Tag Archive | "unification"

Why Moon Jae-in Should Go to North Korea

By Troy Stangarone

In a move that had been expected in recent days, North Korea extended an invitation to South Korean President Moon Jae-in for a summit meeting with Kim Jong-un “at the earliest possible date.” With President Moon having sought to use the Winter Olympic Games in Pyongchang as a means to advance inter-Korean relations and encourage U.S. talks with North Korea, the invitation presents South Korea with an opportunity to see if the opening created by the Olympics can be widened into a more substantive dialogue over North Korea’s nuclear program.

If the invitation from Kim Jong-un presents South Korea with an opportunity, it also comes at a time when the international pressure campaign may finally be beginning to have an impact on North Korea. North Korean exports to China fell 80 percent year-on-year to $54 million as the latest rounds of sanctions began to be implemented. While the decline is only one month, it clearly signals to Pyongyang that Beijing is intent on enforcing the current level of sanctions to a significant degree and that it will need to find new sources of revenue.

As Seoul considers a summit with North Korea, it should be cognizant of the North Korean regime’s objectives and the pressures it faces. The increasing economic pressure North Korea is under is most likely driving Kim Jong-un’s invitation to Moon Jae-in. As sanctions continue to take hold, North Korea’s objectives for any summit will most likely be tied to efforts to reduce the growing economic pressure. Even small concessions designed to induce talks might provide Pyongyang with the lifeline it needs to fend off pressure to have serious negotiations over its weapons programs.

Additionally, sanctions relief would enable Pyongyang to control the nature of any future negotiations and to create division between the United States and South Korea. If Pyongyang were successful in convincing Seoul to lessen the economic pressure, the international sanctions regime would weaken and bring North Korea one step closer to its goal of normalizing its nuclear status and having sanctions removed. President Moon has committed to maintaining maximum pressure until North Korea takes definitive steps towards denuclearization. As long as this position is maintained, North Korea should be unable to use a summit to advance its objectives.

Any summit meeting between North and South Korea should include significant coordination between Seoul and Washington. The two allies will need to consider what issues they would like to push North Korea on, how the summit might help lead to broader talks on denuclearization, where there might be flexibility in the alliance to engage North Korea, and how North Korea might seek to divide the allies or put them in a position that would be hard to refuse. As long as the allies are on the same page and given significant consideration to North Korea’s potential tactics in advance, North Korea is unlikely to turn the summit to its advantage.

While all indications are that President Moon will accept Kim Jong-un’s invitation, there is also a downside should he decline in the absence of renewed North Korean provocations. Relations on the Korean peninsula are tenuous at the moment and the growing risk of military conflict over the last year was real. If President Moon were to decline the invitation it could quickly end the current pause in tensions on the peninsula and potentially heighten them. It could also undermine future efforts at negotiation if South Korea is seen as rejecting talks with North Korea.

However, the opportunity to meet with Kim Jong-un also presents an opportunity that previously did not exist. The United States and South Korea have both insisted that their hope is to peacefully resolve the nuclear issue with North Korea. The United States’ policy is one of maximum pressure and engagement, but there have been few prospects for engagement. If there is to be a real diplomatic solution, there will need to be a direct line of communication with Kim Jong-un. Few in the North Korean system can speak with authority and gauging Kim Jong-un’s own intents will be critical in determining if a negotiated solution is possible.  If an inter-Korean summit took place, it might be sobering for Kim Jong-un to be told “no” to his face to any demands he might make.  That is something he probably is not accustomed to and may influence his thinking regarding the limits of his power.

Additionally, a summit meeting will provide South Korea, and by extension the United States, the ability to gain insight into North Korea’s thinking and the pressures it faces. While Pyongyang is unlikely to directly state how sanctions are impacting the country, to a keen observer there may be clues to the real challenges North Korea faces and the pressures they are under based on the topics that are raised.

There is also a good reason for the United States to support a summit meeting between North and South Korea. If economic pressure does not work and North Korea is unwilling to commit to denuclearization talks, it will be critical for President Moon, and South Koreans more broadly, to know that all avenues for a peaceful resolution were explored if the use of military force becomes necessary. If the United States were to pressure President Moon not to go and then conduct a military strike that resulted in South Korean casualties, it could do unrepairable damage to the alliance.

North Korea has suggested a summit at the earliest date, and it would be in South Korea’s interest to move for a quick summit as well. In his New Year’s address, Kim Jong-un said that North Korea would spend this year building up the regime’s ballistic missiles and nuclear warheads. It is unlikely that Pyongyang would agree to intrusive inspections to ensure that any lull between now and a summit meeting is not being used to build up the regime’s arsenal. A summit, perhaps shortly after the close of the Paralympics, would also have the advantage of allowing the U.S.-Korea exercises to go forward as scheduled, something which South Korea should make clear to North Korea is not negotiable for a summit meeting.

In the end, the question of whether President Moon should accept Kim Jong-un’s invitation and go to North Korea is not just a question of how a summit meeting might undermine efforts to use economic pressure to bring North Korea to the table, but also about the costs of not accepting the invitation. If the Moon administration ultimately accepts and goes into a summit with North Korea under the premise that it is designed to explore the prospects for a negotiated solution and to work to advance diplomacy rather than to an effort to strike new agreements for inter-Korean cooperation similar to prior summits, the benefits of taking part in a summit most likely outweigh risks of not going.

Troy Stangarone is the Senior Director for Congressional Affairs and Trade at the Korea Economic Institute of America. The views expressed here are the author’s alone.

Photo from the Republic of Korea’s photostream on flickr Creative Commons.

Posted in Inter-Korean, sliderComments (0)

The Year of the Unexpected: A Look Back At the Korean Peninsula in 2016

By Troy Stangarone

In the Chinese zodiac, 2016 is the year of the Fire Monkey. Fire Monkeys are said to be ambitious and adventurous, as well as irritable. Despite Donald Trump’s not having been born in the year of the Monkey, looking back, his victory in the U.S. presidential election that year may yet seem fitting. However, rather than being a year reflective of the characteristics of the Fire Monkey, 2016 might be better known as the year of unexpected events around the world and on the Korean peninsula. Whether it was the British vote to leave the European Union in June or the impeachment of the South Korean President Park Geun-hye in December, 2016 will be remembered for a series of unexpected events and the questions they have raised about how they may shape the future.

