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

References:

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.

read more

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.

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.

Guidance for Workplaces on Preparing for Coronavirus Spread

Due to the spread of coronavirus, the following workplace recommendations have been issued by the Ministry of Development, in cooperation with the Chief Sanitary Inspector.

Roman Catholic cemetery in Harbin (1903-1958)

First burials of Catholics, mostly Poles but also other Non-Orthodox believers took place in future Harbin in the so called small „old” or later Pokrovskoe Orthodox cemetery in the future European New Town quarter and small graveyards at the military and civilian hospitals of Chinese Eastern Railway at the turn of XIX and XX century.

Development strategies for Ulaanbaatar according to the conception for the city’s 2040 General Development Plan- part 1

In the first part of this analysis of Ulaanbaatar’s winning 2040 General Development Plan Conception (GDPC) I look into the historical preconditions for the city’s planned development as well as present the legislative climate in which works on Ulaanbaatar’s future development strategies have recently found themselves.

Patrycja Pendrakowska for Observer Research Foundation: “Managing fear and easing lockdown in Poland”

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

Dr Krzysztof Zalewski participates in the Kigali Global Dialogue in Rwanda

A short note and photo gallery from the chairman of the Board of the Boym Institute, who stays in Rwanda at the "Kigali Global Dialogue" conference.

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 and published by Rowman&Littlefield in 2016.

Are Polish Universities Really Victims of a Chinese Influence Campaign?

The Chinese Influence Campaign can allegedly play a dangerous role at certain Central European universities, as stated in the article ‘Countering China’s Influence Campaigns at European Universities’, (...) However, the text does ignore Poland, the country with the largest number of universities and students in the region. And we argue, the situation is much more complex.

Book review: “GDR International Development Policy Involvement. Doctrine and Strategies between Illusions and Reality 1960-1990, The example (South) Africa”

Book review of "GDR International Development Policy Involvement. Doctrine and Strategies between Illusions and Reality 1960-1990, The example (South) Africa", written by Ulrich van der Heyden and published by Lit Verlag in 2013.

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.

Krzysztof Zalewski for Observer Research Foundation – “Luxembourg faces the same dilemma as the EU: become a bridge or a fortress”

We would like to inform, that Observer Research Foundation has published article of Krzysztof Zalewski - the Boym Institute Analyst, Chairman of the Board and Editor of the “Tydzień w Azji” weekly.

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.

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.

Liquidation of the Polish colony in Manchuria (north-eastern China)

Ms. Łucja Drabczak - A Polish woman born in Harbin, she spent her childhood in China. She returned to Poland at the age of 10. She is the author of the book 'China... Memories from my childhood'. She contacted us to convey special family memories related to leaving Manchuria in 1949.

Foreign Direct Investment in Vietnam

Thanks to continuous economic development, Vietnam attracts a record number of Foreign Direct Investment (FDI). The catalyst for such a strong growth of FDI in Vietnam is not only the ongoing trade war between the US and China, but also new international agreements.

Patrycja Pendrakowska for Balkan Development Support: “Western European countries have benefited most from the Chinese capital, the benefits are mutual”

We would like to inform, that Financial Intelligence has published interview for Balkan Development Support with Patrycja Pendrakowska.

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.

Interview: Why Does Poland Need ‘17+1’?

Michał Wójcik , Director of the Department of International Cooperation of the Ministry of Marine Economy and Inland Navigation (DWM MGMiŻŚ) interviewed by Krzysztof M. Zalewski.

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.

“Green growth” may well be more of the same

Witnessing the recent flurry of political activity amid the accelerating environmental emergency, from the Green New Deal to the UN climate summits to European political initiatives, one could be forgiven for thinking that things are finally moving forward.

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.

Paweł Behrendt for 9DASHLINE: The South China Sea – from colonialism to the Cold War

We would like to inform, that 9DASHLINE has published article of Paweł Behrendt - the Boym Institute Analyst, in which he wrote about history of the South China Sea dispute over the 20th century.

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.