The first Korea Global Forum was held in Seoul, Korea on September 9-10, 2010. Co-hosted by the Ministry of Unification and the Ilsun International Relations Institute, there were 11 countries present, and had Former U.S. Secretary of Defense, William S. Cohen, as the keynote speaker.
As a student reporter for Korea’s Ministry of Unification, I had the chance to meet the Assistant Counselor of the German Embassy in Korea, Matthias Vollert. He agreed to sit down for a quick interview about his impressions and Germany’s part in the Forum:
Q: Hello, I am Christine Lee, a student reporter for the Ministry of Unification. Could you please introduce yourself?
A: My name is Matthias Vollert. I am the Assistant Counselor of the German Embassy in Korea, and I arrived here one year ago.
Q: And how do you like Korea?
A: It’s very interesting, I like it a lot. Korea is very dynamic and always busy, so there’s a lot to do. I’m responsible for Korea, China and Japan affairs so it is very interesting, and I am also responsible for protocol affairs. We had our president here in February and we have the G20 summit in November, so I’m always working and it is always interesting.
Q: That sounds really exciting! Although the Korea Global Forum has just started, do you have any expectations for the rest of the Forum or impressions from what we have already gone through today?
A: I think the forum setup is very good. First, we had this public event in which we had a good and comprehensive speech by a very eminent person. And now we’re going to have these closed sessions, which I think is a good combination. In these closed sessions we can focus on particular points and also discuss some controversial issues. So I think this forum is well done.
Q: Before coming to Korea, did you have any personal interest in a Korean-related issue?
A: Well, to be honest, I’ve been following Korea for about 20 years. I remember when I was very young, a student myself—there was a lecture about the Asian Tigers, and of course South Korea was one of them. It was from there that I began to take interest in Korea. And then I had the opportunity to come to Seoul in 2001, and studied how South Korea managed to come to democracy and a market economy. I was quite impressed with the quick path Korea took. Since then I’m always following what’s going on, and of course, as a German, what is going on in the Korean peninsula is always interesting.
Q: Why is Germany interested in participating in the Korean Global Forum?
A: Before Germany had its unification, we were divided for more than forty years. We were happy and luck to become united. In total there are not that many countries which have been divided; there wasYemen, on the Arabian peninsula, once Vietnam, and no Korea. And I think Korea is the only remaining country that is divided. We always look at what’s going on and we hope that one day Korea can be united as Germany was, and hopefully as peacefully as Germany. So in every discussion we have with Korean friends, unification is always a topic.
Q: What would you say South Korea could really learn from the unification process of the twoGermany’s at the time. What sort of things can Korea learn from that?
A: I think the German case and the Korean case have some similarities but also many differences. However, one lesson we think could be learned is to always be prepared, because you never know when it will happen. You don’t know beforehand. In the winter of 1989, nobody would have thought that German unification would come as soon as one year later, but then we had it. So you have to be prepared when the moment comes.
Q: Then going off of that, what similarities would you say there are between the past division ofGermany and the current division of Korea?
A: Well, there are some similarities. For instance, one part is a democracy and has a market economy, while the other part is communist and very poor. So that is one similarity. But there are also important differences. For example, there was a war in Korea, but there was not a war in Germany. Germans didn’t fight against each other. So this has to be kept in mind when thinking about how unification can be organized.
Q: I’m from America, and it seems like a lot of Americans may not be really aware of North Korean issues outside of the communist dictatorship or nuclear weapons. How aware of North Korean issues would you say the German people are?
A: I think, in general, people follow what is going on in Korea. They know there is a dictatorship, and that people are poor so they don’t have enough to eat, and that the regime is building nuclear weapons. I think these are the facts that most Germans would know, but if you ask more detailed questions I think most Germans would not be aware of the answers. However, I think this is partially because it is very difficult to get to know more about North Korea. It is such a closed society, so there is more speculation than information.
Q: Then to close, is there any particular advice Germany can give to South Korea? I know you talked about being prepared for anything, but is there anything else you think South Korea can do?
A: Well, like I said, the most important piece of advice is to be prepared. Unification can happen very quickly. But also it should be recognized that it cannot be organized in the manner you wish or in the way you planned. And also, I don’t know if this is true, but I hear that young people in South Korea don’t think that often about unification, so I hope that more young people can embrace the idea and are willing to help make it possible.