Academic journal article New Zealand International Review

Professor Han Sung-Joo: Reunification and Korean Foreign Policy

Academic journal article New Zealand International Review

Professor Han Sung-Joo: Reunification and Korean Foreign Policy

Article excerpt

Professor Han Sungjoo, Foreign Minister of the Republic of Korea in 1993-94, spoke to a combined roundtable of the NZIIA and the Centre for Strategic Studies on 20 November 1996. In his opening remarks he commented that when he had taken over as Foreign Minister at the beginning of 1993 he had been given the task of formulating long-term foreign policy goals for the newly elected administration of President Kim Young Sam. As the basis for this policy they had concluded that there were five fundamentals: first, globalisation of the Korean economy; second, a multi-dimensional foreign policy (one not confined to security questions); third, diversification of Korea's international relations; fourth, an Asia-Pacific orientation; and fifth, an orientation towards the future. He noted that those five fundamentals had been accepted by President Kim and had also been put into practice by his two successors as Foreign Minister.

The first principle, of globalisation, had been given effect through Korea's move to join the OECD, now achieved. The second, multi-dimensional foreign policy, meant a broadening of Korea's view away from security and economic questions to other regional and global issues--for example, becoming more active internationally in the United Nations. This had been achieved by Korea's successful campaign for election to the UN Security Council and participation for the first time in a UN peacekeeping operation. Other questions such as disarmament, human rights, environment, and resources also commanded greater attention. The third principle, diversification, involved Korea looking beyond the four great powers--the United States, the Soviet Union, China, and Japan--which had previously taken much of its attention, as had its difficult relationship with North Korea. The new policy involved Korea looking more broadly to the Asia-Pacific region and beyond. He himself had been active at an early stage within PECC and APEC.

The fifth principle, future orientation, involved the question of how reunification should be handled and also the problem of how to manage the existing division in the Korean peninsula in a peaceful, less disruptive but productive way. In their consideration of preparations for unification the Koreans had the German example before them. Professor Han commented that this had not always been helpful because the circumstances of East Germany's absorption by West Germany had made North Korea more defensive and heightened South Korean expectations. Having become convinced that they should not repeat the East German experience, the North Koreans had now declined to have anything to do with the South Korean government. People in South Korea, on the other hand, had become euphoric about the prospect of the German example, with what might be described as the communist side joining the non-communist side and being absorbed by it.

On this key issue of reunification he said that there were a number of questions. The first was whether North Korea might collapse or implode. On this, opinion in South Korea was divided. There were various estimates that this might occur within a five-year, ten-year, or fifteen-year span. His own view was that we should probably not see a North Korean collapse in the remainder of this century. One of the reasons for his view was that the North Korean elite, unlike the East German, did not depend on outside forces to maintain it in power, and he thought they would do anything to maintain themselves in their position. If Kim Jong II's regime collapsed, he thought it likely that a similar one would replace it. He added that China had concluded that any sudden change of status in North Korea and in the peninsula was not in accordance with its interests, and therefore China was giving a modest level of assistance to North Korea. To sum up on this point, Professor Han said that he did not see that North Korea could revive its economy, but he thought they could hang on for some years yet. …

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