Articles

The unification of the two Koreas: an ASEAN perspective

The aim of the paper is to discuss the role of the ASEAN as a critical component of the solution to the Korean unification. The Korean Unification refers to the potential reunification of both Koreas into a single sovereign Korean state led by the leadership of the two Koreas.

Instytut Boyma 16.01.2020

Executive Summary

The paper discusses the impact and implications of the ASEAN (Association of South Eastern Asian Nations) in a potential Korean unification. The Korean Unification refers to the potential reunification of both Koreas into a single sovereign Korean state led by the leadership of the two Koreas. A potential unification of Korea as well as a single transformation process in North Korea are associated to the question of economic integration in Northeast Asia The issue of the Korean unification has inter-Korean, and international dimensions. Relations between both Koreas are defined as special and unstable. These relations are affected by internal and external factors. The South Korean government has made a lot of efforts in order to build the basis for a peaceful unification on the Korean Peninsula. Nevertheless, an international cooperation is requested. Taking in account the German unification in 1990s, this one was possible due to interactions among different powers. Therefore, the Korean unification cannot be realized through a state-centric approach but rather through a multilateral policy. As South Korea is belonging to the ASEAN+3 Initiative, the Korean unification is attracting the attention of ASEAN members due also to it strategic position in North East Asia. On the other side it may be difficult as there are serious conflicts of interest among these potential partners belonging to the ASEAN and out of the ASEAN (the U.S and Russia). The aim of the paper is to discuss the role of the ASEAN as a critical component of the solution to the Korean unification.

Introduction

The Korean Peninsula is divided for already nearly seven decades since the end of the Second World War in 1945. During the Cold War era, there was little the Asian countries could do for unification of both Koreas. Entering a post-Cold War period, ASEAN is trying to be involved in Initiatives for Peaceful Unification of Korean Peninsula. ASEAN leaders consider that bringing to the Korean Unification may have a concluding impact over the North Korean nuclear program (Weapons of Mass Destruction and proliferation concerns) and a positive impact on the economy of this region. The aims of the ASEAN in its implication in the Korean Peninsula matters are multiples. The first one would be the prevention of inter-Korean conflicts. The second one is the critical North Asian security. The third one an economic bonanza to the region.

The importance and the context of the problems: the policy of Neighboring Powers

North Korea represents a double challenge which is compounded of traditional (Weapons of Mass Destruction, biochemical weapons, nuclear arsenal and military provocations) and non-traditional challenges (global economic and social crisis, and a larger inflow of refugees). North Korea is insisting on the fact that the possession of nuclear weapons contributes to economic development and self-reliance. North Korea posed a security threat to the region and the Korean Peninsula.

The U.S. are frustrated with North Korea’s behavior and are not interested in negotiating with it. North Korea is however no more a primary concern as any North Korea’s change is unlikely. The U.S. considers that it’s impossible that North Korea will give up its nuclear weapons.

For China, North Korea is becoming a liability rather than an asset. There has been no exchange of high rank officials between North Korean and China since Kim Jong-un took office three years ago. The Chinese investments in North Korea are also under pressure (there are no Chinese state companies which are investing in North Korea). Meanwhile China doesn’t want any collapse of North Korea.

Regarding Japan, this country is trying to solve the Japanese abductees issue and pursue collective security related to North Korean contingency. Japan is also considering the North Korean nuclear issue as a priority.

Meanwhile Russia wants to “Return in Asia” through the Putin’s grand plan for this continent. We can also presume that Russia is trying to utilize North Korea as a bargaining chip in dealing with the U.S. and gaining economic benefit.

Finally concerning both Koreas relations, these states do not maintain relations which aim at the Korean unification (in spite of the official discourse). They do not officially consider themselves as sovereign states nevertheless their relations are similar to these ones.

All these elements should be taken in account in order to set up the global framework of understanding North Korea.

