A focused group of Koreans and internationals gathered at Seoul’s Citizen’s Hall for an Asia Institute seminar on creative approaches to the challenge of reunifying the Korean Peninsula on Friday, July 4.
Moon Kuk-hyon, president of the New Paradigm Institute and former candidate for president in Korea, opened up the event with a few remarks about his recent trip to Berlin. “At the time of German reunification,” he explained, “everyone talked about the tremendous burdens posed by reunification. But now Germany has become the most vital and dynamic nation in Europe. We should not underestimate the positive sides of such a historical move.”
Moon suggested that Cold War thinking can limit our ability to think objectively about the full potential of a unified Korean peninsula, especially the potential reduction in military spending that will make up for other costs. He said that greater imagination could lead us to come up with new solutions, especially those taking advantage of the reduction in military spending.
Next Harrsh Prasad, an exchange student at Kyung Hee University, spoke about possible exchanges in fields such as science, culture, and education that could serve to open up an expansive discussion between North and South Korea. He also suggested that there were many other paths to demilitarization and reconciliation that could be found in places like South America, and which could help Koreans.
Unfortunately, Prasad stressed, much of the reporting in the press about North Korea is so negative that people cannot even start to think about solutions.
The last of the opening remarks were delivered by Park Jae-hyun, president of Young Homo Politicus, a think tank established by a high school that debates public policy and makes concrete proposals to government. He drew attention to the specific needs of youth and their concerns about the possible ramifications of reunification costs for their future. He suggested that youth-to-youth activities could play a vital role in building up trust.
Emanuel Pastreich, director of the Asia Institute, suggested moving inter-Korea talks down to local government exchanges between provinces in the North and the South. He said it could do much to improve relations and set the stage for unification.
The discussion was distinct from many such think tank events in that the discussion was open to everyone from the very beginning, and the format encouraged an intense discussion between both Koreans and internationals, and between youth and more senior people. Six high school students from three different high schools were active in the discussion and kept pressing the experts about the true long-term implications of reunification.