PSPD People's Solidarity for Participatory Democracy
[Civil Peace Forum] Ushering in an Era of Great Transformation on the Korean Peninsula through Citizen Participation
- 2018.07.28 (12:45:26)
Civil Peace Forum 2018-2 Peace Report
Ushering in an Era of Great Transformation on the Korean Peninsula through Citizen Participation
Lee Hyeuk-hee / Chairperson of Operation Committee, One Korea Action
Different Era Requires Different Thinking
At this very moment, the Korean Peninsula is entering a new era of great transformation. After the North Korea-United States summit following the inter-Korean summit in 2018, this great transformation is now the current of the times that no one can swim against. I refer to this development of events as a great transformation because this is an extraordinary time that is now unfolding: something none of us has ever experienced.
This great transformation can be specifically defined as “the end of the Cold War”, “deconstruction of a divided Korea”, and “the emergence of a new order on the Korean Peninsula” filling in the political vacuum left after the Cold War system has ceased or been aborted. The biggest shock and concern would be to witness the paradigm shift of “peace through national security” to “security through cooperation”. We have never experienced living in a world in which not guns but a collective security system and armies without a main enemy maintain peace. To adapt to this new situation will take quite some time. Deconstruction of a divided Korea will be even more shocking. If this division actually refers to a “hostility” derived from “regional division” and “different lifestyles” (See Lee Jong-suk, 1998), North Korea will gradually go through a transition into market socialism following its policy of accelerating marketization and focusing on economic development. This means expiration of the “different lifestyles”, and the hostility which arose from the hate for being different from one another will also very likely disappear. The only thing left then is the regional division. If Korea can maintain its de facto unification even though regional division is still in place, the national division, which has grown on its own and persisted for a long time only on the Korean Peninsula, can be deconstructed.
More importantly, however, is the matter of “recreation”. Paik Nak-chung pointed out that in terms of a reunification theory applicable to the Korean Peninsula, people must take the initiative and be creative in deconstructing the existing division. The key to this argument that reunification must be part of a recreation process is that an entirely new Korean Peninsula has to be created by overcoming the contradictions which exist in both South and North Korean society through comprehensive inner reflection, not by unifying the two societies without rectifying their own inconsistencies.
In May 27, 2018, at a press conference reporting on the second round of the Inter-Korea Summit, President Moon Jae-in remarked, “This is only a start. However, it is not anything that has been witnessed in the past. It will be a whole new beginning.” I assume that his emphasis is along the same line as what I’ve mentioned above. It is also worth noting Chairman Kim Jong Un’s words during the 2018 North Korea–United States summit: “It was not easy to get here. The past worked as fetters on our limbs, and the old prejudices and practices worked as obstacles on our way forward. But we overcame all of them, and we are here today,” adding that “the world will see major changes.” Chairman Kim’s remarks were originally made with the intent of ending North Korea’s hostile relationship with the United States, but they can be viewed as an indicator of the upcoming major changes within his country. As such, a tremendous opportunity for a great transformation of the Korean Peninsula through citizen participation has presented itself, at a time when the leaders of the two Koreas are willing to create a new Korea and are pushing forward with great effort.
What we must focus on now is determining how we can help this great transformation to happen with citizen participation and not political decisions made by our leaders. More precisely, the question is “How can we become creative in the process of recreation as a people, and go beyond the boundaries of grand decisions and visions put forward by the governments of South and North Korea?”
The Candlelight Revolution: A Starting Point for Great Transformation
To understand the trends within this great transformation and respond to them, we need to look at the fundamental factors that facilitated it. While there are many opinions and views on this issue, the undeniable fact is that Korea’s “Candlelight Revolution” was at its core. The previous administrations, run by Lee Myung-bak and Park Geun-hye, pursued a strong confrontational policy towards North Korea which led to military crisis, instead of managing inter-Korean relations. This is a distinctive feature of the system of a divided in Korea in which South Korean leaders attempt to strengthen their political hold through a confrontational footing towards North Korea to gain and unite their supporters, supported by advisors who intend to prompt an economic collapse of the North and reunify through absorption. When peaceful everyday life was no longer possible in the two Koreas due to this fierce confrontation, Paik Nak-chung anticipated that a “citizen participation movement does not merely mean participation by citizens, but the inevitability of an ultimate change in the status quo, which is a call to change the anti-peace regime”. Indeed, this occurred in the Candlelight Revolution. As he reviewed these revolutionary processes, Paik remarked that “the Candlelight Revolution, which overthrew a regime that was against progress in inter-Korean relations was the best example of citizen participation I have ever witnessed.” Only afterwards, it became clear that “citizen participation” meant “voluntary participation of citizens” attempting to resolve a situation that disrupted everyday life, overthrowing a regime that fundamentally supported the system of peninsular division.