Relations between North Korea and ASEAN countries

In spite of the 630 inter-Korean dialogues, including four summit talks and 10 prime minister level-talks held since 1971, no Korean solution were found to the Korean division. Therefore, the internationalization of the problem is requested. The closer international organization to both Korea is the ASEAN. First, ASEAN was prefigured by an organization called the Association of Southeast Asia (ASA), a group consisting of the Philippines, Malaysia, and Thailand that was formed in 1961. ASEAN itself was inaugurated on the 8th of August 1967, when foreign ministers of five countries; Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, and Thailand, signed the ASEAN Declaration, more commonly known as the Bangkok Declaration. The creation of ASEAN was motivated by a common fear of communism and a thirst for economic development. In 1989, Korea became a Sectoral Dialogue Partner with ASEAN. The ASEAN Plus Three Forum (including China, Japan and South Korea) was inaugurated in 1993. During the last 22 years Korea and the ASEAN have written an invaluable history.

Due to the inclusion of South Korea, the issue of Korean unification started to be enlighted. Since 2010, North Korean foreign ministers have attended the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) summits, allowing the DPRK to engage in direct bilateral talks with both ASEAN member states and seventeen other ARF participating countries. Since 2011, North Korean officials (such as Ri Chol, Ri Kwang-gun, Ri Myong-san, and Ri Ryong-nam) have increasingly visited ASEAN member countries, namely Vietnam and Singapore, for the purpose of learning from—and perhaps emulating—these countries’ experiences with economic development.

ASEAN and the Korean unification

The ASEAN is an important partner of South Korea. It’s the second largest trading partner of South Korea, the third biggest investment destination for Korea, and an important region for the diffusion of the Korean (hallyu) culture. Korean authorities try also to export their „Miracle on the Han River” by envisioning a „Miracle on the ASEAN rivers”. Therefore, we can denote a real fusion relation between the ASEAN and South Korea. Yet another aspect is North Korea’s attitude towards the ASEAN countries after the emergence of Kim Jong-eun. North Korean official statements refer to possible attack toward Japan, South Korea, and the U.S. As the new North Korean leadership is more irrational than the previous one and for geographical reasons, the ASEAN countries are also interested in the stability of the region. Therefore, some steps towards negotiating with North Korea have been taken.  The ASEAN is globally supporting the Korean unification for security and economic purposes. However, it is not certain that the ASEAN will strongly support an early unification of the Korean Peninsula. The ASEAN may agree to a low unification because it will be important to make the alliance Koreas-ASEAN solid and balancing against the rise of the USA and Russia. Therefore, it may weaken the U.S. strategic interest. As China is belonging to ASEAN+3, and as the U.S. is slowly declining compared to the rise of China, the U.S. would prefer a limited cooperation between a new Korea and the ASEAN. Regarding Japan (also belonging to ASEAN+3), if a unified Korea may appear, it may be a kind of new rival against Japan given the historical relations between both countries. Nevertheless, the Korean unification will strengthen the Asian community and may reduce the influence of non Asian countries in this part of the world. On the other side, the U.S. Try to increase their long-term presence on the Korean Peninsula through the installations of long-terms elements which are hard to be dismantled. For instance, the THAAD (Terminal High Altitude Area Defense) which was supposedly aimed at defend South Korea toward a potential North Korean attack. China does consider that the THAAD system may jeopardize its hegemony Asia. In reality it’s an element of the long-term presence of the U.S. on the Korean Peninsula, even if the unification would take place. Therefore, as said the French researcher Arnaud Leveau, major powers such as the U.S. which are competing for gaining influence in the ASEAN region can disturb any actions of the ASEAN over a potential Korean unification. Then it may have some disastrous consequences for the security of North East Asia.