As we take our annual look back at the events that helped to shape the Korean peninsula during the past year, it is also an opportunity to review the events we highlighted on The Peninsula in our annual 10 Issues to Watch For on The Korean Peninsula in 2016 blog. For a year that was dominated by such a large number of unexpected events, our annual look ahead to the events of the coming year holds up surpassingly well. However, while our look ahead was correct on the importance of many events in 2016, those same events also often played out in surprising ways that will have significance beyond what we expected earlier this year. One example of this is the U.S. presidential elections. While U.S. elections always hold significance for the Korean peninsula, few foresaw the election of Donald Trump and the implications his presidency could have for the peninsula early in 2016.

With that said, here’s a brief look back at the 10 issues we highlighted and what happened:

  1. No Significant Progress with North Korea – After North Korea began 2016 with a nuclear test, the international community moved towards placing greater pressure on Pyongyang. This included sanctions at the UN, which would later be strengthened, to cut off North Korea’s trade in minerals such as coal, and bilateral sanctions by the United States to cut North Korea off from the global financial system. As was expected at the time little progress was made with North Korea on resolving the nuclear issue, but the one surprising element was that rather than try to find a way to engage North Korea after a new round of sanctions, South Korea went all in on pressuring the North with the closure of the Kaesong Industrial Complex and lobbying countries to cut their ties with Pyongyang. While we were right on the broader element of there being little progress with North Korea and how structural issues such as the U.S. elections and sanctions would inhibit progress, the strength of South Korea’s stance was one of the unexpected turns of 2016.
  2. If There Will Be Another Round of Family Reunions – If there was going to be progress in relations between North and South Korea it was going to require both countries to separate the nuclear issue from other issues in their relationship. Neither side was able to do so in 2016, which is regrettable for both the humanitarian burden that it places on the divided families and for the reality that family bonds will be one of the important ingredients for unification if it takes place at some point in the future. The longer that families remain divided the further apart the two Koreas are likely to drift.
  3. Could a China-North Korea Summit Still Happen? – This is one issue that was fairly straight forward. While there had been suggestions in late 2015 that Chinese President Xi Jinping might finally meet Kim Jong-un thanks to improving relations, the nuclear test in January ended what little chance there may have been for a China-North Korea summit.
  4. Korea-Japan Relations – When looking at Korea-Japan relations heading into 2016, clearly there had been prior progress. At the same time, it seemed unlikely that there would be the type of progress that the U.S. might have liked and the prospect for backsliding existed. While Japan did approve money for the comfort women fund, the agreement itself remains controversial in South Korea and may face pressure under the next administration. As for the comfort woman statue near the Japanese Embassy, it remains an issue for the local government of Seoul. While progress was made in relations, unsurprisingly, much work remains.
  5. How the U.S. Elections Could Impact Policy – Here we were right about how the political parties viewed the situation in Korea, but wrong about the overall impact of the elections. While we foresaw the critiques of the Obama administration’s policy and the push back on issues such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), the degree to which then candidate Donald Trump would shift the debate with his repeated push on the question of South Korea’s contributions to U.S. troops on the peninsula, and suggestions that the U.S. might withdraw those troops and allow South Korea to develop its own nuclear weapons, and that a candidate with these views would win the presidency, were clearly unforeseen. The ultimate result of the election is potentially much more significant for the peninsula than anyone might have imagined at the beginning of the year.
  6. South Korean National Assembly Elections – Here we saw the fairly divided electorate give the opposition Minjoo Party a slim majority and a display of surprising strength by Ahn Cheol-soo’s new People’s Party. However, the impeachment of Park Geun-hye likely means that any signals the National Assembly elections may have had for the presidential election in 2017 no longer matter.
  7. Cooperation Between Korea and China in the G20 – At the G20 in China, South Korea worked with China as expected to help advance the agenda, but IMF quota reform and global safety nets played less of a role than expected during 2016.
  8. K-Pop’s Next U.S. Breakthrough – While K-Pop and Hallyu more generally remained popular in much of the world, especially with the release of Descendants of the Sun, K-Pop continued to have difficulty breaking into the U.S. market. The English language debut of CL, Lifted, was expected to give K-Pop its first breakout in the U.S. since Psy, but the album has yet to produce a chart single in the United States.
  9. South Korea’s Trade Policy – Events on the trade front have played out largely as expected. While TPP, should it be revived, will be an issue for the next Korean administration, there has been significant progress on the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) talks that include the ASEAN, China, India, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, and South Korea.
  10. Has Samsung Turned the Corner? – After two difficult years Samsung had turned the corner in 2016 with the successful launch of the Galaxy 7 and the new Edge. However, all of Samsung’s progress melted down with the battery issues of the Galaxy Note 7. As a result, next year will again be a key year for Samsung as it once more looks to turn another corner and rebuild consumer confidence after the issues with the Note 7.

Beyond the events that we expected, here is a look at some of the unexpected events that helped to shape 2016:

  1. Multiple Nuclear Tests and the Advancement of North Korea’s Nuclear Program – Before we even published our look ahead to 2016, North Korea had conducted its first nuclear test of the year. It would go on to break with its pattern of only conducting a single test in a year by conducting a second nuclear test in September. While much attention has focused on the significant increase in North Korean missile launches and tests in 2016, the most significant step may have been in the advances the program took in developing a second strike capability. Though initial tests of a submarine launched ballistic missile failed, North Korea had made progress before the year’s end.
  2. The Closure of the Kaesong Industrial Complex – South Korea took the unexpected step of closing the Kaesong Industrial Complex in response to North Korea’s first nuclear test in 2016. The closure was significant for several reasons. Not that long beforehand South Korea had been pushing to internationalize the complex to avoid the prospect of the complex being shut down after North Korea had withdrawn its workers in 2013 for political purposes. Kaesong also held symbolic importance as the last remaining connection between North and South Korea, as well as the last vestige of the prior sunshine policy. While closing Kaesong was a significant step it may have played a role in encouraging the international community to take stronger steps against North Korea.
  3. International Sanctions on North Korea – While there is nothing necessarily surprising about the international community sanctioning North Korea over its nuclear test, what is significant about the current round of sanctions are the steps that they take to try and limit North Korea’s ability to continue its nuclear program. There are now requirements to inspect North Korean cargo, even that of North Korean diplomats, and caps have been placed on North Korean exports of coal while bans have been placed on other mineral exports. The United States has moved to cut North Korea off from the international financial system and has set in place steps to use secondary sanctions to go after those who enable North Korea. While sanctions are unlikely to resolve the North Korean nuclear issue on their own, they were significantly strengthened in 2016.
  4. The Political Crisis in South Korea – The corruption and influence peddling scandal surround Choi Soon-sil, a longtime confidant of President Park Geun-hye, engulfed South Korea is a political scandal that has seen millions of South Koreans protest in the streets and the impeachment of Park Geun-hye by the National Assembly. As a result of the scandal, South Korea faces an uncertain political future in 2017. Even before the new year begins, there has already been a split within the conservative Saenuri Party with 29 members leaving to form the New Conservative Party for Reform.
  5. THAAD and Dispute with China – Beyond sanctions, one of the steps being taken by the United States and South Korea to deter aggression by North Korea is the deployment of the Thermal High Altitude Arial Defense, or THAAD. This is a step that has been strongly opposed by China which sees it as undermining Beijing’s own interests in the region. While the evidence seems thin to date that China has actually done anything more than complain, there have been concerns that China will retaliate economically against South Korea by restricting its exports of Hallyu to the China and Chinese tourism in South Korea.  Taking such steps would harm Chinese as well as South Korean interests.

Troy Stangarone is the Senior Director for Congressional Affairs and Trade at the Korea Economic Institute of America. The views expressed here are the author’s alone.

Photo from Gage Skidmore’s photostream on flickr Creative Commons.

Posted in North Korea, slider, South KoreaComments (0)

The Irish Peace Process: Insights and Differences

By Junil Kim

In discussions of Korea’s possible reunification, observers often cite the German unification and integration process as a possible model due to its notable similarities with Korea. KEI’s own Senior Director of Congressional Affairs and Trade Troy Stangarone recently wrote a series of articles examining insights from German unification and their possible application to the two Koreas.

The case is less often made for Ireland. December 2nd marked the 16th anniversary of when the British-Irish Good Friday Agreement went into force. The Agreement, which was affirmed by voters in both the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland, established North-South institutions, decommissioned weapons held by paramilitary groups, and largely ended violent conflicts. While a North-South divide still exists, the Good Friday Agreement is generally seen as a large positive milestone in Irish reconciliation.

Although the Irish case is not frequently mentioned in discussions of Korean unification, there have been notable proponents in recent years. Both current Irish ambassador to South Korea Aingeal O’Donoghue and her predecessor Eamonn McKee suggested that the Irish peace process with Northern Ireland could serve as a valuable model for Korean reunification. Both envoys were involved in the Irish negotiation process, which slowly developed over the course of several years. Ambassador O’Donoghue noted the value “of sharing lessons or experiences from the Northern Ireland peace process in Korea, though recognizing that the two situations are very different.”

There are several important similarities that make the Irish model useful for possible Korean application. Both regions share a history of colonization by a larger regional power. The Republic of Ireland gained official independence from British rule in 1949, and both Korean nations broke from Japanese colonial administration at the end of World War II in 1945. Ambassador McKee publicly commented on this similarity, stating, “You’ve got two small countries, Ireland and Korea, who are surrounded by big powers and have retained their national identity over many, many centuries despite being buffeted by these powers and the power politics of their regions.”

Both regions were also partitioned in the 20th century. Northern Ireland remains a part of the United Kingdom and the two Koreas were separated by Cold War politics in the aftermath of World War II. Both regions also have a nationalist sentiment that transcends their designated borders. Notable examples of cross-border nationalism include the Irish national teams with athletes from across the island and the two Korean Olympic teams marching together under the Korean unification flag at multiple athletic ceremonies.

Although there are similarities regarding the historical contexts of both Korea and Ireland, there are also significant differences that may make lessons from Ireland difficult to apply to Korea. Unlike the heavily militarized and maintained DMZ that marks the border between the two Koreas, Ireland and Northern Ireland have a relatively open border where residents in both area can travel freely across. This contrasts sharply to the rigorously controlled interactions between North and South Korean citizens, such as the brokered inter-Korean family reunions that occurred this past October.

The Korean security situation is also drastically different from Ireland. Although paramilitary violence has flared up at times within Northern Ireland and in England, North Korea’s military capabilities have far greater security implications for both the Korean peninsula and the wider East Asian region. North Korea’s nuclear weapons development remains the most prominent concern and has regularly drawn the attention and ire of the international community. The amount of present cross-border dialogue is also low compared to North-South interactions in Ireland, which was a crucial factor in the Irish peace process.

Another key difference between the two situations is that the UK and the Republic of Ireland’s membership within the European Union meant that significant EU resources were available to promote the peace process. Furthermore, the U.S. was able to play a crucial role in promoting the Northern Ireland peace process because it was perceived as a neutral party by both the UK and the Republic of Ireland – a situation which emphatically is not the case on the Korean peninsula.

South Korea has demonstrated interest in learning lessons from the Irish peace process. In early 2014, the Korean Ministry of Foreign Affairs formed the Peninsula Club, an organization made of 21 foreign ambassadors to both Koreas. The group, which Ambassador O’Donoghue is also a part of, is meant to function as a networking platform to build international support for Korean reunification. In a more explicit show of South Korean interest, a delegation of officials from the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland visited Seoul in 2012 to discuss their peace process with South Korean government leaders.

Despite significant differences between Ireland and Korea, the Irish peace process provides an optimistic example of reconciliation. Important similarities between the two regions make the Irish model worth examining for possible application to Korean reunification.

