By Keiko Seino
As the 2019 bilateral and multilateral talks between the United States and the two Koreas have shown little progress to date, reunification activists continue to push the envelope for the peninsula based on the Korean Dream, a vision articulated by Global Peace Foundation (GPF) founder, Dr. Hyun Jin P. Moon.
In mid-July, Dr. Chan Il Ahn addressed a gathering of activists at the Action for Korea United (AKU) leadership workshop in Seoul, and shared, “Though North Korea was a powerful nation until the ‘70s, the situation has changed with the increased power of South Korea. North Korea is now at its weakest point socially, economically and militarily. We now need to seize the opportunity for unification and prepare for social unification of the two countries.”
Freedoms of speech and assembly are not civil liberties that the North Korean defector takes for granted. Since defecting from the North in 1979, Ahn has brought attention to North Korea’s human rights violations and has become an outspoken proponent for a unified Korea that upholds human rights and freedoms for all Koreans. He is currently Co-Chair of AKU and Chair of the World Institute for North Korea Studies.
In contrast to Ahn, Mr. In Teck Seo, President of GPF Korea, addressed the topic of unification somewhat more cautiously and shared, “Unification is not a simple issue as we are facing nuclear weapons.” He added that past U.S. policies toward the Korean peninsula have brought mixed results and that future communications with the U.S. would be crucial.
Seo acknowledged that unification would require the support of the international community, particularly the United States, “who can exert the greatest influence around this issue.” However, prior to U.S. involvement, Seo stressed the importance of the two Koreas building consensus for unification. And this consensus-building should happen most fundamentally at the level of civil society, according to AKU’s theory of change.
He continued, “With numerous expert and popular opinions on policies regarding North Korea, it is important that Action for Korea United find a way to build solidarity and renewed determination for unification based on a shared vision for the peninsula.”
With a united front, the Korean people would send an unambiguous message to the U.S. to develop policies that support their common vision. Seo stated that the U.S.’s narrow focus on denuclearization could not resolve the current problems in North Korea. “We ultimately need to choose unification as a way to solve the issues on the Korean peninsula and encourage America to look at the issue from a comprehensive perspective.”
Ms. Hye-ryun Kim, former Chief Nursing Officer of North Korea, reiterated Ahn’s emphasis on the auspiciousness of the time in advancing unification. With a growing awareness of what occurs outside the closed-off country of North Korea and a declining trust in the North Korean government, she alluded that North Koreans are no longer satisfied with the status quo.
Kim also commented on the economic toll of continued division saying, “South Korea is already spending over $850 million every year as a result of the current division.” She urged attendees to show interest in unification and in North Korean defectors as that effort would “contribute to resolving cultural differences and conflicts between the people of the North and South after unification.”
Mr. Choong-Hwan Kim, Co-President of AKU, echoed the remarks of fellow activists, “The current spirit of the time is unification. I hope that you all become pioneers for Korean unification and spread this message as you work together for unification.”
AKU is a coalition of over 1,000 civil society organizations working in Korea and abroad in advancing the dream of a unified Korea. AKU draws upon Korea’s ancient ideal of Hongik Ingan, meaning to broadly benefit humanity, as a way to bridge the cultural differences between the North and the South and to define a vision of a unified nation that resonates with all Koreans. Citizens and civic leaders convened for leadership workshops in July all across Korea to strengthen their resolve and spread their unique perspective on unification.
Learn more about Action for Korea United and the One Korea Global Campaign.