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Seoul's new unification vision: 'Ensure freedom for every N. Korean'

By Ji Da-gyum

Published : March 8, 2024 - 16:56

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Unification Minister Kim Yung-ho holds a press briefing on the Unification Ministry's 2024 policy goals at the Government Complex Seoul, Friday. (Yonhap) Unification Minister Kim Yung-ho holds a press briefing on the Unification Ministry's 2024 policy goals at the Government Complex Seoul, Friday. (Yonhap)

South Korea's Unification Ministry on Friday revealed its plans to craft a fresh unification vision, with the ultimate aim of guaranteeing the freedom rights of every North Korean citizen on a unified Korean Peninsula.

The initiative is set as the ministry's primary goal for the year and marks the first revision of South Korea's official unification formula in 30 years since 1994.

Unification Minister Kim Yung-ho said that he presented plans to formulate a unification vision grounded in the "philosophy of liberalism" during his briefing to President Yoon Suk Yeol on the ministry’s plans for this year, held on Thursday.

"During yesterday's report, the president underscored that our pursuit of unification is founded upon the universal human value of freedom, ​and unification should be one that expands the freedom of each North Korean citizen, one by one," Kim told reporters during a televised briefing.

"When we talk about freedom, we refer to the significance of individual rights. Ultimately, what constitutes a unification based on the philosophy of liberalism is to ensure conditions, where each North Korean citizen can live freely and prosperously," Kim added.

Kim explained that the new unification vision embodies the key message of unification suggested by Yoon during his address marking the 105th March First Independence Movement Day on Sunday.

Yoon said, "Unification is precisely what is needed to expand the universal values of freedom and human rights."

The president also said the independence movement "will be made complete only upon a unification that brings freedom and abundance to everyone."

The unification minister also emphasized the importance of the Yoon government maintaining a clear stance in favor of unification in response to North Korea's rhetoric of the two countries.

Antagonistic rhetoric from North Korean leader Kim Jong-un targeting South Korea has further amplified tensions. Kim has publicly and repeatedly characterized inter-Korean relations as "hostile" and "belligerent" since the last year-end party plenum, departing from the previous description as consanguineous or homogeneous.

"North Korea has recently reiterated its stance on the concept of the two separate countries, persisting in its anti-reunification and anti-historical behavior by continuing to pose nuclear threats and hostile offensive against us, its fellow countrymen," the unification minister said.

"Especially during such times, we must steadfastly and consistently devote ourselves to the historical and constitutional obligation of achieving unification based on liberal democracy."

The minister also disclosed that the Yoon government plans to revise and supplement South Korea's National Community Unification Formula, which was unveiled in August 1994 during the administration of late President Kim Young-sam.

"There has been a consistent call for continuous revisions and supplementation (of the formula), in response to changes such as the North Korean nuclear issue, worsening human rights conditions in North Korea, and shifts in the global landscape," Kim said.

"In light of the developments, our objective is to formulate a new unification proposal that embodies the principles of freedom. We will engage in a comprehensive process of collecting opinions to build a national consensus."

Kim did not provide further details about a new unification vision during Friday's briefing, although he said a new vision "should entail the promotion of freedom and human rights for North Korean citizens and complete denuclearization of North Korea" during his interview with state-run broadcaster KBS on Monday.

According to a senior official from the presidential office on Sunday, the National Community Unification Formula, regarded as the South Korean government's official unification plan to date, is founded on three core principles: independence, peace and democracy.

"Therefore, the philosophical vision of liberalism that we are currently pursuing is missing (in the formula)," the official said. "Therefore, we intend to delve into the task of elaborating on the unification perspective and vision of the Yoon Suk Yeol government."

The official also refuted the notion that the unification formula follows "three mechanical stages of unification," beginning with reconciliation and cooperation, followed by confederation, and ultimately culminating in unification.

Speaking at the news conference on Friday, the Unification Minister reiterated another key goal: to assist North Korean residents in recognizing their human rights to steer North Korea toward positive change.

Kim underscored that the ministry will "facilitate the expansion of access to information to empower North Korean citizens to become aware of their own human rights and enhance efforts to effectively hold the North Korean authorities accountable for human rights abuses."

The ministry will also endeavor to "spread the narrative that advancements in human rights of North Korean people will lead to resolving the North Korean nuclear issue and, ultimately, to achieving unification," according to Kim.