Junil Kim is an intern at the Korea Economic Institute of America. The views expressed here are the author’s alone.

Photo from laura photo’s photostream on flickr Creative Commons.

Posted in Inter-Korean, North Korea, slider, South KoreaComments (1)

Five Issues Ban Ki-Moon Should Raise If He Goes to North Korea

By Troy Stangarone

After rumors that UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon would soon travel to North Korea were followed by denials that any trip was in the works, the Secretary General’s office acknowledged that discussions were ongoing for him to visit North Korea. Much as with his proposed trip to Kaesong earlier this year, any agreement to visit North Korea could be canceled at any moment. However, if Secretary Ban is able to travel to North Korea and meet with Kim Jong-un it could represent a turning point in North Korea’s attitude towards the outside world.

Since Kim Jong-un rose to power in early 2012, the only head of state to have visited North Korea is Tsakhiagiin Elbegdorj, the president of Mongolia, whom Kim chose not to meet.  Kim Jong-un also passed up invitations from Russia and China to take part in anniversary celebrations of the end of World War II. At the same time, Chinese President Xi Jinping has given him the cold shoulder, while instead warming relations with South Korea’s President Park Geun-hye.

In the past, Secretary Ban has expressed his willingness to become involved if it would help inter-Korean relations: this would provide an opportunity to see if the two Koreas could build further on the progress that came out of August’s incident in the DMZ and the recent family reunions. However, as the first world leader to meet Kim Jong-un and given how little is truly known about him, the meeting would be significant in itself.

“Mr. Ban Goes to Pyongyang”

Unlike the Jimmy Stewart movie about how one man changes Washington, Secretary Ban is unlikely to be able to foster much change in North Korea. He instead is perhaps best placed to play the role of an intermediary between North Korea and the international community. However, there are five issues that he should raise if he is able to visit North Korea:

North Korea’s Nuclear Weapons

Secretary General Ban almost certainly would raise North Korea’s nuclear program, which is the primary issue of international concern for the United Nations. While Secretary Ban should encourage North Korea to return to the Nonproliferation Treaty, let IAEA inspectors into the country, and return to talks to address international concerns about North Korea’s growing nuclear program, Secretary Ban should also make clear that the United States is not an obstacle to talks if North Korea is genuine about engaging.  Under President Obama, the United States has opened formal relations with Cuba and Myanmar, two nations  it had shunned in the past, and negotiated the recent nuclear agreement with Iran, another nation which the United States had sought to isolate in the international community.

Missile Tests

Related to the nuclear issue is North Korea’s ballistic missile program. Shortly after Kim Jong-un came to power, North Korea conducted a ballistic missile test under the guise of a satellite launch. The test violated a UN ban on ballistic missile tests and an agreement with the United States which placed a moratorium on long-range missile tests known as the Leap Day Agreement. Earlier this year, North Korea suggested it might again conduct a satellite launch and has declared a no sail zone off its eastern coast for November 11 through December 7. Secretary Ban should raise this issue with North Korea and remind it that it has an obligation to both refrain from ballistic missile tests and to notify the UN International Maritime Organization prior to any test, something which it did not do upon issuing the order domestically.

Respecting the Armistice Agreement

This August, North Korea placed landmines in areas of the DMZ patrolled by South Korea resulting in injuries to two South Korean soldiers. This was a violation of the Armistice Agreement, which is overseen by the United Nations. Secretary Ban should remind North Korea of its responsibility to respect the Armistice Agreement and maintain peace on the peninsula.

Human Rights

In light of the 2014 UN Commission of Inquiry report on human rights abuses in North Korea, the issue of human rights has become more prominent. If Secretary Ban is able to meet Kim Jong-un, he should encourage him to engage with the international community on steps that North Korea could take to improve human rights. He should also encourage North Korea to meet with U.N. special rapporteur for North Korea Marzuki Darusman, whom North Korea has so far not allowed to visit the country. Secretary General Ban should also encourage North Korea to take such steps as addressing the abductee issue with Japan and the repatriation of remains with parties to the Korean War to help improve relations in the region.

Inter-Korean Relations

As the first Korean Secretary General of the United Nations, improving inter-Korean relations is a natural area of interest for Secretary Ban. There are many areas where the two Korea’s could seek to improve relations – increased economic exchange, regularized political meetings, and increased cultural exchanges. However, one pressing area that Secretary Ban should consider discussing with North Korea is the area of family reunions. As more Koreans with relatives on either side of the DMZ succumb to old age the ties of family that will help to bind a reunified Korea will begin to fade if they are not rekindled. Regularizing and accelerating the process of family reunions and taking steps such as the proposal to allow the exchange of letters between families would help to keep these ties from fading.

Troy Stangarone is the Senior Director of Congressional Affairs and Trade at the Korea Economic Institute of America. The views expressed here are the author’s alone.

Photo from the United Nations Photo’s photostream on flickr Creative Commons.

Posted in North Korea, sliderComments (0)

Getting the Timing Right for an Inter-Korean Summit

By Troy Stangarone

What should drive a summit meeting between the leaders of a divided nation such as Korea? The chance to heal an historical divide? The need to ease tensions and open dialogue between the two sides? The ability to move concrete policy goals forward in an effort to build a joint future? These and other considerations are all legitimate reasons to meet with the opposing leader of a divided state. However, as recent events between China and Taiwan demonstrate, the conditions and circumstances of a meeting matter as well.

To the surprise of many, Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou and Chinese President Xi Jinping made history this weekend in Singapore with the first meeting between the leaders of the Republic of China and the People’s Republic of China since Chiang Kai-shek and the Kuomintang fled the mainland for Taiwan in 1949. The meeting, confirmed only days beforehand was much smaller in scale than previous inter-Korean summits and more symbolic in nature.

However, while the meeting may be an historic first, the timing as much as the meeting’s lack of substance is likely to diminish its impact on long-term relations between China and Taiwan. Coming with the campaign for the presidential and Legislative Yuan elections on January 16 already underway, the meeting has been criticized by the opposition, which is currently leading in the polls, as an attempt to turn around the flailing Kuomintang’s fortunes. Some have also suggested the meeting was an attempt to fence in the Democratic Progressive Party’s Tsai Ing-wen’s policy on cross-strait relations should she win the presidency.

