prospects of regional economic integration, and recent developments toward peaceful reunification of the Korean peninsula during a August 6-14 convening of the International Forum on One Korea.

Addressing the Forum’s closing plenary in a policy speech on August 12, Global Peace Foundation Chairman Dr. Hyun Jin Moon said, “Korean unification will bring economic benefits that would bring together the existing synergistic elements of both Koreas for the benefit of all.”

Global Peace Foundation Chairman Dr. Hyun Jin Moon.

He noted that the South “has a highly developed economy that is in dire need of new avenues for growth. The North provides those opportunities through its untapped natural resources, extensive need for new industries and infrastructure, an expanded labor pool, and in the long run, a larger combined domestic market.”

The GPF chairman said the Koreas will be united one way or another—“a matter of when, not if.” The question, he said, is what kind of a nation will that united Korea be? “Do we merely wait to react to change when it happens, or should we, as Koreans, take responsibility now to shape the future of that new nation?”

The International Forum on One Korea Forum series, and expert forums convened by the Global Peace Foundation in Seoul, Washington, and other cities around the world for more than a decade, have been engaging scholars and experts in advancing a bold new framework that focuses on the goal of a free and unified Korea.

The ‘Korean Dream’ changes the approach from “a singular focus on denuclearization to a comprehensive view including other critical issues such governance, human rights and economic development.” 

Citing Dr. Moon’s 2014 book Korean Dream, Heritage Foundation founder Edwin Feulner stressed “the importance of an overarching vision for a United Korea and the principles that should guide that vision and the need for a vigorous civil society to play a central role in the pursuit of unification.”

The Korean Dream, he said, “emphasizes the principle of Hongik Ingan, which means ‘to live for the greater benefit of humanity.’ This principle that is associated with the very origins of the Korean nation. It highlights the need to move the pursuit of unification outside the exclusive sphere of government, to engage the support of the Korean people as a whole and friends around the world, particularly through what we call civil society.”

The Korean Dream changes the approach “from a singular focus on denuclearization to a comprehensive view including other critical issues such governance, human rights and economic development,” GPF International President James Flynn told the forum. “It provides a lens to assess not only the challenges but also the significant opportunities that will open for all the Korean people in a free and unified Korea.”

 Advancing human rights and global security

“A peaceful and prosperous Korea is key for the future development of Northeast Asia and Asia-Pacific region, said Wang Huiyao, the Founder and President of the Center for China and Globalization at the closing session. “China hopes to see a peaceful process of reunification of Korea without interference of foreign influence, settled by the Korean people in both the DPRK and ROK themselves.”

U.S. Rep. Young Kim (top) and Chinese executive Wang Huiyao.

Other presenters noted the significant obstacles of bringing meaningful change with the Kim regime. “The challenge of the enduring threats and provocations from North Korea will require close coordination and cooperation between the United States and South Korea, as well as with our surrounding allies, and is central to security in the region,” U.S. Rep. Young Kim (CA) told the forum.

“We cannot make the mistake of rushing the process. This is a long-term problem that would require long term strategies. Finally, we must recognize that confronting North Korea on its horrendous human rights abuses is essential to securing verifiable commitments from the Kim regime.”

Dr. William Parker, former President and CEO of the East West Institute and the National Defense University Foundation, cautioned that if North Korea's nuclear program is not eliminated, South Korea and Japan will likely become nuclear nations in the near term. The Chinese will respond with increased nuclear weapons and defensive capabilities. “Nuclear proliferation, Parker said, “will greatly increase the risk of losing control of fiscal material worldwide.”

Former UK Ambassador to the DPRK John Everard described the dire economic realities facing North Korea and the looming threat of famine in the North. “Now this is important because it means that although we haven't yet achieved denuclearization . . . we are now much closer, I think, than much of the international community recognizes. Quite simply, in the present situation North Korea needs all the friends it can get.”

Human rights and governance

An August 8 forum, Human Rights and Governance, presented a sobering overview of North Korea’s institutionalized human rights violations, with Session I  focusing on the regime’s strict control of information and Session II examining the generations’ long separation of families following the division of Korea in 1953.

