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Rethinking South Korea’s Unification Policy

Progress in inter-Korean cooperation has come to a standstill despite the work of recent years. Dr. Bernhard Seliger, representative of HSS Korea, reports on the website 38North about the escalation of tensions and about possible alternative approaches to build a changed relationship between North and South.

Since he came into office President Moon Jae-in has been trying to make progress in inter-Korean relations, however, he has seen that this could be a difficult task. After the successful inter-Korean summits held in 2019 there has been a recent slow-down of inter-Korean relations and the proposed joint cooperation to fight COVID-19 in the North has not been met with a positive response. Dr. Bernhard Seliger, the representative of HSF Korea, further discusses South Koreas infrastructure projects. They are meant to strengthen inter-Korean relations, but in reality are very costly and bring great environmental damage without any benefits for unification in the near future. By continuing such projects, the Korean government would face not only political and environmental challenges but also possible sanctions from the US and the international community.


Instead of such infrastructural projects Dr. Seliger suggests more people-to-people initiatives that allow contacts between South and North Korea’s people. Due to the current developments the only policy the South Korean government can do on its own is create new avenues for South Koreans to pursue cooperation with the North through the deregulation and support of people-to-people contacts in meetings of academics and families in third countries, sponsored by nongovernmental organizations, schools and universities. Dr. Seliger turns to Germany’s example after the Cold War where the slow diffusion of knowledge and trust led the way to a gradual and peaceful unification.


Approaches such as lifting or easing the May 24 Measures and  more flexibility for meetings could open a wide field of trade areas, more chances for educational programs in North Korea and possibly a revival of contacts from the “Sunshine Policy” era. Dr. Seliger ends his remarks with the statement that instead of pursuing “white elephant” projects for inter-Korean cooperation on railroad infrastructure, the government in Seoul should focus on creating small, sustainable changes in its own laws that would enable a different relationship with the North to grow.

The full article you can read here.