The Ma-Xi meeting reinforces some of the lessons from the 2007 meeting between then South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun and Kim Jong-il. The Roh-Kim summit was held four months prior to the South Korean presidential election, one which the opposition Grand National Party’s candidate, Lee Myung-bak, was leading at the time. Much as with the Ma-Xi summit, concerns were expressed that one of the factors in the decision to hold the summit was to influence the outcome of upcoming elections.

In addition, the Roh-Kim summit, in contrast to the Ma-Xi summit, produced a series of agreements for economic and security cooperation between the two Koreas. However, after his election, Lee Myung-bak chose to put forward his own proposals for engagement with North Korea and set aside the agreement reached between President Roh and Kim Jong-il.

As the Ma-Xi summit and the Roh-Kim summit demonstrate, timing matters. Ideally, any future inter-Korean summit would take place early in the term of a new president. This would allow any inter-Korean agreement to be implemented by both sides and, if successful, build on that progress. However, given North Korea’s propensity to test new South Korean leaders, an inter-Korean summit early in a South Korean administration may be unlikely. Given that reality, any future summit would be timed to take place with sufficient time remaining in the president’s term to implement any inter-Korean agreement while avoiding election cycles.

One last consideration for future inter-Korean summits is China. Under President Park Geun-hye, South Korea has worked to improve relations with China and convince the leadership in Beijing that it should be amenable to unification on South Korean terms. At the same time, Xi Jinping has distanced himself from Kim Jong-un while meeting with Park Geun-hye on multiple occasions, including a summit meeting in South Korea. Given the historic relationship between North Korea and China, determining how a Park-Kim summit be perceived in Beijing if it occurred in advance of a Xi-Kim summit will also likely be a consideration for Seoul when exploring the optimal time for a future inter-Korean summit.

Any future inter-Korean summit should be driven by policy considerations. However, as the recent cross-strait summit and previous Roh-Kim summit demonstrate, timing is an important factor as well. A successful summit requires finding the optimal time to meet to ensure that the summit does not become an end unto itself, but rather moves the relationship forward in a constructive manner.

Troy Stangarone is the Senior Director for Congressional Affairs and Trade at the Korea Economic Institute of America. The views expressed here are his own.

Photo from Masaru Kamikura’s photostream on flickr Creative Commons.

Posted in Inter-Korean, sliderComments (0)

Insights from German Unification: Dealing with Political Prisoners after Unification

With Germany marking the 25th anniversary of unification this is the fifth part of a five part series looking at insights from the German unification experience for the Korean peninsula. Part I on the challenges of integration can be found here. Part II on political unification can be found here. Part III on integrating the bureaucracy and the military can be found here. Park IV on the social challenges of unification can be found here.

By Troy Stangarone

During East Germany’s 41 years of the existence there were some 250,000 political prisoners. In contrast, the UN Commission of Inquiry’s report indicates that today there are between 80,000-120,000 political prisoners in North Korea whose statuses will need to be addressed once unification occurs.

In the case of Germany, the Treaty on German Unity laid out in Articles 17 and 18 that the decisions of courts handed down by East Germany should remain valid, but that Germans could seek to have the convictions overturned and that a process for the rehabilitation and compensation of political prisoners should be established. However, it was not until 2007 that Germany began providing compensation to political prisoners and it was restricted to low income individuals who had been imprisoned at least 180 days. Additionally, the compensation was limited to a monthly payment of 250 euros, which was increased to 300 euros at the beginning of 2015.

Given the large numbers of individuals held in camps and the regular prison system in North Korea a process will need to be developed to address their status in the short-to-medium term. Decisions will need to be made on what legal code to use in reviewing prisoner cases, what review process to use, and how decisions can be appealed. However, because not every prisoner may be innocent even by South Korean standards, simply releasing everyone from regular prisons or the camps will not be a viable option. Additionally, consideration should be given to a review of all prisoners in North Korea to determine if criminals have already fulfilled a reasonable sentence or if the conditions of the camps warrant a commutation of the remainder of a sentence.

While this process is going on, efforts will need to be made to improve the conditions of the prisoners, provide medical and mental health assistance, and address other needs they may have.  Multidrug-resistant tuberculosis (MDR-TB) is likely present among the North Korean prison populations. Prisoners would need to be screened and treated for MDR-TB to prevent spreading the disease further into North and South Korea.  In addition, a determination will need to be made on whether compensation will be provided and how best to integrate them back into society and the workforce as they may have special needs beyond the average North Korean.

The issue of political prisoners also has an international dimension. Foreign firms that did business with East Germany either knowingly or unknowingly used labor from political prisoners. The most famous case is Ikea, which admitted in 2012 to having used prison labor in East Germany and agreed to provide compensation. At the time, Ikea paid the East German government directly, but the money would often simply be pocketed by the government and not reach the workers. In the Korean case, a medium term issue will be determining if the government should pursue foreign firms that may have used forced labor for compensation, and more specifically whether Korea should reach a separate understanding with China on this issue as the largest trading partner with North Korea. Additionally, this issue also extends to the 1800 contract workers who have been sent abroad to earn the regime hard currency.

Lastly, consideration should be given to issues that arise from unification if it does not follow the relatively peaceful model of Germany. While South Korea will need to seek assurances that the prisoners will not be harmed during the process of peaceful unification, if North Korea were to collapse into a state of violence through a civil war or if a low scale rebellion were to break out during the process, steps would need to be taken quickly to ensure the protection of the prisoners as  North Korean prison officials may seek to avoid prosecution by destroying evidence — including the ability of victims’ to testify against them.

Troy Stangarone is the Senior Director for Congressional Affairs and Trade at the Korea Economic Institute of America. The views expressed here are the author’s alone.

Photo from Matthew Cook’s photostream on flickr Creative Commons.


