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Published : 2014-07-15 21:01
Updated : 2014-07-15 21:01

President Park Geun-hye on Tuesday launched a new presidential panel for Korean unification, seeking to build momentum for her initiatives unveiled earlier this year.

The 50-member committee will be chaired by Park herself and will also have former ambassador to China Chung Chong-wook and Unification Minister Ryoo Kihl-jae as the two vice chairs.

The panel includes 30 civilian members to make it a transparent organization that discusses ways to achieve peaceful unification of the two Koreas and also to embrace various public opinions.

“Members from the government and the private sector will join hands to create a blueprint for a unified Korea and set a concrete direction for the unification drive,” said Ju Chul-ki, senior presidential secretary for foreign affairs and national security.

The committee will hold its inaugural meeting in early August, he added.

But the presidential panel is feared to weaken the already diminished position of the Unification Ministry, a government agency originally dedicated to drawing up a reunification blueprint and handling the related preparations.

As President Park set up a separate panel with high-profile figures from both the public and private sectors, it is unclear what the ministry can do on its own initiatives while inter-Korean exchanges in the private sector have dwindled to a minimum, economic sanctions imposed on the North remain unchanged, and the North continues to threaten the South by firing rockets.

Park named well-known civilian members including former Prime Minister Koh Kun, former Foreign Minister Han Seung-joo and political professor Moon Chung-in of Yonsei University.

Koh Young-hwan, a former North Korean diplomat who defected to the South in 1991, was also named a committee member. Koh currently serves as a director at the Institute for National Security Strategy, operated under the National Intelligence Service.

The civilians will be taking parts in four branches under the committee to have “fruitful and in-depth” discussions in regard to security, economy, culture and legal matters.

The ministers of finance, foreign affairs, defense and three other ministers will take part in the committee as government members. Also, Rep. Joo Ho-young of the ruling Saenuri Party and Rep. Woo Yoon-keun of the main opposition New Politics Alliance for Democracy joined to facilitate better communication with the National Assembly, Cheong Wa Dae said.

The launch of the committee came more than five months after Park outlined the plan in February. In a speech marking the first anniversary of her administration, Park stressed a need to build public consensus and create a blueprint for a unified peninsula.

The plans were released shortly after she referred to unification as an “economic bonanza.” The South Korean leader believes that reunification will provide great economic opportunities for the Korean Peninsula and neighboring countries.

She then went on to seek support from the international community by unveiling her unification initiatives during her official visit to Germany in March. In the former East German town of Dresden, Park unveiled a package of proposals to lay the groundwork for reunification, including extending aid to mothers and their babies; building infrastructure in the North in return for rights to develop underground resources; and increasing bilateral exchanges in various sectors.

Despite her ambitious drive earlier in the year, the launch of the committee had been put on hold due to the ferry tragedy in April and North Korea’s military provocations. Pyongyang on Monday fired about 100 artillery shells into the East Sea near the Northern Limit Line, the de facto inter-Korean maritime border.

By Cho Chung-un (christory@heraldcorp.com)

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