On April 11, 2013, The ROK National Unification Advisory Council has hosted a panel discussion, “Toward a Peaceful Korean Unification-New Options for the ROK and the U.S.” at Harvard University. The panel discussions were divided into two different panels: “A New North Korea Policy for the ROK and the United States” and “Reinforcing the ROK-U.S. Alliance: Continuity and Change.” Prominent speakers from both South Korea and the United States generously came to provide insight into the policies necessary for the recent rising tensions and the new presidential regimes in the countries.
During the first panel, “A New North Korea Policy for the ROK and the United States,” Dr. Jeong-woo Kil, member of the ROK National Assembly, Dr. Robert King, U.S. Special Envoy for North Korea Human Rights Issues, Dr. Ho-Yeol Yoo, Professor at Korea University, Dr. Sang-hwa Chung, Research Fellow at the Sejong Institute, and Dr. Marcus Noland, Director of the Peterson Institute for International Economics, came to discuss the future foreign policy of U.S. and ROK.
Each discussant had distinguishing arguments, but there was a general consensus among the panel on the importance of a stronger ROK-U.S. alliance. Representatives of both ROK and the U.S. have recognized that national security as well as its ally’s security will be the utmost importance in their policy. Thus in going forward with foreign policy, national security and international security will be the main factor. Such emphasis may have resulted from the growing tensions between North and South Korea regarding DPRK’s nuclear program. Moreover, panel discussants have agreed that South Korea and U.S. should keep their relations strong. In my opinion, with ROK’s newly elected president and President Obama’s second term now underway, this new slate of presidency will allow the two countries to formulate and continuously communicate about what would be best to handle North Korea’s situation. I believe that if U.S. and ROK were to have completely different opinions on its foreign policy toward North Korea, it would send North Korea nothing more than confusing signal. A stronger, more unified alliance between ROK and U.S. allows the two presidents to cooperate on a foreign policy that’ll best secure national interest and international security.
Discussants of the second panel, “Reinforcing the ROK-US Alliance: Continuity and Change,” were Dr. Kathleen Stephens, former U.S. Foreign Service Officer to ROK, Dr. Jung-Hoon Lee, Professor at Yonsei University, Dr. Nicholas Eberstadt, Henry Wendt Chair, and Dr. Hyun-seok Yu, Professor at Kyunghee University. The panel moderator, Dr. Sung-yoon Lee, Professor at Fletcher School of Tufts University, gave insightful ideas and entertained the audience with his witty comments.
As the title of the second panel suggests, the panel consisted of ideas: what will change? What will stay the same? Easy to say, the change may come in differing foreign policies from the two administrations. Park Geun-hye’s foreign policy is labeled as truspolitik, which seeks a more lenient policy than that of the previous administration. The continuity comes in play with North Korea’s nuclear capabilities. Both U.S. and ROK, as well as other international players encourage North Korea to abandon its nuclear program completely. Both sides agree that continuing to put sanctions on North Korea is the best way to deal with the current situation. Diplomatic talks should happen soon, but the biggest concern now should be how to reduce threats from North Korea.
So how is the Korean peninsula to move towards a peaceful Korean Unification? A lot needs to be done. First and foremost, in short-term, reducing tension is key. Diplomatic talks will come once the tensions ease. However, moving towards a peaceful unification requires the effort from both Koreas. Dealing with North Korea’s economy, its abhorrent human rights issues and its political ideology must all change in order to move towards a peaceful unification.