Posted in Inter-Korean, sliderComments (4)

Insights from German Unification: The Social Challenges of Unification

With Germany marking the 25th anniversary of unification this is the fourth part of a five part series looking at insights from the German unification experience for the Korean peninsula. Part I on the challenges of integration can be found here. Part II on political unification can be found here. Part III on integrating the bureaucracy and the military can be found here. Part V on dealing with political prisoners can be found here.

By Troy Stangarone

One of the most difficult internal challenges Korea will face after unification is integrating the North Korean population into South Korean society. At the time when East and West Germany united, a significant amount of interaction between the two societies had taken place and for some there was the memory of living within a market economy and democracy from the time of the Weimar Republic, despite that period’s flaws. In the case of Korea, the two societies have had significantly less interaction. Beyond the limited family number of family reunions, the joint Kaesong Industrial Complex, and pirated South Korean media, the North Korean population has essentially been isolated from South Korean society. As a result, the social gap after unification is likely to be larger than the two Germanys faced.

After unification, North Koreans will find themselves in a society very different than the one they know. The new society will have a different set of values and norms based in individual rights, democracy, and a market based economic system. On a basic level, North Koreans will face deficits with their South Korean counterparts in terms of education and health. As they try to navigate these challenges they will find that the Korean language has evolved differently on each side of the DMZ. All of this will make finding gainful employment more difficult, while fitting into society will be challenging as simple things taken for granted in the South, such as how to use the internet or drive a car, will be foreign to most North Koreans other than the elite. Many who have survived in North Korea have done so by breaking the rules or engaging in activities, such as the markets, whose legal status has been uncertain at times will now have to adjust to a society where they will be expected to follow the rules.

These difficulties can be seen in both the experience of Germany over the last quarter century and the challenges faced by North Koreans who have escaped to the South. When Germany integrated, East Germans faced a host of challenges. Not only did they have to adjust to an entirely different system and ideological perspective related to democracy and a market economy, they faced new challenges such as dealing with unemployment and social relations that were based in money. They also had to adjust to things that Westerners take for granted such as the need to have insurance and the workings of a banking system, while adjusting in a world where tensions between the two sides would manifest through demeaning comments such as West Germans saying they had moved to the colonies.

Unification left the two societies existing in parallel. This divide, or mental wall between the two peoples, in recent years a sense of nostalgia for the former GDR has developed, often referred to as Ostalgie. Having been socialized in the East German system, many East Germans came to look back on the old system with either fondness or maintain some of its ways of thinking.

Even the young faced challenges adjusting to the new society. Unification had brought a tension between the two dominant ideologies of the East and the West as individualism and collectivism were partially incompatible. In the case of East Germany, while young adults adopted Western values, they did not necessarily internalize them as “the new generation born after the reunification of Germany still shares, albeit to a significantly smaller extent, the behavior models and mindsets which developed in the generations of their grandparents and parents”. An early study done on East German attitudes found that a plurality of East Germans and West Germans identified more with their original system than the new unified Germany. East Germans were also less likely to see Germany’s market based values as a source of security.

Even two decades after unification cultural differences still exist. The East and West share different views of religion and social issues such as abortion. They have different views of the role of women in society, with Easterners being more progressive about the role of women. How they define professional success remains different, and even small things such as how one is greeted or the nature of small talk maintain differences.

While North Koreans do have access to information about the South through movies and DVDs, for example, remnants of the old system will likely remain in their thinking and world view as they transition to a new society. Managing these differences, while providing the necessary skills and tools to North Koreans to adjust, will be a critical issue as unification proceeds. Additionally, as the experience of young German’s demonstrates, social and cultural integration will be a multi-generational process rather than a process that takes place in a single lifetime.

As mentioned, integrating North Koreans into South Korean society poses a range of questions. Beyond the experience of Germany, there is also the experience of North Korean defectors in South Korea which can provide some insight into the challenges North Koreans will face in integrating into South Korean society.

While there have been some successes, especially among former members of the elite, many defectors struggle to integrate into South Korean society. Despite the support from the South Korean government and programs designed to help defectors integrate into society, North Koreans still face a series of impediments to full integration into South Korean society. These impediments can largely be broken into five categories: cultural/ideological, professional, personal, psychological, and social prejudice. Though, many of these impediments overlap, such as decisions to live alone in South Korea that can impact personal happiness but also have a psychological root.

For many North Koreans, arriving in South Korea can be a culture shock as the norms and values they grew up with are challenged by those in the South. While many in North Korea are poor, they grow up in a largely communal environment and are unprepared for the individualistic nature of Korean society, especially the value it places on money. Having grown up in a society that espoused the values of collectivism and egalitarianism, North Koreans tend to live alone wanting to experience their own independence.

The collectivist nature of North Korean society and its indoctrination tends to lead to North Koreans to be more communal and group oriented in their view of how to handle problems and their thinking can be rigid. This leads defectors to perceive the world in black and white and a communal manner, in contrast to the individualist nature of South Korean society. At the same time, the egalitarian ideals that are propagated in the North can leave them with a sense of unfairness in regards to how their situation is handled in South Korea.

Despite the challenges defectors have faced integrating into South Korean society, a note of caution is needed about examining the experience of North Koreans who have defected to South Korea and extrapolating their experience to how all North Koreans would react to unification. The defectors by definition are a self-selecting group and may not be representative of the North Korean population as a whole.

Troy Stangarone is the Senior Director for Congressional Affairs and Trade at the Korea Economic Institute of America. The views expressed here are the author’s alone.

Photo from Doug’s photostream on flickr Creative Commons.

Posted in Inter-Korean, sliderComments (4)

Insights from German Unification: Integrating the Bureaucracy and the Military

With Germany marking the 25th anniversary of unification this is the third part of a five part series looking at insights from the German unification experience for the Korean peninsula. Part I on the challenges of integration can be found here. Part II on political unification can be found herePart IV on the social challenges of unification can be found herePart V on dealing with political prisoners can be found here.

By Troy Stangarone

While it is natural for there to be a desire for justice after a regime such as North Korea’s collapses, practical matters often intervene.  This is something Germany has experienced twice, both after the end of Nazi Germany and during unification in 1990 with different lessons from each experience. In the case of the transition from the Nazi regime, the Federal Republic of Germany’s first chancellor, Konrad Adenauer, noted their exclusion from public life needed to end by remarking that, “the machine has to operate”.

