[Analysis] Does Park’s ‘jackpot’ mean unification by absorption?

Posted on : 2014-03-31 15:51 KST Modified on : 2014-03-31 15:51 KST
President’s speech on unification in Germany offered a more detailed vision, but also some troubling aspects

By Choi Hyun-june and Kim Oi-hyun, staff reporters

President Park Geun-hye’s address in Dresden this week included a more specific description of ideas for achieving the so-called “unification jackpot”. In Park’s address, the emphasis on peaceful reunification and ongoing expansions in inter-Korean exchange and cooperation were welcome developments, but failed to dispel concerns that the “jackpot” conception presumes a unification scenario where the North is absorbed by the South. The lack of a road map for denuclearization as another issue. 

■ ‘Jackpot’ = Absorption of North Korea? 

Having failed to completely erase concerns about the assumption of her “jackpot” approach, in her Dresden address Park stressed “the need for continued exchange and cooperation, not one-time events.” With her speech, she affirmed that the jackpot concept was not based on predictions of an upheaval unseating the regime in Pyongyang. All three of her main proposals - agendas for humanity, co-prosperity and integration - would require both time and continued dialogue.

But Park did not explicitly rule out the possibility of an absorption scenario, either, which then-President Kim Dae-jung did in his Berlin Statement of Mar. 2000. Kim repeatedly said around the time of his speech that he was “not pursuing unification through absorption.” It was a necessary move to expand exchange and cooperation with Pyongyang, which had fallen behind in the “regime competition.”

Park did not help matters by using a Berlin Wall analogy in a Mar. 26 meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel. In what many took to be a reference to an absorption-type scenario, Park said, “Just as the Berlin Wall came down, so there will come a day when the armistice line comes down.”

“She ought to have been more careful about using the reunification of Germany, where East was absorbed into West, as an analogy to South and North Korea,” said Yang Moo-jin, a professor at the University of North Korean Studies. “It could send a negative message to North Korea.”

■ No road map for denuclearization 

Park did not present an end to North Korea’s nuclear program as a precondition for any exchange or cooperation. In this, she showed herself to be more flexible than her predecessor Lee Myung-bak, who explicitly linked all North Korea affairs to the nuclear issue. But analysts saw her failure to present any road map for solving the issue, or any clear vision for Seoul’s leading role in the process, as disappointing. Indeed, her only mention of the issue was to express “hope that North Korea will return to the six-party talks with a sincere commitment to resolving the nuclear issue, and abandon its nuclear program to tend to its peoples’ lives.”

North Korea has defined the nuclear issue as an issue of Pyongyang-Washington relations, and shown reluctance to improve its relations with Seoul until ties with Washington improve. The reason South Korea needs to act as an active mediator is precisely because improvements in these two relationships are two sides of the same coin.

“It’s not especially meaningful to simply urge North Korea to give up its nuclear program without offering any ideas about South Korea’s role in bringing North Korea back to the six-party talks or denuclearizing the peninsula,” said Kim Chang-soo, director of research at the Korea National Strategy Institute. 

■ Political and military trust crucial 

Another problem mentioned by analysts was the speech’s lack of any reference to slander or the building of military trust. Both are seen as critical at a time when the North and South are still technically in a cease-fire and military conflicts continue, as with the 2010 sinking of the ROKS Cheonan warship and the shelling of Yeonpyeong Island.

“The agendas for humanity, co-prosperity and integration are both good and necessary,” said Kyungnam University professor Kim Geun-sik. “But there are also clear limits to approaching things simply in economic, social, and cultural terms, especially when you consider the shows of force that are happening on both sides at the Northern Limit Line in the West [Yellow] Sea.”


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