By Ellen Kim
President Park Geun-hye made an official visit to Germany from March 25-28 and unveiled her government’s vision of Korean unification. This was the first official stage where she laid out a concrete roadmap of her unification agenda following her New Year’s speech early this year when she dubbed unification as an “economic bonanza” and expressed the readiness for unification as her administration’s priority.
In her landmark speech given at the former East German city of Dresden, Park made a three-point proposal to North Korea for the “humanity, co-prosperity, and integration” of the two Koreas. Under her humanitarian agenda, she proposed the regularization of the family reunions between the two Koreas and provision of a “1,000-day package project” to support North Korean mothers and infants. To promote co-prosperity of the two Koreas, President Park offered major inter-Korean projects, such as South Korea’s infrastructure-building investments and building of multi-farming complexes in North Korea, collaborative projects with China and Russia, and joint development projects on natural resources. Lastly, she called on North Korea to establish an “inter-Korean exchange and cooperation office” and expand people-to-people exchanges in historical research, culture, sports, and arts to bring together people on both sides and to narrow their differences from decades of division.
President Park’s Dresden proposals are consistent and in line with her North Korea policy, the so called the “Korean Peninsula Trust Building Process.” This policy underscores that an incremental trust-building process with North Korea through exchange and cooperation will lay the groundwork for inter-Korean reconciliation. In that vein, her three proposals are action plans of concrete ideas for joint projects to initiate exchange and cooperation between people in the two Koreas, and thereby build trust in preparation for unification. Yet, the actual implementation of her proposals remains to be seen, as the Park administration appears intent to keep the current sanctions in place against North Korea, known as the 5.24 measures, under which all inter-Korean economic exchange is suspended except humanitarian aid.
Despite some variations in the contents, the overall tone and scope of her proposals bear similarities with past declarations by her predecessors. They have also promised developmental assistance to North Korea, called for family reunions, and stressed exchange and cooperation to bring about reconciliation between the two Koreas. However, her Dresden Declaration does mark a clear distinction from the late President Kim Dae-jung’s Berlin Doctrine in 2000, unveiled three months before his historical summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong-il in Pyongyang. In his Berlin Doctrine, President Kim explicitly dismissed an idea for immediate unification and stressed his priority in the elimination of Cold War confrontation and settlement of peace on the peninsula.
Compared to President Lee Myung-bak’s Grand Bargain, under which he proposed the irreversible denuclearization of North Korea in a single agreement in exchange for security assurance, normalization of relations, and economic assistance to North Korea, President Park instead has stressed the importance of North Korea denuclearization for Korean unification while delinking her three proposals from denuclearization itself.
In the end, President Park’s Dresden proposals are about Korean unification, more specifically her vision for the human aspect of unification, setting it apart from the transactional package deals that past Korean presidents have offered to the North Korean government.
Ellen Kim is a fellow with the Korea Chair at CSIS.