South Korean Minister of Unification Hyun In-taek: It would be hard for two Koreas to coexist if peace not achieved
South Korean Minister of Unification Hyun In-taek in an interview with Interfax has said that the unification of South and North Korea will cost up to $5 trillion and may take up to 30 years and that South Korea may change its mind on U.S. troops on the Korean Peninsula after the two Koreas unite.Question: President Lee recently proposed a plan of reintegrating South and North, but Pyongyang declined it. Could you please outline the main points of the plan? Are you going now to work out a new plan, probably in cooperation with Pyongyang or pursue the old one?
Answer: As you may probably have heard, on Independence Day, August 15, President Lee Myung-bak proposed a unification policy of the Korean government. They start three communities, the economic community, peace community, and the community of the Korean people. This is a signal of a change in our policy and it‘s a very constructive unification policy, and it works towards the common prosperity of the two Koreas. What we want is the possibility of the peace community between the two Koreas, which would also lead to expanded economic cooperation, and that would ultimately lead to an economic community. After that we also want to have political integration between the two Koreas, and ultimately reach a community of the Korean nation. However, even if North Korea has shown a negative response to this, I believe this does not diminish the importance or the constructive significance of President Lee Myung-bak‘s unification policy. I think that the reason why North Korea has declined such a proposal is that it‘s still reluctant to break free fr om its isolated and closed state and because it doesn‘t have a sincere attitude to achieve peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula through denuclearization. So the Korean government hopes to persuade North Korea in tandem, in cooperation with the international community.
Q.: It took a huge amount of money to reintegrate Western Germany and Eastern Germany a couple of decades ago. What are the estimated sums needed to unify South and North Korea? Is the Republic of Korea ready to pay these costs?
A.: Actually, there is a vast range of estimates of the unification costs. According to the projections of the academia, experts and many, many think tanks, they range from a minimum of maybe 50 billion dollars if the period of unification is five years to five trillion dollars for 30 years.
As regards the cost of unification, the Ministry of Unification has recently started a process to think about how we will finance it and who will pay for it, and they have started to do this in earnest by gathering social consensuses on this matter. I believe, in thinking about costs, we have to think about three stages of unification. We have to think about the overall process: first there could be a process of unification, also the particular moment in time when unification happens, and, third, a post-unification process that could take maybe 20 years. We have to consider all of these costs in a comprehensive manner and, if we do so, I think this would be actually higher than just thinking about unification itself. And when I talk about these overall costs, they include the political, economic and social aspects of unification.
We are thinking much broader of unification so the cost w will prop ably be bigger than we used to think.
Q.: You have already answered partly to my third question about possible scenarios of unification. May be you can add something about different options that South Korea is searching for as to reunification?
A.: Now what you just mentioned is precisely the reason why President Lee Myung-bak proposed the three-communities-based unification proposal, and the proposal that we set forth is a very gradual, step-by-step and cooperative proposal. Now I think, most of all, first achieving peace with North Korea is most important. Without this, it would be difficult for the two Koreas to coexist. And that is why the two Koreas want to pursue a stage of cooperation, which is what we see now and what we are aiming for now in the six-party talks, wh ere we try to achieve peace and denuclearization. I believe that through this we will be able to lay the foundations for a peace community, and then we may be able to replace the armistice treaty with a peace treaty, also I think we may bring about a reduction of arms between the two Koreas, and this will lead to political integration ultimately, and also more trust between the two Koreas.
But, at the same time, the two Koreas will be pursuing economic cooperation. As denuclearization progresses, I believe that we will be able to maximize economic cooperation between the two Koreas. As you know, North Korea is in a very difficult economic situation. As we give economic assistance to North Korea, North Korea may be able to pursue reform and openness, and also increase the level of communication it has with the international community. And this will be the foundation of the economic community between the two Koreas. And as North Korea‘s income level rises, the North Korean people‘s quality of life will also rise, and, if that proceeds, then I think integration between the two Koreas, economic integration between the two Koreas, will come more easily. And through this we think that the two Koreas will be able to communicate better, have similar thoughts and narrow the gap in terms of quality of life. And, if we get to that stage, I think political integration will not be that difficult, and this is what we envision. You asked me a question about scenarios of unification. Now what I want to stress is that our unification proposal is characterized by a gradual, long process. We look forward to increased communication and reconciliation in all areas - political, economic and social - not only between the two regimes but also between the people of the two Koreas. And this is the kind of unification scenario that we want.
Q.: If finally the reunification process is possible considering that people of the two Koreas live now under quite different regimes and have very different ways of thinking. Do you foresee integration will be an easy process?
A.: It is not easy, because we have been separated for more than 60 years, but we have to think about that. South and North were a unified country. Unification is not a question of "we can" but a question of "we have to," because we should unify the country. This is natural for two separated countries to be in one, and we were one country for a 1000 years, 1,300 years to be more exactly. So, we have to. That is not the question of "we can" or "we will", but the question of "we have to."
