Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Five Theories of Korean Unification

Victor Cha
JoongAng Daily

Victor Cha finds "Five theories of unification" (JoongAng Daily, July 22,2014) in Korean history, and I'm posting them below for memory's sake:
The first theory of unification emerged after the division of Korea and throughout the Cold War. This was essentially the notion of "unification by force" . . . , or the idea that the only legitimate definition of unification was the crushing victory of one Korea over the other . . . . This "winner take all" view was held by Syngman Rhee, Park Chung Hee and Kim Il Sung . . . . [T]he second theory of unification[, formulated after German unification, was] . . . that it was too difficult and too dangerous. Unification became something that was not desired, but something to be avoided because of its staggering costs and the terrible uncertainties . . . . This second "hard landing" theory of unification predominated Korean thinking from the end of the cold war in Europe until the Asian financial crisis in 1997 . . . . [The third theory of unification came in] 1997[, when] Kim Dae-jung put forward the idea of the sunshine policy. A strategy of unconditional engagement designed to open the North to the forces of reform. This was a policy tied to DJ's more liberal political ideology, and then carried forth by his successor Roh Moo-hyun for an entire decade . . . . [and it] was motivated by hard economic realities. Korea's liquidity crisis in 1997-98 made unification impossible, so it was best to engage the North Korean regime over the long-term, and pave the way for a gradual transition or "soft landing." What was so distinct in retrospect about the Sunshine Policy was the notion that unification should be pushed generations into the distant future . . . . [The fourth theory of unification started] with the . . . election of conservative Lee Myung-bak. Lee was a businessman, not an ideologue. He was pragmatic and saw unification in pragmatic terms . . . . This fourth theory was a pragmatic one -- that is, unification may be expensive, it may be difficult and it may be dangerous. But . . . . as traumatic as unification may be, it could very well come tomorrow or next month or next year. Koreans must start to prepare now for it, not simply wish it would go away forever . . . . [The fifth theory of unification started with] President Park. In her Dresden speech, she laid out her own theory of unification as a bonanza or jackpot for Korea and her neighbors . . . . This fifth theory of unification does not see it as winner take all . . . , or something to be feared and delayed indefinitely (sunshine), or even something that we must reluctantly prepare for. . . . Rather she paints it as something bright. (bold font and underlining mine)
There are things to keep in mind, namely, "that the stability of the regime in the North is far from certain" and that "there is a direct correlation between the increased interest in unification and South Korea's outreach to China." But this rapprochement does not "mean that Seoul will be willing to cut a deal with China on North Korea that excludes the United States[, for] without the U.S. alliance, South Korea gets treated by China like a small province."

But might not the US be willing to cut such a deal? That is tempting for some American policy-makers, I suspect, the ones who argue that Korea doesn't need US forces anymore, especially since the US forces are generally unappreciated anyway. Make an offer to pull out of Korea in return for China's support on re-unification?

But wouldn't this contradict Obama's pivot to Asia . . .

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