Separate countries of the ASEAN are negotiating with North Korea. Indonesia is conducting a smart and soft policy, however its’ engagement on unification issues is more than limited. By the way some ASEAN countries still focus on other Korean issues than the unification. For instance, Japan would like to get answers from the North Korean government for problems such as abductees or North Korea’s nuclear issues. For Tokyo it should be the top priority on the Korean Peninsula. Some other countries (for example Indonesia and Singapore) think that the attention should be paid simultaneously to the change in, and stability of, North Korea’s political system instead of the Korean unification. These divergent of interests were already seen with the creation of the Southeast Asia Treaty Organization (SEATO) signed in 1954. This organization had no political forces. This structure was less multi-lateral than the current ASEAN.  Institutionalization efforts of relationship are essential to make progress in Korean relations and to shift from conflict to cooperation. Being implicated in a set of norms and rules (of the ASEAN), actors has common expectations.  That’s why the participation of North Korea to ASEAN meeting (as an observatory candidate) may be also a first step for the reconciliation of both Koreas.  The Korean unification and ASEAN+3 membership of South Korea mean becoming part of a harmonization cartel for North Korea. At a first glance this included a lot of advantages for the transformation process of the less advanced North Korea. No search for reform strategies would be necessary. A set of norms of the transformation path would be given by the South Korean as well the APEC regulations. All South Korean formal institutions as well as the whole ASEAN “acquis communautaire” would be directly transferred to North Korea. South Korean authorities may also expect a financial support from ASEAN countries. Costs of unification had been evaluated to billions of dollars. As South Korea is concentrating 30 percent of its total official development assistance in the ASEAN region, Seoul may expect a reciprocal support even to a less extent.

South Korea is also trying to coordinate a multilateral initiative which also aims at the Korean unification. The South Korean president Park Gyun-hee is pursuing a Hanbando Shinroe (Korean peninsula trust-building process) which may be surrounded by ASEAN partners. Furthermore, The Park administration is dominating the “Dongbuka Pyonghwa Gusang” initiative (Northeast Asia Peace and Cooperation Initiative (NAPCI)) as a trust-building process around the region launched an initiative to discuss regional security issues. Basically, North Korea can participate in the NAPCI at any stage. Nevertheless, what value is added by another multilateral mechanism in Asia?  Given the existence of a set of overlapping, inclusive institutions centered on the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN)—including an annual East Asian Summit and the ASEAN Regional Forum—what extra benefit would be derived from NAPCI?  The NAPCI is then more a competitor to ASEAN regarding involvement in the Korean unification.

Conclusion

Kim Dae-jung’s Sunshine Policy of Engagement, Ro Mu-hyun’s unreserved approach to North Korea and Lee Myung-bak’s response to the North Korea’s nuclear provocations failed to induce changes in North Korea. Therefore, South Korea is not able to face alone with the issue of North Korea. For a long time, South Korea carry out the cooperation with North Korea however it may be prosecuted through an international network. Due to factors mentioned below such as the deteriorating relations between Beijing and Pyongyang, ASEAN may be North Korea’s best chance to bring itself out of isolation. ASEAN remains a central player because there is no other alternative for South Korea in spite of the unification case of Germany which is culturally too far from the Korean Peninsula. ASEAN should apply a balanced policy between incentives and sanctions by highlighting a three steps policy (Step one: humanitarian aid, step 2: stabilization by economic exchanges, step 3: normalization through the integration in international organizations) through a combination of agendas. Meanwhile North Korea and South Korea could benefit from the great relationship some ASEAN countries share with both countries. If the Korean unification will be realized, we will be able to close the chapter of the Cold War by removing an important source of tension. It will also enable a new configuration of the Northern Part of Asia.

The views expressed here are those of the author and do not reflect any official position of the Boym Institute

Przypisy:

A shared Vision for the Future of Korea and ASEAN – Partnership for Trust and Happiness, https://www.philstar.com/other-sections/letters-to-the-editor/2014/12/11/1401297/shared-vision-future-korea-and-asean-partnership-trust-and-happiness (accessed: 20.08.2019).

