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Moon’s oblivion

Oct 31,2018
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South Korea’s Unification Minister Cho Myoung-gyon on Tuesday shakes hands with Steve Biegun, the new U.S. Special Representative for North Korea Policy, who came to Seoul to coordinate North Korea policies with South Korea. [YONHAP]
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NAM JEONG-HO
The author is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.

“Valuing communication and agreement.” That is one of the five principles of the government’s blueprint North Korea policy of November 2017 entitled, “President Moon Jae-in’s Korean Peninsula Policy.”

The Ministry of Unification promised that the involvement of the National Assembly and other entities would facilitate a national consensus and an agreement on reunification issues and inter-Korea policy.

In May 2017, the National Administration Planning Committee, which draws up policy outlines, stressed that it was about time to create a national agreement for citizens to share thoughts on reunification issues.

But look at how the government has been doing. On Oct. 23, President Moon ratified the Pyongyang declaration and an inter-Korean military agreement. The opposition party claimed that it was unconstitutional without the consent of the legislature, but the administration didn’t seem to care. Is this the government that said it would communicate and pursue a national consensus? It seems to have forgotten the promise it made less than a year ago.

Many have stressed the importance of consensus on North Korea policy. In 2013, as many as 66 prominent figures from the ruling and opposition parties with both liberal and conservative views announced a declaration of national integration. They believed that there should be a bipartisan consensus to prevent internal discord and to pursue consistent policies after administration changes.
Germany’s reunification wouldn’t have been possible without agreement across conservative and liberal lines. There must have been partisan groups in West Germany, too. Conservative Christian Democrats only waited for East Germany to fall. The Social Democrats ardently advocated helping East Germany with reunification.

But the two parties made concessions because of public opinion. The Christian Democrats gave up the Hallstein Doctrine, which banned establishing diplomatic relations with any state that recognized East Germany, while the Social Democrats gave up prioritizing reunification. They took a step further and reached a consensus. Based on the agreement, Helmut Kohl, who had opposed progressive Ostpolitik, achieved reunification.

Communications and concessions are important. In Korea, communications can produce surprising outcomes, as in the case of former president Lee Myung-bak. The Cheonggyecheon restoration project during his mayoral term generally gets good reviews, thanks to his communication efforts. The city of Seoul met with merchants along Cheonggyecheon 4,200 times to hear their opinions and persuade critics.

However, the Four Rivers project that Lee started after becoming president met significant opposition. He ignored those against the project, including the environmental groups. Why did he change and stop listening to different voices? I believe he was so elated with the success of the Cheonggyecheon project, he became arrogant.

If the Moon administration continues to move forward without listening, the result is obvious. Public opinion will be further divided regarding sensitive issues like sanctions on North Korea and its human rights violations.

The government’s peace process itself may be hindered as the future of North Korea policy could become uncertain. The current administration will try to settle the issue within its term, which has only three and a half years remaining.

What about the Kim Jong-un regime? Would it want to achieve a deal with the current administration without knowing who will take power next and whether the current unification policy will continue?

The further the government moves ahead, the bigger the changes in its North Korea policy three and half years later. If North Korea is concerned about possible changes, it might become reluctant. It’s important not to rush inter-Korean exchanges. It is time for the administration to listen to different opinions and reach a national consensus on policy.

JoongAng Ilbo, Oct. 30, Page 30