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"The Future of the Korean Peninsula"

June 8, 2001

Jae Kyu Park
Former Minister of Unification, Korea

Ladies and Gentlemen, distinguished guests from the local and international community.

I am honored to address you today, here in Tokyo, at the 7th International Conference on the "Future of Asia." I would also like to congratulate Nihon Keizai Shimbun on their coordination of this timely event.

Many in this room may concur that the economic and social transformations that have taken place throughout Asia in the latter half of the 20th century have made this region an axis for the wheels of growth to spin productively in the 21st century. However, this cannot be fully realized without attention to key elements.

Today, I have the pleasure to speak to you on one pivotal spoke in this productive wheel, and that is the Korean Peninsula and its future.

Though the early 1990s saw an end to the cold war, its climate still lingers over South and North Korea. Over the last decade, flash points have fueled tensions between the two: North Korea's threat to pull out of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty in March of 1993, a disastrous attempt to infiltrate the South by submarine in June 1998, the surprise North Korea Taepodong ballistic missile that sailed over Japan in August of 1998, and the South-North naval confrontation in June 1999 have all sent the mercury skyrocketing in the political barometer. Attempts to mitigate tensions and reconcile differences were, for the most part, ineffective or foundered in their infancy.

Nonetheless, history has recorded the success of those who persevere. After a decade punctuated by periodic turbulence, the Summit of June 15, 2000 between South and North Korea, the first in almost fifty years, fundamentally altered relations between the two nations. President Kim Dae Jung's "Sunshine policy" based on engagement of the North helped warm relations between the two, and brought a whole new point of departure in which to end the cold war entirely. It presented itself not only as an instrument to warm the atmosphere lingering over South and North Korea, but also opened the skies for other nations to join in the establishment of peaceful relations with North Korea.

This year's highly anticipated second summit talks hope to bring inter-Korean relations and the prospects for lasting peace in the region to a deeper level.

From here, I would like to provide you with a general background of current inter-Korean relations, thoughts on immediate and long-term prospects, and a call for support from the Asian region.

1. The Development and Prospects of Inter-Korean Relations in the New Millenium

As you are aware, in the beginning of the year 2000, President Kim Dae Jung stated in his New Year's address and Berlin Declaration of March 9 that he would hold summit talks with North Korea. This was realized in Pyongyang in June of last year. Since then, inter-Korean relations have transformed to a prevailing mood of reconciliation, cooperation, and integration in all sectors-economic, political, and cultural.

The summit demonstrated that both the South and North formally recognized that war is not a viable option to promote peace and reunification and stated so in the "June 15 South-North Joint Declaration." Since the Joint Declaration, I, as a representative of the South Korean government, have participated in South-North ministerial-level talks on such issues as national security, economic cooperation, culture exchange, and humanitarian aid. As a result, overall cooperation expanded through direct dialogue between the two Koreas. Expansion and institutionalization of these official contacts and dialogues also allowed for major issues to be more fully discussed.

One idea sprouting from these issues-the construction of a "South-North Korean Economic Community"-began to take shape after the conclusion of the four major agreements on inter-Korean economic cooperation and reconstruction of the Seoul-Shinuiju railroad and Munsan-Kaesong highway. This latter reconstruction project will reconnect what was once a main artery of the Korean peninsula. This project is vital to expanding the exchange of personnel and materials, and vital to making the Korean peninsula the hub of an inter-continental transportation network once it is connected to the Trans-Siberian and Trans-China Railroad.

On a more immediate and humanitarian level, since the summit talks, over 3,600 separated family members have been reunited through three rounds of separated-family visits. And on March 15 of this year, for the first time since the national division, an exchange of letters between separated families in South and North Korea took place. In addition, Seoul and Pyongyang agreed on establishing a location for a permanent meeting center for separated families thereby institutionalizing the solution to this humanitarian issue. This event has brought worldwide media attention, which emphasized universal human values and the significance and implication of these reunions.

In relation to security, these developments will lead us to the gradual dismantling of the Cold War structure on the Korean peninsula. During the defense ministers talks last year, the two sides agreed not to use war as an instrument to pursue national interests. Instead, they agreed to promote mutual cooperation in the military area to ease tension and promote peaceful coexistence.

Even more encouraging are the recent actions taken by Pyongyang to develop friendly relations with other countries. So far, North Korea has normalized relations with thirteen of the fifteen EU member states and dispatched trade missions to the United States and China. North Korea has also been exerting efforts to normalize diplomatic relations with Japan. These reflect the substantial changes in North Korea's external policy and demonstrate Kim Jong Il's "New Thinking" that was instituted at the beginning of this year when he surprised the international community by secretly visiting Shanghai, China.