Northeast Asia and a Vision for Korean Unification, Minister Ryoo Kihl-Jae’s Speech delivered at The Asian Leadership Conference, March 3, 2014, Korean Institute of National Unification.

Funke, M. & Strulik, H., Growth and convergence in a two-region model: The hypothetical case of Korean unification, Journal of Asian Economics, 2005, nr 16, 18 p.

Leveau, A., Shangri-La Dialogue International Law VS International Norms, CHULA ASEAN Policy Brief, June 2014, nr 4, 4 p.

Lim, W. Regional Multilateralism in Asia and the Korean Question, The Brookings Institution Center for Northeast Asian Policy Studies, August 2009, 27 p.

Stubbs, R. ASEAN Plus Three: Emerging East Asian Regionalism? Asian Survey. Vol. XLII, No. 3, May/June 2002.

Nicolas Levi

Analyst on North and South Korea. He is an assistant professor at the Institute of Mediterranean and Oriental Cultures of the Polish Academy of Sciences. Author of 7 books, more than 20 academic articles, and over 50 analytical reports on the Korean Peninsula, Poland, and related issues. He conducts lectures at top universities in Poland and abroad.

czytaj więcej

Adam Institute for Democracy & Peace – Crowdfunding Campaign December 2020

Democracy in Israel is in crisis. And if we don't educate for democracy, it just won't exist. It's that simple. The actual teaching of democracy, on the other hand, isn't so simple. It requires experience, theoretical and practical knowledge and the flexibility to adapt to our ever-changing reality.

What connects shamans and generals? On the problem of verification of internal conflicts of North Korea

The number of confirmed executions and frequent disappearances of politicians remind us that in North Korea the rules of social Darwinism apply. Any attempt to limit Kim Jong-un's power may be considered hostile and ruthless.

Why We Need Women in Politics, or the Scandal Solved Successfully in Uzbekistan with a Polish Woman in the Leading Role

Polish women do not often become the heroines of media reports in Central Asia. In February 2020, however, it was different. The story of Agnieszka Pikulicka-Wilczewska, a journalist, "heated up" the headlines of local news portals. More importantly, "between the lines" she talked a lot about contemporary Uzbekistan and the role of women in politics.

Voices from Asia – introduction

We would like to cordially invites all to the new series "Voices from Asia" that is devoted to the Asian perspectives on the conflict in Ukraine. In this series, we publish analysis by experts based in Asia or working on Asian affairs who present their positions on this matter.

Online Course: “Conflict Resolution and Democracy”

The course will be taught via interactive workshops, employing the Adam Institute’s signature “Betzavta – the Adam Institute’s Facilitation Method“, taught by its creator, Dr. Uki Maroshek-Klarman. The award-winning “Betzavta” method is rooted in an empirical approach to civic education, interpersonal communication and conflict resolution.

TSRG 2021: The Impacts of the BRI on Europe: The Case of Poland and Germany

It is important to contribute to the understanding of what the New Silk Road can mean in economic, political, leadership and cultural terms for the European countries involved. This analysis should reveal the practical consequences of the Belt and Road Initiative for Europe in the case of Poland and Germany, as well as their respective social effects.

Book review: “North Korean Defectors in a New and Competitive Society”

Book review of "North Korean Defectors in a New and Competitive Society", written by Lee Ahlam - assistant professor in the Department of Educational Leadership and Human Resource Development at Xavier University Cincinnati, Ohio.

Indonesia – between religion and democracy

Indonesia is the largest Muslim democracy in the world. Approximately 88% of the population in Indonesia declares Islamic religion, but in spite of this significant dominance, Indonesia is not a religious state.

Taiwanese Perceptions of Russia’s Ukraine war

Since the invasion of Ukraine, the Taiwanese government remained committed to its position of condemnation for Russia, humanitarian support for Ukraine, and deep appreciation and admiration for the Ukrainian people’s will to defy power, resist aggression, and defend their nation.

