The Jakarta Post
Vice Chairman of South Korea's Presidential Committee of the Unification Preparation Chung Chong-wook visited Indonesia recently with the aim of asking Indonesia to play a role in the effort to reunifying North and South Korea, which have been in a long truce since the end of the Korean War in 1953.
Given the country's strategic position in the ASEAN community and also the fact that Indonesia has been able to maintain a good relationship with both South Korea and North Korea, it's no surprise that Indonesia was the first country on Chung's list. Amid controversy, Kim Jong-un, North Korea's supreme leader was this year presented with the Soekarno award for his 'peace, justice and humanity' by the Sukarno Education Foundation, an organization run by one of Indonesia's first president's daughters.
During his visit Chung met with a group of journalists, including The Jakarta Post's Dicky Christanto, to talk about reunification efforts, the obstacles in the way and his expectations for the future. Below is an excerpt from the interview.
Question: What do you expect from Indonesia with regards to reunification?
Answer: The reunification process will need, primarily, the approval from both countries, the Republic of Korea (South Korea) and the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (North Korea) and ample support from the international community so we can create a more supportive environment to smooth the process. Indonesia has showed true sympathy and care to our needs and goals and besides, it has beautifully maintained good relationships with both countries.
I have discussed this matter with some of Indonesia's bright minds at the Habibie Center, as well as with Foreign Affairs Minister Retno LP Marsudi. I also seek insight from lawmakers at the House of Representatives. Most Indonesian officials come with the question, 'What can Indonesia do to help you to achieve such a goal.'
Given its strategic regional influence, we hope that Indonesia could play a significant role in the process by becoming a foreign facilitator. Conducting peaceful dialogue with both countries is among the efforts that could be initiated by Indonesia. We will always respect any positive efforts from Indonesia to support the reunification. Good support from neighbors will contribute greatly to the process.
We also want every party to realize that if materialized, the reunification of the two Koreas could be a huge game changer, regionally and internationally. Rest assured, it could bring benefit to other countries as well.
We need to intensify the efforts, since we have been divided for too long. You can imagine that now there are not many people left from the wartime era. In fact, the survivors are now mostly above 70 years old. The clock is ticking.
What are the obstacles that you have encountered along the way?
Currently we feel that there has been huge distrust between both parties. (Chung then cited the landmine incident that claimed two South Korean military personnel as victims and thus escalated tensions between the two countries, as an example of how fragile the level of trust between the two parties could be.)
North Koreans fear that the form of unification that the South Koreans desire is through absorption.
Despite a series of meetings, we must admit that there hasn't much being achieved in the last two and half years.
Therefore, President Park Geun-hye felt the need to establish this commission to further mediate and facilitate every effort needed to reach reunification.
So far the commission has initiated a series of meetings in order to further dialogue and formulate expectations from both parties. Just recently, there was a meeting held in the border area, where two contingents of experts and high officials from both countries exchanged insights for 43 hours straight in order to speed up the process.
From there we learned that we need to continuously push for more political dialogue and arrange people-to-people meetings as well as endlessly look for economic leverage.
The forming of Kaesong industrial zone, for example, has become good leverage, in order to raise the level of trust of both parties.
How do we know that the feeling is mutual?
Through past responses, we know that the people in North Korea want the reunification as well. We are right now initiating a family reunion and about 30 participants from both countries have prepared to meet through the facilitation of the Red Cross.
How can you be so sure that reunification would create a better future?
We have foreseen problems that should be tackled such as in the economy, where an economic gap could appear following the reunification. We have seen that similar problems could also arise in the military field.
What are North Korea's requests that have been rejected?
North Korea, for example, has requested, among other things, that US troops be removed from the Korean Peninsula. And we have told them that it will be hard for us to do so.
How do you planning to tackle this challenge?
This has been a matter of miscommunication. We are very optimistic that we will find a way to better communicate about these kinds of problems in the future.
What role have Russia and China played?
China has been a country that has gained respect from and also shares a border with North Korea. Therefore, we have high hopes that China will be a good dialogue companion. Russia has been assisting North Korea with its nuclear weapons since 2003, along with the other members of the six party talks.