The current approval rating for President Moon shows that support for his administration comes from its success in bringing about peace on the Korean Peninsula by improving inter-Korean relations rather than removing deep-rooted irregularities or improving the economy. Civil society has played an especially important role in shaping favorable conditions for rapidly improving relations in 2018, at least according to the words of Chairman Kim Jong Un. During his opening remarks at the April 27 inter-Korean summit, Kim used the phrase “lost 11 years” and expressed hope that these lost years would not be repeated. Paradoxically, his remarks can be interpreted as North Korea being willing to dialogue with South Korea to improve inter-Korean relations, as the new regime in the South was put in place due to the success of the Candlelight Revolution.
The Starting Point for Great Transformation is to Institutionalize South-North Relations
Looking back at the June 15th (2000) North–South Joint Declaration, the administration headed by Kim Dae-jung adopted an “engagement policy” after abandoning one of confrontation towards North Korea, pushed by the previous administration of Kim Young-sam. This new approach was to rebuild trust between the two Koreas by promoting social and cultural exchanges and vitalizing economic cooperation mainly in the non-governmental sector rather than through direct government intervention. Engagement policy was shaped and influenced by the negative legacy effects of the worsening inter-Korean relations left behind by the Kim Young-sam administration. However, all the connections made between South and North Korea gradually disintegrated with the Lee Myung-bak administration and the closure of the Kaesong Industrial Complex (KIC) in February 2016 by the Park Geun-hye administration. This brought the efforts by the Kim Dae-jung and Roh Moo-hyun administrations to improve inter-Korean relations back to square one. Certainly, it is difficult to understand how inter-Korean relations, which had seen 1 million South Koreans allowed to visit Mount Kumgang and 10,000 more every year to visit Pyongyang, had totally collapsed due to policy under the Lee Myung-bak and Park Geun-hye administrations. This collapse shows the limits of functionalist approaches that focus on exchange and cooperation in a non-political arena, rather than those of engagement policy.
As for the Kim Dae-jung administration before him, the Moon Jae-in government was handed the legacy of negative inter-Korean relations. An anti-North Korean mentality was widespread among Korean citizens and theories of reunification through absorption or even of the uselessness of reunification were dominant in the related discourse. However, the Moon administration broke away from the past when the opportunity came and adopted a totally different approach. Its top-down approach is to rapidly normalize relations between South and
North and build trust through negotiation and dialogue between high-ranking government officials and then expand downward into exchanges in the non-governmental sector and economic cooperation.
This approach has many advantages. First, it promotes stability and sustainability of inter-Korean relations. It is unrealistic to expect Mount Kumgang tourism or the KIC to resume operations without first constructing mutual trust in a political and military sense, as the two Koreas were once at the brink of war. There will be no South Koreans, whether private citizens or business people, who would return to tourism or business with North Korea in the face of such instability. Second, the inter-Korean summit revealed that President Moon is focusing more on peace while Chairman Kim on reunification. Such a difference seems like déjà vu of the situation after the June 15th North–South Joint Declaration in which the South focused on implementing Article 4 of the Declaration, which promoted economic cooperation and social and cultural exchange, while the North focused on Article 1, which emphasized the reunification to be achieved by the two Koreas.
Unfortunately, there failed to be any further progress on implementing Article 2 of the June 15th North–South Joint Declaration, implementation plans for reunification, which was virtually the Declaration’s final aim, and here we are now. During the fourth inter-Korean
summit held in May 26, 2018, the two leaders sought to persuade the world that the two Koreas will not repeat the mistakes of the past. Or, they at least succeeded in convincing the world that they would institutionalize inter-Korean relations - in other words, a confederation of South and North would be achieved. This development was no less than a message that the two Koreas are acting at least towards the same purposes and goals. It is also clear that military tensions and adventurism between the South and the North will not be restrained without such institutionalization: a whole new approach.
The Citizen Participation Movement in a Special Era
In this era of great transformation, the members of the citizen participation movement have to find consensus on the details of reunification theory and then take the initiative to promote it widely, to ensure that people from all walks of life are the focus during this transformation.
