Korea moves towards unification
This year is the 50th anniversary of the Korean War and for the first time in half a century the leaders of North and South Korea have met and had discussions. The following is an edited version of an interview with three Chinese experts in international affairs: Chen Fengjun, Professor of the College of International Relations at Peking University; and Yu Meihua and Chu Shulong, both Research Fellows at the Research Institute of Contemporary International Relations, China. Q: What lessons can be drawn from the Korean War? CF: It was the participation of the United States that magnified the civil war into a partial international war. China had to participate in the war to defend its own territory. We can conclude from this that hegemony was the source of the war. To avoid war we should curb hegemonism. At that time China and North Korea were very weak, both in national power and armaments. The result revealed that the outcome of a war does not entirely depend on military equipment; to a large extent it also depends on whether the cause for the war is just or not and whether the people are for or against it. YM: I lived in North Korea for 25 years. I was there through the entire war. In those days I saw my childhood friends die in gunfire, and was deeply affected by the cruelty of war. Because the United States intervened in the internal war between the North and South and pushed the fighting to the Yalu River — the border between China and North Korea — China had to become involved to defend its territory. At that time there was no dialogue, no communication, between the opposing sides. Only through dialogue on an equal footing and friendly consultation can they resolve the current conflict and realise peaceful reunification. Q: What influence will the meeting between the two leaderships have on the relations between the North and South? CS: I went to South Korea at the end of April and met with President Kim Dae Jung and some senior officials. They indicated both sides were looking forward to the meeting which involved extensive issues, including future reunification, security, US troops stationed in South Korea, separated families, economic co-operation and more. The Korean war led to eight million separated families, which accounts for one eighth of the total population. The desire for interaction between the people of North and South is so high that even if the issue can not be resolved thoroughly, there will still be some concessions. Q: Will the meeting result in fundamental changes between the North and South? YM: The meeting of the two Kims is a historic event, as well as a signal of inspiration. However, in my opinion inter-Korean relations will will not improve all at once. The road in the future will still be long and hard. There are many factors affecting the development of inter-Korean relations. First, the hostility and suspicion between the two sides cannot disappear overnight. Second, the conservatives in South Korea will obstruct the development of the relations. Third, since the United States might lose its excuse to station American troops as a result of the improvement of inter-Korean relations, it will not be very positive in encouraging the establishment of friendship and confidence between the North and South. In the past the United States created a tense atmosphere from time to time so that South Korea would be obliged to ask the US troops to stay in its territory and purchase advance weapons from Washington. In this way South Korea is tied to the US military. For the US, using the so-called threat from the North is a means to control South Korea. If inter-Korean relations improve to a certain extent, and even reunification is realised, the excuse would no longer exist to station US troops in South Korea. Q: The North and South have been separated and in conflict with each other for 50 years, so that now both sides are hostile and suspicious of each other. But there is one thing that both sides agree on, that is the realisation of peaceful reunification. Can you explain this phenomenon? CS: Although both sides still have some hostility to and suspicion of each other, they are not ambiguous about peaceful reunification. They believe, emphasise, make great efforts toward and are committed to reunification. From this view the prospect of the peaceful reunification of Korea is promising. Q: What is China's attitude towards the reunification of Korea? CS: Some people think that China doesn't expect Korea's reunification, and that it wants to play on the balance of big powers so as to maintain China's strategic status in the region. This is not true. The two nations have maintained friendly relations over the past thousands of years. China and Korea were not, are not and will not become antagonistic nations. China has no reason to oppose the peaceful reunification of the Korean Peninsula. CF: China supports the reunification of Korea, which is more advantageous than disadvantageous to China. From the view of security, Korean reunification will not undermine the strategic interests of China, because after reunification Korea will not stand on the side of the United States or Japan, but instead will adopt a neutral attitude. Now both the North and the South are drawing close to a neutral position. The improvement of inter-Korean relations and Korea's peaceful reunification in the future will undoubtedly improve our surrounding security circumstances. Q: What influence will the improvement of inter-Korean relations and peaceful reunification have on the situation in Northeast Asia? YM: The issue of the Korean Peninsula has always been a "hot potato". The North-South meeting will make this "hot potato" easier to deal with. It will promote inter-Korean economic cooperation, which can drive regional economic cooperation. CS: The influence is obviously positive. At present many problems in Northeast Asia are focusing on the Korean Peninsula, such as the security issue. When the Korean Peninsula's security problem is resolved, we can assume that co-operation in varied fields in this region will enjoy great progress. This is why China has always supported the exchanges between the North and the South, improvement in inter-Korean relations, the peaceful reunification of the peninsula, and the improvement of relations between the peninsula and the rest of the world.
* * *Beijing Review