Considering all of these tangible developments, and the current atmosphere of cooperation and reconciliation on the Korean peninsula, the recent hiatus in relations can be interpreted as a period of adjustment. Friction in terms of the pace of progress between the two sides is quite understandable, considering that inter-Korean relations have only recently transformed from half a century of rivalry and distrust into that of rapprochement and cooperation. What is clear is that due to the trends of history this progress is inevitable and the environment of the Korean peninsula, changes in North Korea and progress in South-North relations will continue forward.

2. Peace and Prosperity on the Korean Peninsula

With the onset of the new millennium, the two Koreas face a common goal to open up "an era of peace and prosperity on the Korean peninsular" together. This is based on the spirit of harmony and coexistence, which is the foundation of the North-South summit talks. However, an immediate reunification may have significant economic and psychological repercussions. Moreover, the reverberation of the shock and chaos as a result of rapid unification will spread throughout Asia and may induce unbearable difficulties.

I think our ultimate goal is clear. The impending task in front of us is to create a bridge that will ease tension and bring peace on the Korean peninsula by expanding the conciliatory and cooperative atmosphere created after the inter-Korean summit. When the recent hiatus ends, we should hold the second summit talks. Through a successful completion of the second inter-Korean summit, we hope to construct a foundation for a peace system and achieve substantial expansion in inter-Korean reconciliation and cooperation. North Korean leader Kim Jong Il's visit to Seoul will create an atmosphere of cooperation that cannot be reversed and will be the focal point of an historic transformation.

I would like to emphasize that fifty years of interaction with the North has proved that, due to their international nature, the Korean issues cannot be solved by our own efforts alone. Therefore the South Korean government will continue to maintain close policy consultation with the United States and Japan while reinforcing our defense capabilities and further strengthening the US-ROK alliance. Furthermore, by maintaining cooperation with China and Russia, we will advance peace and cooperation on the Korean peninsula in a direction that can be supported and endorsed by neighboring countries.

Above all, in order to harvest the fruits of our efforts, changes in North Korea should be consistent with ours. The grand trend in world history concludes that now is the time for North Korea to transform itself. Indeed, North Korea may have already taken steps in that direction. I believe North Korea will realize the benefits such a transformation holds for itself, and for the harmonious co-existence and peace of the Korean people. I also believe that South Korea's active support of North Korea's efforts to improve her relationships with other countries and join international organizations will also contribute to Pyongyang's move toward that direction.

For our part, we should do everything we can to assist and persuade North Korea to feel comfortable in taking steps toward reform and openness.

3. The Future Prospects of the Korean Peninsula

A 'window of opportunity' toward peace and prosperity has opened for Koreans. It is a good time to test our leadership in handling changes in North Korea and in managing inter-Korean relations. Difficulties will continue to arise in the process of terminating the cold war on the Korean peninsula, but patience and confidence at this critical juncture will allow wisdom to step forward and overcome these challenges. Moreover, we should understand that current international norms require us to establish a new way of thinking and systemic framework to guide this process.

It is also essential to have a broader perspective concerning the Korean peninsula. The 21st century, an age of scientific and knowledge-based societies, is an era of possibility in which we can establish peace and realize the unimaginable. Our view of the Korean peninsula should be that of a land of hope and possibility and not of persistent crisis. Energy spent on carrying on the vicious circle of conflict and competition is counterproductive. We must abandon our attitudes of wanting peace and unification while being averse to making any sacrifice or effort.

Mutual cooperation is the only avenue for creating a brighter future on the Korean peninsula. I would like to emphasize the importance of cooperation among Korea, the U.S. and Japan in shaping that future. Support from the leaders in Asia has and will also play a significant role in the reconciliation between the South and the North.

The North Korean issue is no longer limited to the Korean peninsula. Tensions there can spread to the East Asian region and such instability can threaten peace in Asia. Without a stable regional order, no country can harvest the fruits of development and prosperity.

Therefore, peace on the Korean peninsula will not only bear stability and prosperity for Koreans. Peace on the Korean peninsula is a cornerstone for the construction of world peace. It will elevate peace not only in Japan and China and the rest of Asia, but stability for the United States and Russia as well.

I hope my words today have aided your understanding and realization of how crucial peace and stability on the Korean peninsula really is.

It is my hope that the representatives of the international communities gathered here will honestly embrace this view and promote it in all aspects of their interactions that concern the region.

Thank you very much.

Titles of speakers, names of companies, etc., were correct as of the time when the forum was held.