When the limitations of the functionalist approach appeared, the argument that it was simply“pouring money into North Korea” gained prominence. This argument was an emotional, rather than scientific or rational, line of thinking as well as some kind of distorted “frame”, and defined humanitarian assistance and non-governmental exchanges as “forces against reunification,” assuming that any assistance to the North would help sustain the regime there.
However, this is simply based on the strategy of demonizing North Korea and promoting its collapse. But it held great sway among the population and some even became supporters of “reunification through absorption”.
To point out the flaws in this argument, we have to clarify the term “reunification”. In terms of overcoming the system of division, reunification is defined as “the process by which the vast majority of the people on the Korean Peninsula live under a better system than the current one”. According to this definition, it is “a gradual process that takes place over a long period of time” as opposed to what happened in Germany or Vietnam, where reunification occurred once, suddenly, after a preparation process. If reunification is viewed as a process and not a dramatic moment, it will be recognized as having a progressive form which is the sum total of different processes at several stages towards reunification, and not a finished form. In this case, reunification will be defined as a process in which the people seek the type of state that best suits their interests, and not instantly becoming a single-race nation.
Based on this, reunification will be further defined as a state in which the two Koreas help each other, visit one another, and coexist in peace - in other words, a state of being virtually reunified, not simply known as a single nation state. We define reunification as a “confederation” of the South and North, an institutionalized form of inter-Korean relations. Such a confederation will be reunification, and the need for reunification will now become more than just a reunion of one nation divided by foreign countries. The understanding of the word will be extended into a process in which the two Koreas, in recent history developing along two different routes, create a unified community in the interest of economic and security needs. A confederation means the South and North exist as two sovereign states for a certain period of time.
According to the principles upheld by the Basic Agreement of 1991, inter-Korean relations are distinct in that they exist inside one nationality and aim for reunification. While they are not relations between two different countries, it is also clear at the same time that a certain form of institutionalization comparable to international relations is needed for a certain period during which the two Koreas build a community and learn to coexist in peace. As the South and North have already accepted the idea of a confederation of two Koreas as the provisional form for reunification stated in Article 2 of the June 15th North–South Joint Declaration, they have to expand their scope of thinking through deep reflection.
However, a confederation of two Koreas is certainly different from the establishment of “a peace state”, an idea advocated by some in the peace movement that aims for peaceful coexistence. Under confederation, the Korean War will be declared over, which will mark the end of the Armistice regime, and a “peace agreement” discussed to regulate the state of peace on the Korean Peninsula as denuclearization proceeds. The agents responsible for observing such a peace agreement should be none other than the two Koreas. Although a series of events, including declaring the end of war and signing of a peace agreement will not be possible without guarantees from the US and China, the major foreign participants in the Korean War, the central responsibility for maintaining the regime of peace on the Peninsula will lie with the North and South themselves. The North-South Confederation will be a very inter-Korean organization to uphold the peace agreement proposed in the National Community Unification Formula, and agreed in the June 15th Joint Declaration. This confederation should not posit a permanent state of peaceful coexistence as its end goal; it needs to be situated as a tool of a peace regime aimed at reunification. The peace state and the North-South Confederation have fundamentally different purposes: the former the maintenance of peace, the latter reunification. Of course, the two Koreas are not the only actors in the peace regime on the Peninsula. It goes without saying that a system of cooperation and security must be built that encompasses not just Northeast Asia but the entire continent. But even this is only meaningful to the extent that the two Koreas participate as responsible parties and garner international support for reunification, and should not serve as grounds to perpetuate the state of partition.
The North-South Confederation will serve to accelerate the integration of the two communities with the goal of establishing a regime of peace aimed at reunification. The natural sequence of integration under such a Confederation would be to start with the establishment of an economic community, moving on to a socio-cultural community, and then culminating in a political community. The Korean people have witnessed the Panmunjeom Declaration and the fourth inter-Korean summit meeting. If the fifth summit meeting, scheduled for the Fall of 2018, also materializes, this would enable a new discourse that conceptualizes reunification as “de facto reunification in the form of a North-South Confederation” to firmly take root as part of the discourse on reunification. Once reunification undergoes such a concept transformation among the population, it should be possible to open a new era with a major transition through the participation of the people, free from the shackles of the old idea of reunification through absorption. For the moment, there is also dire need for a national campaign to explain the meaning and content of the Panmunjeom Declaration and the Singapore Declaration. Informing the people of the content of these declarations alone can go a long way toward spreading the new conversation on reunification and accomplishing civic participation in an era of major transition. There is an urgent need to organize speaking events nationwide at the city, district, and town level to inform people of the coming of this era, with the aim of securing the participation of at least 10% of the population.