Patrycja Pendrakowska for Observer Research Foundation: “The Polish example: Defending the castle in the European East”

We would like to inform, that Observer Research Foundation has published article of Patrycja Pendrakowska - the Boym Institute Analyst and President of the Board.

Join us for the Adam Institute’s Latest Online Course

Conflict resolution models have been primarily crafted and codified by men. The Adam Institute for Democracy and Peace invites you to be part of that much-needed change through an experiential and innovative Online Course "Conflict Resolution in the Context of Gender".

Development Strategies for Ulaanbaatar According to the Conception for the City’s 2040 General Development Plan – Part 2

This is the second part of an inquiry into Ulaanbaatar’s winning 2040 General Development Plan Conception (GDPC). In this part of paper, I look into some of the plans and/or solutions proposed in Ulaanbaatar’s 2040 GDPC.

Internet, cryptocurrencies & blockchains in North Korea

North Korea is considered as a secretive state, but, paradoxically, the country is developing last trend technologies. With prohibitions restricting the flow of money, the country is turning to bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies to finance their programs, instead of coming under new pressure.

Coronavirus outbreak in Poland – General information and recommendations for entrepreneurs

Kochański & Partners and the Boym Institute engaged in delivering information about latest after-effects of COVID-19 pandemia, which has begun to spread in Poland during the past days.

Patrycja Pendrakowska for Observer Research Foundation: “Guiding democracy through Covid19: Poland shows us what not to do”

We would like to inform, that Observer Research Foundation has published article of Patrycja Pendrakowska - the Boym Institute Analyst and President of the Board.

Polish-Asian Cooperation in the Field of New Technologies – Report

Polish and Polish-founded companies are already on the largest continent in sectors such as: IT, educational technology, finance, marketing, e-commerce and space. Despite this, the potential lying dormant in the domestic innovation sector seems to be underutilized.

China – USA in the South China Sea

The trade war is just one of the problems of confrontation between the United States and the People's Republic of China. Many aspects of this competition coincide in the South China Sea.

The Boym Institute message to Indian policymakers and analysts

India’s current position towards the Russian invasion on Ukraine may damage its reputation as a major force of peace in the world

Book review: “Europe – North Korea. Between Humanitarianism And Business?”

Book review of "Europe – North Korea. Between Humanitarianism And Business?", written by Myung-Kyu Park, Bernhard Seliger, Sung-Jo Park (Eds.) and published by Lit Verlag in 2010.

Book review: “Korean Diaspora in Postwar Japan – Geopolitics, Identity and Nation-Building”

Book review of "Korean Diaspora in Postwar Japan -  Geopolitics, Identity and Nation-Building", written by Kim Myung-ja and published by I.B Tauris in 2017.

Dr. Nicolas Levi with a lecture in Seoul

On May 24 Dr. Nicolas Levi gave a lecture on Balcerowicz's plan in the context of North Korea. The speech took place as part of the seminar "Analyzing the Possibility of Reform and its Impact on Human Rights in North Korea". The seminar took place on May 24 at the prestigious Yonsei University in Seoul, South Korea.

#WomeninBoym Initiative

At the Boym Institute we are coming out with new initiative: #WomeninBoym, which aims to show the activity of this – often less visible – half of society. We will write about what women think, say and do. We will also publicise what women are researching and writing.

San Zhong Zhanfa or Three Warfares. Chinese Hybrid Warfare

Cognitive operations are becoming an increasingly significant and common element of non-kinetic military operations. States and other political players deliberately manipulate the way their actions, those of their allies and those of their adversaries are perceived by the governments and societies of other international players.

Online Course: “Educational tools for addressing the effects of war”

The Adam Institute for Democracy and Peace is offering “Betzavta” facilitators, middle school and high school educators, social activists, communal activists and those assisting refugees an online seminar to explore educational issues related to wartime.