Suzanne Scholte, President of the North Korea Freedom Coalition and a leading expert on North Korean human rights violations, catalogued the creative ways defectors bring information to the North, and how the regime in turn attempts to thwart these efforts.  Other presenters denounced the Moon administration in South Korea for outlawing efforts from defectors and human rights groups to send truthful information into the North.

 “Contacts between societies of the two states on the Korean Peninsula should be established and expanded as far as possible before, and not after the unification.”

Korea specialists in Session II, Family Reunions, said some 10 million Korean families have been forcibly separated since the Korean War, violating the spiritual and ethical heritage of the traditional Korean family model and its 5,000 years of common history. Koreans living abroad have few political options to reconnect with their North Korean families. 

“North Korea regards the issue of the Divided Families between the two Koreas as a political issue and uses it as propaganda for the regime, as a negotiating card for inter-Korean relations, or as a means of pursuing profit,” said Man-soon Jang, President of the Korean Assembly for Reunion of Ten-Million Separated Families. Panelists said family reunification should be recognized as a human rights issue, not merely a humanitarian issue.

Peace and security

An August 7 Korea forum, Peace and Security, assessed the complexities of resolving diverging social, cultural and political realities since the division of Korea some 73 years ago. “According to some experts, Koreans are no longer a divided nation, but actually two nations,” said Elena Boykova, a professor at the Institute of Oriental Studies at the Russian Academy of Sciences. She said significant differences dictate the need to “create conditions for the peoples of the two countries to ‘get to know,’ ‘get used to’ each other and, ultimately, to create relations based on mutual trust. Contacts between societies of the two states on the Korean Peninsula should be established and expanded as far as possible before, and not after the unification.”

Stimson Center analyst Vladimir Ivanov (top) and Heritage
Foundation founder Edwin Feulner.

Former Mongolian Ambassador to the UN Jargalsaikhan Enksaikhan and Dr. John Endicott, Limited Nuclear Weapon Free Zone Co-Founder and Nobel Peace Prize nominee, discussed advances in the establishment of a Northeast Asia Nuclear-Weapons-Free Zone that would avoid exclusive focus on North Korean denuclearization to ensure the entire region would renounce the development and use of nuclear weapons.

Great power geopolitical interests also require equally complex diplomacy. “At some point in the unification process, collective security assurances should be given to both DPRK and ROK, to make sure that either of them or the unified Korea are not used as a bargaining chip or a hostage in a larger regional conflict, e.g. between U.S. and China,” said Vladimir Ivanov, an Adjunct Senior Fellow at the Stimson Center.

Economic opportunities

Two sessions on August 11 explored the topics Economic Challenges and Opportunities Toward a Free and Unified Korea, and Tourism, Culture and Sports Stimulating Economic Integration and Development of a Free and Unified Korea. Economists from Australia, China, Japan, and the U.S., and a North Korean defector described the opportunities for regional economic development and the importance of cultural exchange, and the critical role of civil society in promoting peace and eventual reunification.

Dr. Leonid Petrov, a Senior Lecturer at the International College of Management in Sydney, argued that “the Sunshine Policy (1998-2008) demonstrates that peaceful co-existence is the preferred and most feasible scenario for both economic cooperation between the DPRK and ROK.” He said if collaboration in nuclear energy generation, transportation corridors and environmental projects are added to the inter-Korean cooperation agenda, Pyongyang and Seoul would have more incentives to co-exist peacefully.

Mi-ja, Kim, the President of Korea Tourism Support Service Association quoted a Goldman Sachs analysis projecting that a unified Korea could overtake the G7 of France, Germany, and Japan within 30 to 40 years and become the central axis of the Northeast Asia center. The DMZ, an untouched ecological region separating the Koreas, could serve as gateway to peaceful unification and an enduring symbol of world peace, Kim said.

Some 75 scholars, policy makers, civil society leaders and human rights activists participated in nine sessions over five days on Peace and Security, Human Rights and Governance, and Economy. The International Forum on One Korea is one focus area of August 6-15 Global Peace Convention, the flagship bi-annual assembly of the Global Peace Foundation, hosted virtually in 2021 due to Covid restrictions.

The 2021 Global Peace Convention coordinated some 30 sessions in eight thematic tracks, highlighting values-based peacebuilding, innovations in education, women and youth leadership, and international religious freedom advocacy.

The Convention is now available On-Demand. Register to watch the 2021 Virtual Global Peace Convention.