A presidential blue-ribbon committee devoted to preparing for inter-Korean unification held its inaugural session Thursday with little fanfare, as the public attention is riveted to horrible abuses at military barracks and measures to revive the sluggish economy.
A recent series of missile and rocket launches by North Korea has also undermined the atmosphere for substantial discourse on how to lay the groundwork for national reunification.
Yet, the daunting task of preparing for unification should no longer be delayed as the Korean Peninsula has remained divided for nearly seven decades since its liberation from Japan’s colonial rule in 1945. The animosity and distrust between the two Koreas, which fought a devastating fratricidal war from 1950-53, still run deep.
It is certain that unification would bring prosperity to all Koreans by making it possible to combine the South’s capital and technology with the North’s labor and natural resources. A unified and prosperous Korea would also serve to enhance stability and coprosperity in Northeast Asia as a whole.
President Park Geun-hye has noted these benefits in her recent pitches for unification, saying it would be a “bonanza” for both Koreas and a blessing for their neighboring countries.
But consistent efforts are needed to pursue unification in a cautious and concerted manner from a long-term perspective to circumvent Pyongyang’s fear of being absorbed by Seoul and settle discord in South Korean society over how to handle the impoverished and recalcitrant regime.
The 50-member committee, aided by 31 experts and 68 advisers, is tasked with drawing up a road map for this through joint work between government policymakers and private-sector pundits. In this vein, it is appropriate for the panel to include the chief policymaker of the main opposition party and figures who served in the previous liberal administrations that sought reconciliation with the North.
A bipartisan agreement may be needed to lay legal and institutional foundations to enable the committee to continue functioning beyond the five-year term of President Park Geun-hye, who instructed its formation in time for the first anniversary of her presidency in February.
While flexible and inclusive in discussing preparations for unification, committee members should make it clear that a unified Korea would be based on a free and democratic system that would maximize the well-being of all Koreans.