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German reunification expert advises olive branch to N.K.

A German reunification expert has said that concessions from South Korea to the North now could smooth the two countries’ reunion should the communist regime suddenly collapse.

Professor Horst Teltschik, former director general at the West German Federal Chancellery, joined a consultation group here to share his experiences following the collapse of the German Democratic Republic that was East Germany.

Germany was divided from the end of World War II until the Berlin Wall was torn down in 1989.

Teltschik drew on his experience as West German national security advisor to Chancellor Helmut Kohl during reunification to urge Seoul to pursue a “dialogue of cooperation with North Korea,” without expecting much in return.

“One of the things (South Korea) has to learn is that it will never get from the other side the same amount of concessions it gives,” said the official formerly responsible for international negotiations regarding reunification, comparing former South Korean president Kim Dae-jung’s Sunshine Policy of friendship toward the north to the West’s approach to the GDR. 
Professor Horst Teltschik, member of the new Joint Consultation Committee on Korean Reunification (Kirsty Taylor)
Professor Horst Teltschik, member of the new Joint Consultation Committee on Korean Reunification (Kirsty Taylor)

“Whatever we did toward the GDR, we always paid a higher price than what we got back. If you judge the Sunshine Policy (on the grounds) that it did not get back the same level of concessions it made, well, that’s the problem with dealing with dictatorships. Nevertheless, it is the right way, because you have to help the people.”

During an interview with The Korea Herald following the new Joint Consultation Committee on Korean Reunification’s first meeting in Seoul last week, he also advocated winning over the North Korean public by giving aid.

The new committee comprised of 24 German and Korean current and former politicians, civil servants and academics discussed ways to transform a former communist system into a market economy, as Germany did following the collapse of the GDR.

Questions of reunification

“How much will it cost, when might it happen, and did you have a plan on your desk before unifying your country?” were some of the questions Teltschik said Koreans often asked him.

“Fortunately we hadn’t such plans because they would have been all wrong. You never know how fast you have to move. At the beginning of ‘89 nobody was aware that in November the Berlin Wall would come down.”

And the country became one within a year in a bid to stop a mass East to West population shift that threatened to wreck both regions. East Germans’ great desire to access “freedom and welfare” mobilized them in their hundreds of thousands as the GDR border opened, Teltschik said, warning that similar enthusiasm from a newly-liberated North Korean population could cause problems for the South.

“The GDR people shouted the simple slogan: ‘If the Deutschmark will not come to us then we will go to the Deutschmark.’ People wanted to be reunified as soon as possible.”

And similar movement can be expected on the Korean Peninsula, with many defectors already attempting “nightmare” journeys via China to the South.

“If they try hard to leave now, when the border will be opened and they will immediately try to come to South Korea,” he said. “You really have to give them hope that things will rapidly change in North Korea itself to encourage them to stay.”

He thought that the South’s chaebol business leaders would have a helpful role to play if the Kim regime should collapse, with the North’s free economic zones “quite a good model that can be extended.”

As well as economic development, Seoul must prepare to deal with the North Korean Army and to implement new legal systems, as West German judges and civil servants did in the former GDR.

But the North’s lack of development could aid commercialization there, as starting from scratch could be easier than revamping defunct businesses.

“We had companies with thousands of employees which were bankrupt,” Teltschik said. “To manage such big plants is much more difficult than when there is no plant and you can start from scratch.”

Signs of change

While scant information from the secretive Hermit Kingdom makes it hard to predict any potential regime change, Teltschik said the anticipated new generations of leadership in North Korea and China could hasten a collapse of power in Pyongyang.

“What everybody knows is that North Korea is almost bankrupt,” he said. “If China would not subsidize them they would collapse tomorrow. We had a similar situation with the GDR and the Soviet Union. Whether there will be changes, nobody knows. But you have to be prepared that things can change.”

Vice Minister for Unification Kim Chun-sig said: “In the process of preparing for national unification we perceive the German case as a very important reference,” he added following the launch of the new commission on reunification of the world’s only remaining divided region.

By Kirsty Taylor (