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Seoul to receive German records on reunification

The Seoul government is set to receive a massive database from Berlin on the 1990 reunification of East and West Germany to prepare itself for “sudden changes” in North Korea.

President Lee Myung-bak has assigned the Ministry of Unification, which he initially planned to merge into the Foreign Ministry, with two main jobs ― preparation for reunification with the North and taking care of the increasing number of North Koreans taking refuge in the South.

Lee said in August last year that his government may introduce a unification tax to fund reunification with the North, one of the world’s poorest countries.

“The Unification Ministry is supposed to draft plans to impose the unification tax, but somehow it hasn’t done anything so far,” a presidential aide said last week.

Contrary to his liberal predecessors who led an engagement policy to gradually extend bilateral exchanges with the North by building trust with the Kim Jong-il regime, Lee has maintained that Pyongyang must first show a “change of attitude” over the deaths of South Koreans it caused and nuclear disarmament before discussing anything else such as economic aid from the South.

The South Korean defense ministry reportedly drafted last year a military operation plan known as OPLAN 5029 in case of “sudden changes” in the North such as a coup or anything else signaling the collapse of Kim’s regime or a massive influx of North Koreans.

The Unification Ministry, meanwhile, signed a preliminary deal with the German federal government in October last year to share its knowhow on reunification.

“We plan to select an agency next month to handle Germany’s data on unification which we will systematically receive under a memorandum of understanding with Germany’s federal ministry of the interior,” an official at Seoul’s Unification Ministry said.

The agencies designated by Seoul and Berlin will select what kind of records South Korea needs, extract the required records, translate and classify them.

The data will be mostly on the exchanges and cooperation between East and West Germany, negotiations for reunification and reconstruction in areas that previously belonged to East Germany.

The planned declassification of the German database is expected to help Seoul’s research on political, social and economic “integration” with the North.

“There have been a lot of materials for research on Germany’s reunification, but little research is based on primary sources,” the unification ministry official said.

“Confirming how (German) policymakers drafted plans (for reunification) based on what kind of understanding would greatly help us in policymaking for reunification.”

In addition to sharing the German documents and materials on exchanges between the East and West, negotiations for reunification, reconstruction of East Germany, social integration, mutual growth after reunification and estimation of unification costs, South Korea and Germany will hold an annual conference on reunification.

Former policymakers and other experts who participated in the reunification process will discuss issues of mutual concern in Seoul around September. Seoul and Berlin will take turns to host the annual consultative conference.

The two governments are still discussing the size of the conference and who will attend it.

By Kim So-hyun (sophie@heraldcorp.com)
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