As Germany was preparing for unification in 1990, it was hoped that Western administrators would only need to play a short term role in restructuring the East. However, it soon became clear that their expertise would be needed on a long term basis. As a result, Germany placed West Germans in high level political and bureaucratic positions in the East to make up for the knowledge gaps. However, this led to its own problems. West German officials had little interest in learning about the problems in the East. In addition, the East Germans were all now in subordinate positions and because of the structural reforms undertaken to make the East German bureaucracy similar to that in the West there was little room for substantive contributions from the Eastern experience. Additionally, since East German bureaucrats were hired for loyalty rather than competence they were not always qualified for jobs in the new bureaucracy.

More generally, almost all of the top East Germans were removed from their position. For the most part West Germany tried not to lay off civil servants and those who worked for parts of the bureaucracy that were eliminated were often given a chance to find work at another agency. However, they could be laid off if: they had engaged in Stasi activities, an institution was eliminated, there was overstaffing, they had committed human rights violations or broken another law, or they lacked the necessary qualifications.

However, not all bureaucracies were handled the same. In the case of the education system, essentially all of the teachers of the former GDR were maintained while the system was reformed to reflect the West’s education system. All of the former foreign ministry officers were let go, as were the former Stasi officials. Former Stasi officials were barred from public positions. The East German police were required to have their political and professional history examined before being allowed back into the police service. As their East German training was often not recognized in the West, they were moved further down the ranks.

The East German military, the National Volksarmee or NVA, was disbanded upon unification. Any officer or soldier over the age of fifty-five was immediately let go from the military and those who were retained often had specialist skills required to maintain East German equipment. Integrating officers of the NVA into the West Germany military was difficult because they were seen as having sided with the enemy, the Soviet Union, and being the reason for the division of Germany.

If the German case is reflective of the challenges that Korea will face upon unification, efforts to improve the level and quantity of talent in the unified Korean bureaucracy will be essential. While maintaining as many North Koreans as possible to limit unemployment and resentment, as seen in more recent transitions such as Iraq, will be important, the quality of North Korean officials may not be very high. There may also be a need to design incentives to try to attract qualified private sector individuals form the South into the public sector as well. At the same time, the insights of former North Korean officials may be necessary to help smooth the transition in the North.

While the abilities of North Korean bureaucrats may not be high, there will also likely be integration issues relating to the slowing of career advancement by former North Korean officials in the new system, or as is the case of the military, strong push back against working with individuals that may be seen has having played a key role in maintaining the division of the peninsula.

Troy Stangarone is the Senior Director for Congressional Affairs and Trade at the Korea Economic Institute of America. The views expressed here are the author’s alone.

Photo from Nico Trinkhaus’s photostream on flickr Creative Commons.


Posted in Inter-Korean, sliderComments (4)

Insights from German Unification: Political Integration on the Korean Peninsula

With Germany marking the 25th anniversary of unification this is the second part of a five part series looking at insights from the German unification experience for the Korean peninsula. Part I on the challenges of integration can be found here. Part III on integrating the bureaucracy and the military can be found herePart IV on the social challenges of unification can be found herePart V on dealing with political prisoners can be found here.

By Troy Stangarone

After the Berlin Wall fell on November 9, 1989, the political unification of the two German states did not occur for nearly a year and only after free elections in East Germany had taken place. West Germany insisted on elections to legitimize the East German government prior to providing it with financial assistance needed to stabilize the country. The results of these elections would shape the process of unification.

In the first and only free elections in the German Democratic Republic’s history East Germans, voted for political parties that ran on a platform of unification. Having received a mandate to unify with the West, the new East German government engaged in talks with the West that in a short period of time outlined the terms under which the two states would achieve unification. The decision was made for the Lӓnder of East Germany to accede to the West Germany political entity and for the political institutions of West Germany to be graphed onto the former East German states. Their bureaucratic agencies would be remodeled to be compatible with those in the West.

However, while much of the West was implanted in the East and a process of transitional justice was undertaken to remove former officials from office, the process of political transition did not lead to a ban of the Socialist Unity Party (SED) which had led East Germany during Communism. In the run up to the March 1990 elections, the SED underwent a series of internal reforms and renamed itself the Party of Democratic Socialism (PDS). In time, the PDS would become the modern Left Party of Germany. The Left Party, while shunned by the major parties in Germany on the national level, is currently the third largest party in the Bundestag after having received 8.6 percent of the vote in 2013. In addition to the successor parties to the SED carrying on, some of the key figures from the days of the SED continued  in politics, such as Hans Modrow, who was prime minister prior to the free elections in March and went on to serve in both the German Parliament and the European Parliament.

While East Germans voted to join West Germany, one of the lingering issues is that they were not consulted on how the process should take place. This discontent is reflected in differences in the political cultures. In Germany, the political culture of the East has had difficulty adapting to the system. For example, both Germanys have a history of social welfare, but East Germans view social welfare as a structural component of the state, while for West Germans it is a political issue for the incumbent party to address. At the same time, turnout in the new federal states has decreased at a quicker rate than the western states, while there has also been more receptiveness to radical views in the political process.

The German experience raises a number of political questions for Korean unification. Regardless of whether there is a negotiated unification as in Germany or a complete collapse of the state that precludes a negotiated unification, should North Koreans be given a say on whether they join the Republic of Korea? East Germans voted for political parties in favor of unification, but should North Koreans be given more choice on how the process of unification takes place? One option would be to allow North Koreans to choose between accession, confederation, or independence. At the same time, should South Koreans also be given a choice in the matter?

If North Koreans are given a vote, a census will likely be need. This will take time and raises the question of whether in the case of a non-negotiated unification North Korea should be placed under a South Korean administered UN Trusteeship or modern equivalent. If collapse occurs the North may not be in a situation to hold a vote for a period of time before the reconstitution of society and the economy to a certain extent. A trusteeship would allow North Korea some space to restore stability and order, while also protecting South Korean equities. It would also allow the process of transition to begin on legal, economic, and political levels. At the same time, a vote on North Korea’s future would help to legitimize the democratic process in the North and set a precedent that decisions should be made in a democratic fashion.

