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Perspectives on Korea’s Unification

On April, 26, 2021, a German-Korean virtual Unification Forum was held by the Korean Institute for Peace and Cooperation (KIPCO) and Hanns-Seidel-Foundation Korea. It looked into “Perspectives on Korea’s Unification: Implications from the start of the Biden administration and the next Korean Presidential elections.”

Prof. Son Gi-Woong of KIPCO and Dr. Bernhard Seliger of Hanns-Seidel-Foundation Korea, under social distancing rules, welcomed around forty participants, who were mostly experts on Korean-German relations and Korean unification issues. The scientific session was moderated by Dr. Seliger. Two experts from Germany, Dr. Eric Ballbach of the German Institute for International and Security Affairs (Stiftung Wissenschaft und Politik), Germany's principal think tank in international relations and security studies, and Martin Benninghoff, journalist at Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, joined virtually via ZOOM. Dr. Ballbach discussed the ongoing Biden Administration policy review on North Korea. Despite changes to the Trump Administration high-level exchanges, Ballbach sees a lot of continuity and few new policy options. In particular, he pleaded for an increase of Track 1.5 or Track 2 exchanges. Martin Benninghoff, who wrote a biography of Kim Jong-Un, looked into German and Korean reunification. He thinks negotiations with Kim Jong-Un can perhaps temporarily halt North Korea’s nuclear program, but would never achieve complete abandonment of the program.

After the two German experts spoke, two Korean experts with a long-standing experience in Germany discussed their views on the actual situation and reunification policies. Son Son-Hong, former Consul General of South Korea in Hamburg, looked into the actual situation of Korea and pointed out that success in North Korean – US relations would need a firm engagement from both sides at the working level, besides necessary high-level contacts. Kim Dong-myeong, former Military Attaché of South Korea in Berlin, reviewed the long and ongoing process of German unification.

After the scientific session, the second part of the evening was devoted to the “Slut Up!” project. In Lubeck at the Northernmost part of the former inner-German border, in the times of division a monument remembered the years of division. “Slut up” – “open up” was written in Northern German dialect on the stone – a pun on the small fisher village Schlutup, where the monument was located. Prof. Son of KIPCO revealed plans to erect a similar monument in Korea. In a time when the active memory of a unified Korea fades away, to preserve the memory becomes an important issue. Prof. Son was assisted in his words by Hwang Kyo-Ahn, former Prime Minister and Acting President of Korea, who told the audience to never give up the hope of unification. Other support came from Kim Hyong Seok, former Vice Minister of Unification, Hartmut Koschyk, Co-Chair of the German-Korean forum, and Ingrid Schatz, Chairwoman of the Slut up – memorial in Germany. Besides the memorial stone, also signs focusing on the undivided Korean nation will be displayed according to Prof. Son.

On future related events, an annual memorial event will take place on August 15, and the Unification Academy will be held annually, starting for the first time this year in May, for students interested in unification issues.