A week after the historic summit between the leaders of the United States and North Korea in Singapore, the Foreign Service Institute (FSI) and the University of the Philippines-Korea Research Center (UP KRC) co-organized a public forum titled “North Korean Nuclear Problems and Unification of Korea” on 20 June 2018 at the UP-CIDS Conference Room, Ang Bahay ng Alumni, UP Diliman, Quezon City.
The speakers were from Woorihana, a non-government organization registered with the Ministry of Unification of the Republic of Korea that supports education services and human rights activities for North Korean defectors and refugees.
The three speakers discussed different pressing issues in the Korean Peninsula such as North Korea’s nuclear weapons and missile programs, North Korea’s human rights situation, and the prospects of unification. They also provided a glimpse of life in North Korea by sharing their own experiences as former North Korean citizens.
Mr. Se-jun Park, Executive Director of Woorihana and a former doctor in North Korea, presented on the implications of the nuclear weapons issue for East Asia’s security environment. He noted that while recent diplomatic breakthroughs—North Korea’s participation in the PyeongChang Winter Olympics, the inter-Korean summits, and the first US-North Korea summit—can reduce the risk of a nuclear war and open the door for cooperation, there are still problems in fully realizing the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. Mr. Park stressed that the trust gap between North Korea and the US impedes them from reconciling positions on regime security and on complete, verifiable, and irreversible dismantlement (CVID) of nuclear weapons.
Ms. Hyun-ju Kim discussed the prospects of Korean unification by citing the experiences of Germany, Vietnam, and Yemen. She argued that the Yemen-style of gradual reunification through consensus and agreement is the most feasible method as it ensures the autonomy of the two Korean governments and sets modest objectives, thus reducing the risks of regime collapse and conflict. This path could also open several opportunities for North Korea’s economic recovery toward the stability of a unified Korea.
Ms. Ji-na Jeong shared her insights on the political, economic, and social structure in North Korea. She explained that while North Korea remains averse to a free market economy due to fear of flow of external information, there is limited marketization through informal channels and black market trade. However, the North Korean government continues to control almost all aspects of the lives of the citizens, such as the freedom of expression, religion, travel, and culture.
The open forum focused on the prospects of denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, the role of China and other regional players, and the difficulties faced by North Korean refugees as they adjust in the South Korean society. The speakers also emphasized that defectors and refugees from North Korea play a crucial role in promoting social integration that would support the eventual unification of the Korean Peninsula.