Next, the campaign to build civic participation must work toward involving the people who took part in the Candlelight Revolution in inter-Korean exchanges and realizing solidarity with the North Korean people.
The late Reverend “Late Spring” Moon Ik-hwan was the first to advocate solidarity between the people of the two Koreas after partition of the Peninsula. The 1994 initiative known as the “70 Million Compatriots in Preparation for Reunification” embodied this idea. Solidarity between the people of North and South Korea will not be an impossible dream once a North-South Confederation is institutionalized and de facto reunification becomes reality. Achieving solidarity between the people of the two Koreas, in particular, is a challenge that the South Korean civic movement must tackle. Rather than blaming past governments for “the lost 11 years”, the civic movement must come to terms with the failure of inter-Korean exchanges and peace movements to attract mass participation. In particular, the direction and aim of inter-Korean exchanges were not informed by the concept of civic participation. Exchange programs,although numerous and frequent, have mainly involved organizations and prominent figures,failing to draw general participation and taking root in people’s everyday lives. Now that the Candlelight Revolution has given rise to a new opportunity, the participants in that Revolution must take part in the new era of peace, prosperity, and reunification on the Korean Peninsula.
However, those who got out for the Candlelight Revolution are for the most part people who had not been born or become interested in such things before the “lost” 11 years. Should we try to explain past inter-Korean exchanges, they will not understand, and neither would they be won over to that same framework of inter-Korean exchanges. It is apparent that we need a new way of relating to them, a way which befits a new era. For civic participation to become a grassroots movement, such a new way of relating to people in North Korea is sorely needed.
People living in the North are not the same as before, either. The new generation since the“March of Ordeal” are known to have a completely different outlook than those before them. Snacks and other food products recently manufactured there apparently have the phone
numbers of manufacturers printed on them, sometimes even bar codes and QR codes. This suggests North Korean people are on the cusp of exercising their “consumer rights”, often deemed the most basic of all human rights. News reports even have it that the most popular
food manufacturer in North Korea, Gold Cup Athlete General Food Factory, boasts that average people test all its products prior to launch. These are signs that confirm, while not the immediate arrival, at least the potential for the Fourth Sector, or civil society, to emerge in North Korea.
What will the citizen participation movement for reunification do, if things change so dramatically, if, for example, railways and roads are connected and Mount Kumgang tourism resumes in earnest through an inter-Korean summit? The answer is that it must focus on
building solidarity between the people of the two Koreas. The idea of creating a new relationship has to be reexamined in earnest if a desire exists to keep up with the changes in both South and North Korea.
The present donation campaign for the people of North Korea is the most telling example of efforts to overcome the system dividing Korea - in other words, a reunification movement pursued in everyday life. The campaign was lauded as the most significant self-help movement of the Korean people since the Dangun era. Every organization took part as it unfolded at every municipal level (cities, districts, and towns) as the first donation campaign for the North.
Finding success in forming new relations will depend on whether the existing exchanges in different fields expand and create a new movement of popular exchange with a wide range of participants. Such efforts will only bring about real change as opportunities arise out of the Candlelight Revolution. Certainly, what is important here is that these efforts should not be one-sided. The new movement of exchange has to take the distinctive features of North Korean society and the position of its regime into consideration and establish a scope that is within what North Korean society can accept. In this regard, the “Inter-Korean Joint Liaison Office”to be established in Kaesong is the most crucial route. Civil society must assume the responsibility for preparing to establish solidarity between the people of the two Koreas in everyday life through this Office. To this end, a network for inter-Korean exchange and cooperation is needed. Such an intermediate support organization would include a variety of Candlelight Revolution participants and “regular” citizens hoping to form new relations and grassroots organizations. The network would first need to introduce to the public assistance projects for North Korea. Second, it would coordinate and rearrange overlapping projects.
Third, it would offer educational programs on peace and reunification to alleviate possible culture shock that can arise from contact with North Korean society. Fourth, it will need to come up with strategic projects to build solidarity between the two cultures.
A special era calls for a special method of movement-building. The only mission civil society needs to accomplish is to exacerbate the current trends ending the Cold War system - something made possible by the Candlelight Revolution and its citizen participants - and to finally end the system dividing our peninsula.
* This essay is the second essay written for the 2018 Peace Report Project of the Civil Peace Forum, under the sponsorship of Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung Korea Office.