Q.: For rather a long time there is a project of Trans-Korean railway to Russia on the table. Can this project become one of the pillars for the economic reunification of the two Koreas? And how to see Russia‘s role in the process of reunification of the two Koreas?
A.: I believe that the Trans-Korea Railway is very, very important. I think that it can be a foundation of unification between the two Koreas, particularly in terms of economic cooperation. If the two Koreas‘ railways are linked, the significance of this is that we would be linked all the way from South Korea to Europe, and that means Europe and Asia would become completely one. Now, apparently, Russia, which has a vast territory, connects Europe with its Trans-Siberian Railway. However, that does not connect up to Far East Asia, that is South and North Korea, and there is also Japan across the sea, which is an island. Now, considering the changes in Asia happening currently, I think that, if the Trans-Korea Railway was to be linked, Korean people would be traveling all the way to Europe through Russia, and that would be opening new doors for not just the Korean people but also for global citizens. And, if this is, perhaps, linked to Japan thorough an underwater tunnel, that would signal a very important change for countries in Northeast Asia such as Russia, Japan and Korea. And through this I believe that the Far East of Russia will improve dramatically, and this will also benefit North Korea.
It‘s not just the transportation of people but a lot of goods could be transported. You know Japan is the second, maybe the third largest economy in the world, Korea is 13th to 14th largest economy. If the two Koreas united, our economic standing would actually go up, and such a viable and dynamic economic country would be linked to the Far East of Russia if the Trans-Korea Railway is linked. And that would mean that the cities in Siberia would also develop together, and that would also mean that the cities and all this would be linked to Europe. I think this signals the creation of a new economic hub. And this would be beneficial also to North Korea hugely. However, the problem is North Korea. While South Korea is ready to give all the support for this, North Korea still refuses to open its doors and continues to isolate itself. The situation is so bad that even North Korea‘s ally China urges North Korea to pursue reform and openness. Now, all of this, I believe, is related to Russia‘s role. You have enjoyed good relations with North Korea for a long time, and I think that, if you could persuade North Korea towards reform and openness, and try to persuade North Korea to become a responsible member of the international community, that would bring common prosperity. I think that would be the only way for common prosperity. So, I would like to ask Russia for this role.
Q.: The Republic of Korea and the United States claim that American forces on the Peninsula are necessary because of the threat from the DPRK. Does it mean that American bases will leave Korea in case the South and North reunite?
A.: There are many questions about that, according to many different possible scenarios. To answer this question, I think it would be good to look at the case of Europe. Now, the role of the U.S. and the role of the U.S. forces in Europe and the role of NATO were very much discussed during both the Cold War and the post-Cold War period. During the Cold War era, these were discussed and many questions were raised about it, but in the post-Cold War era, things changed a lot. Europe changed, Europe‘s perspective changed, and not only that, perceptions of Russia changed as well. I think there coexist many perceptions of the U.S. forces in Korea in terms of their role and the image that we have of them, and the views have to do both with what we have to think of them in the present and with what we have to think of them after unification.
When the two Koreas are united, that means it would signal a completely different security environment for Northeast Asia. And when that happens, I think the perceptions and perspectives of China and Russia will also change. In this changed environment, I think our thoughts on the U.S. troops in Korea will also change. Therefore, I think it is important for Korea to cooperate closely with neighboring countries such as China and Russia about what we envision about peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula. And this is what we plan to do.
Q.: From your personal point of view what are the prospects for resuming the six-party talks?
A.: The six-party is a multilateral forum which has existed for many years, for the last maybe 20 years. But the actual reality here has not greatly improved, simply because of North Korea. They agreed upon the so-called September 19, 2005 agreement. I think it is a very, very major achievement of the six-parties, including North Korea. And according to that agreement, North Korea will give up its nuclear program and the rest of the parties give them some economic assistance and security guarantees. And then some of the parties said “what’s going on?” In 2007, they refused to have some verification process, and it was stopped. And North Korea claimed that it would not continue the denuclearization process. In the past seven years there walked back and forth, back and forth, and the world was still there. That is the reality or the current situation at the six-party talks. A sort of question there now is: what we really are trying to achieve through this process. Is this process necessary to denuclearize the North Korean nuclear program? Maybe some critics say that these are talks for the sake of talks, a dialog for the sake of dialog. So you should not make this process: dialog for the sake of dialog. In doing so, we need a sort of a true and strong intention to denuclearize this nuclear problem. We have to check it before we start the six-party talks again. That is what I am thinking. We need a multilateral forum or dialog to encourage, to appreciate North Korea to come out of isolation and the development of the nuclear program. Diplomacy I think is really important to way improve the situation. I strongly believe this. There is another aspect that somebody can use diplomacy not to have a concrete and good result. All five parties should make more efforts to make progress, make one step further to the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula. If that kind of consensus is made than I think the six-party talks can contribute to the denuclearization process.