President Park Geun-hye on Friday proposed the establishment of inter-Korean cooperative offices and pledged to expand humanitarian, financial and infrastructure support for the North as part of measures to lay the foundation for an eventual reunification.
In an address in the former East German city of Dresden, she laid out a three-point agenda to “break down the barriers” across the border.
Just as citizens of the two Germanys were allowed to visit each other before unification, the two Koreas should increase exchanges including regular reunions of families separated by the 1950-53 Korean War, Park said.
She proposed installing “inter-Korean exchange and cooperation offices” in Seoul and Pyongyang to push for joint projects in fields such as education, economy and public administration.
“We will encourage exchanges in historical research and preservation, culture and the arts, and sports, all of which could promote genuine people-to-people contact, rather than seek politically-motivated projects or promotional events,” Park said.
“Should North Korea so desire, we would be happy to partner with the international community to share our experience in economic management and developing special economic zones, and to provide systematic education and training opportunities relating to finance, tax administration and statistics.” As a new assistance program, Seoul is working with the U.N. to begin the so-called “1,000 days project” to provide health care to pregnant women until their children turn 2 years old, Park said.
On the business front, the president offered to Pyongyang to build a joint agricultural complex to develop farming, stockbreeding and forestry in regions suffering from sluggish output and desertification.
She also expressed hopes for South Korean firms’ participation in a project to develop a railway between North Korea and Russia and a North Korean port, while vowing to foster the trilateral economic partnership between the two Koreas and China.
“South Korea could invest in infrastructure-building projects where possible, such as in transportation and telecommunication. Should North Korea allow South Korea to develop its natural resources, the benefits would accrue to both halves of the peninsula,” Park said.
“This would organically combine South Korean capital and technology with North Korean resources and labor and redound to the eventual formation of an economic community on the Korean Peninsula.”
For all the plans to make headway, however, Pyongyang must abandon its nuclear ambition and return to the stalled six-nation denuclearization forum with a “sincere willingness,” Park said.
She also expressed her willingness to pursue a Northeast Asian multilateral security regime to address the communist state’s security concerns by scaling up her initiative to promote regional peace and cooperation.
“Should North Korea make the strategic decision to forgo its nuclear program, South Korea would correspondingly be the first to offer its active support, including for its much needed membership in international financial institutions and attracting international investments,” Park said.
“If deemed necessary, we can seek to create a Northeast Asia Development Bank with regional neighbors to spur economic development in North Korea and in surrounding areas.”
The event wrapped up Park’s four-day state visit, during which she and German Chancellor Angela Merkel agreed to work together to help Seoul chart a path to its own unification, building on the lessons from the European country.
Park received an honorary doctorate at Dresden University of Technology earlier in the day. She also had a dinner meeting on Thursday with Stanislaw Tillich, minister-president of the eastern state of Saxony.
The latest speech was designed to boost her drive for unification, which has emerged as the centerpiece of the second year of her presidency. In her New Year address, she said unification would bring a “bonanza” to all Koreans and an opportunity for the nation to take a great leap forward.
The event drew extensive media coverage, with several television networks broadcasting live. This came amid speculation that she would unveil what was rumored to be the “Dresden doctrine” as a watershed element in her North Korea policy, just like former German Chancellor Helmut Kohl, who gave a landmark unification address in the city in 1989.
But no major announcement transpired; nor did the speech unveil a fresh, realistic vision for the peninsula and detailed action plans, to the dismay of many observers.
The conservative leader has already been stressing humanitarian assistance as a key component of her much-trumpeted “trust-building process” approach. The much-trumpeted initiative was designed to reengage Pyongyang while deterring its saber rattling by gradually forging trust through small projects, which would then lead to greater collaboration in line with the communist state’s denuclearization.
Pyongyang also brushed off Seoul’s proposal early this month for working-level talks to discuss ways to regularly hold reunions of separated family members, citing the absence of the necessary political environment and atmosphere.
Most other proposals were either part of her election promises or pledges that her predecessors -- some of them maintained far more amicable ties with their North Korean counterpart -- failed to keep.
The idea of the Northeast Asian development bank was first floated when Park gave a lecture in Berlin in 2006 as a senior politician, which was even before Pyongyang triggered the nuclear crisis through its first underground detonation.
Eight years on, the Kim dynasty rather boasts much-upgraded nuclear capabilities after three rounds of atomic tests, and tension remains high in the face of its rocket launches and other military and verbal provocations.
Many of Park’s predecessors used trips to Germany to announce new offers or policies on North Korea. Three months after former President Kim Dae-jung unveiled the “Berlin Declaration” calling for the end of the Cold War on the Korean Peninsula, he had an unprecedented summit with then-North Korean leader Kim Jong-il.
Later in the day, Park was scheduled to meet in Frankfurt with South Korean residents including former miners and nurses sent to Germany in the 1960s to earn foreign currency to help revamp the war-devastated economy back home. Her father, former President Park Chung-hee, spearheaded ambitious reforms from out of the ashes of war.
In 1964, the late Park delivered a tearful speech before hundreds of the miners and nurses during a trip to a coal mine in western Germany, thanking them for their devotion and vowing to rebuild the homeland.
The incumbent president also expressed appreciation for Berlin’s support for Korea’s post-war reconstruction including 150 million marks ($105.2 million) in low-interest loans, technology transfer and vocational training in her Dresden address.
“Germany’s help would prove to be a huge boost to Korea’s subsequent modernization and economic development,” Park said.
“A unified Korea that is free from the fear of war and nuclear weapons will be well positioned to make larger contributions to dealing with a wide range of global issues like international peace-keeping, nuclear non-proliferation, environment and energy, and development.”
By Shin Hyon-hee (firstname.lastname@example.org