Michael Marshall, Editor of “The Korean Dream: A Vision for Korean Unification” from the Global Peace Foundation, and Jin Shin, president of the Institute for Peace Affairs and professor at Chungnam National University, presented talks on their vision of Korean reunification Tuesday. The discussion, moderated by Director of Asian Studies Victor Cha, took place in the Intercultural Center.
Marshall stressed the importance of a shared history to achieve Korean unification.
“Korean unification can be seen as an opportunity for Korea and Korean people to reconnect with their history,” Marshall said. “Their common and long history is one in which both countries can clearly relate with and share, beyond their recent 60-year division.”
Reunification of the two Koreas has been discussed for decades ever since their divide in the mid-1950s. However, since the Dresden Doctrine that South Korean President Park Geun-hye laid out earlier this year, scholarly and policy-driven talks have gained substantial momentum.
“Reunification is no longer an ‘if’ but ‘when,’” Cha said. “And the ‘when’ can be very soon, so it would be optimal to prepare now.”
Marshall added that students in the United States and outside Korea seemed to be more interested and engaged in such dialogue than actual Koreans themselves.
“I agree to some extent that people outside Korea are more interested in Korean unification than us,” Wookjae Jung (SFS ’15), a student who attended the event, said. “Many Koreans today think reunification is bad for us or simply don’t care, which is a big problem.”
Marshall and Shin agreed that it is worth debating specific policies regarding how best to handle the new unified country and how to better engage Koreans in this endeavor, but equally as important is the vision and principles that will guide that country forward.
“Preparation for reunification is not only for the various scenarios that might arise, but a vision for the new country that arises after reunification occurs,” Marshall said.
Marshall and Shin emphasized the importance of maintaining a vision during this tumultuous and unstable period in North Korea.
“I cannot stress enough how important vision is at times of transition,” Marshall said. “At times of extended social order, both within a country or the international system, the underlying rules and assumptions are accepted by everyone in that society. But at a time of transformation, vision can determine the ultimate goals and principles that guide you toward the future.”
Shin also referred to historical examples where a vision was crucial to creating a pathway toward a brand new system of government.
“The collapse of the Cold War era meant a significant change in the way people lived and thought, and this in turn meant some guiding principle had to lead them out of instantaneous shock and confusion,” Shin said.
Shin proposed that nations, as they become increasingly more interrelated, expand their interests to care about other nations, in addition to their own, for the future generations.
“This seems to be a bit naive, but when you think about it, it really might be that the reason such a realist world is taking place is because people make it that way,” Eddie Morles (COL ’17), who also attended the event, said. “If nations somehow start to build trust slowly but steadily, it might open up a whole new era.”
Shin acknowledged this criticism and added that despite the difficulty, more collaboration between nations will be the only way for nations to survive and coexist in the future, especially in a world that is already too interconnected to neglect a neighbor nation’s problem simply because it is “their problem.”
“It will be hard, but the key thing nations of the future must do is to change their national interests in a way that prioritizes togetherness with other nations,” Shin said. “It may seem too idealistic, but there will become a time when coexistence and cooperation is fundamental for each other’s survival.”
Marshall and Cha suggested that building this trust and social capital may start with civil society. The institution that may play the most important role in this transition period are the civic associations.
“There is a limit to what governments can do. They can provide health care and water, but they cannot do more than that,” Cha said. “When Korea unifies, the big question will be how to address what is inside the heads of North Koreans, and that will be something the government cannot do. What North Koreans believed to be true to this day will suddenly be gone. And that gap might be filled with new values with the help of such civil organizations and associations.”