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(News Focus) N.K. nukes raising need for new formula for Koreas' unification

2016/10/24 11:29

By Kim Soo-yeon

SEOUL, Oct. 24 (Yonhap) -- North Korea's growing nuclear threat is raising the need for South Korea to come up with a new formula for unification as the changing security situation makes it hard for Seoul to seek reconciliation, experts said Monday.

Analysts said that South Korea needs to pursue a two-track plan for unification, including a contingency plan for abrupt unification as possible instability in North Korean leader Kim Jong-un's regime could bring about a sudden collapse.

South Korea's official unification policy is "the Unification Formula for the Korean National Community" which was unveiled in August 1994 under the administration of late President Kim Young-sam.

The three-stage unification plan calls for the pursuit of reconciliation and cooperation, the creation of a Korean commonwealth and the peaceful coming together of the two Koreas.

The unification formula is a revised version of "the Unification Plan for One National Community," which Kim's predecessor Roh Tae-woo announced in 1989.

Roh's vision was one major outcome of South Korea's political system introduced in 1987 when Roh, a then-presidential candidate, unveiled a set of democratic reform plans including the adoption of a direct presidential election system.

But experts said that Seoul needs to update its unification formula, which has been based on the premise of reconciliation and cooperation, in response to the changing security situation.

"(North Korea's nuclear program) makes it difficult to seek reconciliation and cooperation when it comes to the first step toward unification," said Koh Yu-hwan, a professor of North Korean studies at Dongguk University. "It is effectively difficult to pursue the phased-in formula for unification."

   North Korea has made strides in its nuclear and missile programs by seeking to develop a nuclear-tipped intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) that can hit the U.S. mainland.

Pyongyang conducted two nuclear tests this year alone following its detonations of nuclear devices in 2006, 2009 and 2013.

The North's ceaseless nuclear and missile provocations made Seoul suspend inter-Korean exchanges including the shutdown of jointly run Kaesong Industrial Complex, which was once hailed as symbol of inter-Korean reconciliation.

"The existing unification formula lacks details," said Cheong Seong-chang, a senior researcher at the Sejong Institute. "Under the plan, the process of moving toward unification does not appear to be gradual. So it cannot be applied to the current situation where the two Koreas show huge discrepancies in economic size and social makeup."

   The North's incumbent leader is unpredictable as he is strengthening his iron-fisted rule by executing more than 100 state, party and military officials.

Disillusionment with the regime has grown with more high-ranking North Korean officials including diplomat Thae Yong-ho defecting to South Korea, which Seoul says points to cracks in the oppressive regime.

On Oct. 13, President Park Geun-hye denounced North Korea for pushing the lives of its people into a "hell" through its brutal rule. Early this month, she said South Korea will keep the road open for North Koreans to find new hope and lives in the South.

Park's key inter-Korean policy is the Korean Peninsula Trust-Building Process, which calls for building mutual trust to pave the way for unification.

But her remarks have spawned speculation that the government may give up her signature policy and seek to set a regime change of North Korea as a new goal of its inter-Korean policy. Seoul has denied such speculation.

Against this backdrop, some experts said that Seoul should reestablish its official unification formula while also seeking to set up a contingency plan to brace for sudden unification.

Others said that South Korea needs to take into account the changing security situation in Northeast Asia when it seeks to set a new unification vision.

The United States and China's rivalry has deepened in recent years as showed by China's fierce opposition to South Korea's move to place a U.S. advanced missile defense system on its soil.

Yun Duk-min, chancellor of the Korea National Diplomatic Academy, said that the regional security situation has changed as North Korea shows no sign of giving up its nuclear program, while China seems to be concerned about stability of the North's regime rather than nuclear weapons.

"As China's clout is growing, rivalry between the U.S. and China is deepening in the Northeast Asian region," he said.

China is North Korea's last-remaining major ally and economic benefactor. But it is reluctant to use its leverage over Pyongyang for fear that pushing North Korea too hard could lead to instability in the North and undermine China's interests.

For Beijing, a sudden collapse of the North's regime is a source of concern as it could spark an exodus of refugees at its border and lead to a pro-U.S. and democratic Korea on its doorstep.

If the two Koreas are united, Japan would welcome an absence of North Korea's threats, but it could be wary of the potential rising power of a united Korea in the region, experts say.

Han Sung-joo, a former South Korean foreign minister, said that Washington's cooperation is necessary in the process of unification as it can play a role in allaying concerns by China and Japan.

"We also need to persuade China to believe that unification will be the best way of resolving North Korea's nuclear problems and expanding economic ties between Seoul and Beijing," he added.

sooyeon@yna.co.kr

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