Another question may be the future of the Korean Workers Party. As in the case of the SED, will it be allowed to reform itself and to remain a political party in the new Korea? If so, what officials would be able to run for office? Within 15 years of unification, an East German, Angela Merkel, became German Chancellor. Certain officials, such as Kim Jong-un, should be excluded from future political roles regardless of how unification comes about, but in the case of a negotiated unification or collapse determinations will need to be made on if all former party officials should be banned from political office or only those who have attained a certain level of political stature or have been guilty of crimes against humanity.

When unification takes place on the Korean peninsula, the process of political unification will be highly contingent upon the circumstances that brings about unification. The answers to the questions raised here about the political futures of individuals in the North will be significantly different if unification is achieved through a negotiated process or through complete collapse or conflict. Still, some insights into which officials should be allowed to remain might be seen in how Germany handled the integration of the two countries bureaucracies.

Troy Stangarone is the Senior Director for Congressional Affairs and Trade at the Korea Economic Institute of America. The views expressed here are the author’s alone.

Photo from Bankenverband – Bundesverband deutscher Banken’s photostream on flickr Creative Commons.

Posted in Inter-Korean, sliderComments (5)

Insights from German Unification: Unification will Come Before Integration to Korea

With Germany marking the 25th anniversary of unification this is the first part of a five part series looking at insights from the German unification experience for the Korean peninsula. Part II on political unification can be found herePart III on integrating the bureaucracy and the military can be found here. Part IV on the social challenges of unification can be found herePart V on dealing with political prisoners can be found here.

By Troy Stangarone

In her speech in Dresden in 2014, South Korean President Park Geun-hye noted that “Germany and Korea have a special relationship through the painful experience of division,” and that “Germany is an example and a model for a peaceful reunification of our own country.” As Germans prepare to mark the 25th anniversary of reunification on October 3, there now exists a quarter century’s worth of data to indicate what that model might mean for the years after unification on the Korean peninsula. Looking at Germany today, one key takeaway from its experience is that unification will come quickly, but the integration of the two economies and societies will be a multi-generational process.

Despite what has largely been a successful process of unification in Germany divisions still remain. The Gross Domestic Product of the former Eastern Germany is still only 75 percent of the former West Germany states as of 1995 and the economic convergence between the two largely stalled two decades ago. Unemployment in the former Eastern states is above 9 percent in contrast to the 5.6 percent in the West, while workers in the East have lower levels of productivity and work longer hours.

While the economy in the East still lags that of the West, some cities such as Leipzig and Dresden are booming and the regional differences are now no greater than those in the United States or other OECD countries. However, growth in the East has been held back by the movement of young workers to the West and the failure of firms to establish research centers or relocate their headquarters to the East. After the Second World War, many firms moved their headquarters to the West and logistics and research facilities have tended to stay in the West after unification. Coupled with a failure to promote entrepreneurship, the East has lacked some of the key ingredients needed to boost its economic performance despite transfers of 2 trillion euros.

On a social level, divisions still remain that have slowed the process of bringing the two societies together. In a survey marking the anniversary of unification, 73 percent of Germans believe that unification has been a success with 76 percent of West Germans seeing it as a success and 66 percent of East Germans agreeing. At the same time, 67 percent of Germans, 64 percent in the West and 77 percent in the East, see the process as unfinished. Perhaps more positively, only 47 percent of Germans, including 49 percent of West Germans, see unification as having been too expensive.

However, East and West Germans still maintain differences. While three-quarters of West Germans are comfortable with the current political system, only half of easterners feel “at home” with the federal republic. Perhaps more concerning 28 percent of Easterners have no faith in democracy at all. Rightwing populist parties such as the Alterative for Germany and protest movements such as the Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamisation of the Occident, or PEGIDA, tend to be more successful in the East as a result.

East and West Germans even differ in ways that touch on everyday life as well. Three quarters of West Germans belong to a religious community, while the opposite is the case in the East. East Germans tend to use different words for basic items like plastic and stapler. They also tend to be more likely to use daycare and less likely to own guns than their West German counterparts. While West Germans prefer luxury cars like BMWs, East Germans prefer Skodas.

However, some divisions begin to fade with the younger generations. Among those born in 1989 and 1990, or Generation 25, unification is seen as a success by slightly larger portion than the population as a whole. They are also less likely to see unification as unfinished, only 42 percent as opposed to 67 percent of the general population, and only 30 percent believe it cost too much as compared to 47 percent of the population as a whole.

However, while the overwhelming majority of Generation 25 see unification as a good thing, 46 percent still believe that there is a difference in the way that easterners and westerners think. They are also less likely to see the former East German system as unjust as the general population.

What does this mean for Korean unification? The German experience suggests that unification in a formal sense will come quickly, but the process of integrating the societies and two economies will be a multi-generational effort.  As might be expected due to the significant economic differences prior to unification, economic challenges will likely remain a quarter century after unification. The social differences and differing views on the political system are also important insights into the potential difficulties that may lie ahead for integrating North Koreans into South Korean society. However, as new generations are born and the memory of the former North Korean state begins to fade some of the divisions will begin to disappear. Though that fading memory could also lead younger generations to view North Korea in a less negative light than other generations.

Troy Stangarone is the Senior Director of Congressional Affairs and Trade at the Korea Economic Institute of America. The views expressed here are the author’s alone.

Photo from Merlijn Hoek’s photo stream on flickr Creative Commons.


Posted in Inter-Korean, sliderComments (4)

About The Peninsula

The Peninsula blog is a project of the Korea Economic Institute. It is designed to provide a wide ranging forum for discussion of the foreign policy, economic, and social issues that impact the Korean peninsula. The views expressed on The Peninsula are those of the authors alone, and should not be taken to represent the views of either the editors or the Korea Economic Institute. For questions, comments, or to submit a post to The Peninsula, please contact us at ts@keia.org.