[WIKI 비밀문서] “한국인에게 통일은 무엇인가?”... 주한미대사관이 평가한 ‘대한민국 정부, 국민들의 통일관’
[WIKI 비밀문서] “한국인에게 통일은 무엇인가?”... 주한미대사관이 평가한 ‘대한민국 정부, 국민들의 통일관’
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지난 2018년 2월 평창동계올림픽을 계기로 강릉과 서울에서 공연할 북한 예술단 선발대가 탄 차량이 파주 통일대교를 지나는 모습. [연합뉴스]
지난 2018년 2월 평창동계올림픽을 계기로 강릉과 서울에서 공연할 북한 예술단 선발대가 탄 차량이 파주 통일대교를 지나는 모습. [연합뉴스]

“한국인에게 통일은 무엇인가?”

1950년 한국전쟁을 거쳐 분단을 직접 겪은 세대에게 통일은 ‘지상과제’로 인식됐다.

‘우리의 소원은 통일’이라는 동요처럼 통일은 우리 민족이 반드시 이뤄야 할 숙제로 여겨졌다.

그러나 세대가 지나면서 통일은 ‘북한 동포를 먹여살려야 하는 부담’이라는 인식도 함께 대두되기 시작했다.

우방이면서 제3자라고 할 수 있는 주한미대사관은 오랫동안 한국 정부와 한국민들의 통일관을 관찰해왔다.

알렉산더 버시바우 대상의 경우 2007년 3월 20일 ‘통일에 대한 한국민들의 태도: 장기적 플랜 vs 우발적 상황’ 제하 전문을 미 국무부에 전송했다.

2007년 2월 13일 ‘초기 조치’ 합의는 다시 한 번 남북한간 참여의 재개와 통일을 포함한 남북한 사이의 전반적인 관계를 표면화시켰다.

대한민국 헌법과 대통령의 한국 통일에 대한 맹세, 그리고 대부분의 한국인은 미래의 어떤 시점에서 통일을 지지하는 것 같다.

동시에, 대한민국정부의 정책은 앞으로 오랜 세월동안 현상 유지를 암시하며, 평화 공존을 강조하고 있다. 또한 대중은 특히 사람들이 이미 앞으로 우려되는 경제에 대한 많은 잠재적 비용 때문에 통일을 서두르지 않는 것처럼 보인다.

그 결과, 많은 한국인들에 있어서, 아마도 통일은 앞으로 20년 혹은 그 이상의 장기적인 목표로 인식된다. 그럼에도 불구하고, 일부 관찰자는 대한민국 정부가 예측 불가능한 방식으로 통일 과정을 가속화 할(북한 정권의 붕괴와 같은) 우발적인 상황을 대비해야 할 것이라고 주장한다.

대한민국 정부 관련, 학계와 함께 한 최근 회의를 바탕으로 현재 한국 전망의 분석은 다음과 같다.

- 정책 연혁: 대한민국이 대결을 강조하던 정책을 북한과 평화 공존으로 전환함으로써, 통일을 위한 계획은 중요하지 않게 됐다.

- 정치 전 경제: 노무현 대통령의 '평화 번영 정책'은 대북 화해를 위한 이전의 노력의 연속이지만, 번영 라벨은 경제 조건에서의 거대한 격차를 좁히기 위한 목적으로, 경제참여에 있어서 증가된 강조를 나타내며, 통일이 되면 한국에 거대한 금융이나 난민 부담을 부과하지 않을 것이다.

- 대한민국 정부 공무원들의 시각: 대부분의 전. 현직 공무원은 장기적 전망으로 통일을 바라본다. 통일을 가속화시킬 수 있는 우발적 상황에 대한 시각은 미국, 중국과 같은 중요한 역할을 담당할 외부 행위자의 관점을 강조한다.

- 대한민국 학계의 시각: 대한민국 정부를 지원하는 씽크탱크에서 몇몇 북한 전문가는 현재의 포용 정책은 통일을 준비하는데 실패했다. 북한에 너무 많은 주도권을 양보하였다고 믿고 있고, 다른 사람들은 통일될 때의 충격을 완화하는 접근방법이라고 옹호하고 있다.

- 통일 비용: 독일 재통일의 비용에 놀라고 있다. 한국은행은 장기적 과도 기간 동안 적절히 북한을 그 자리에 있게 하는 홍콩-중국과 유사한 “하나의 국가, 두 개의 체제”라는 통일모델을 연구하고 있다.

- 국민 여론: 대한민국 국민은 지속적으로 통일을 바라보고 있지만, 대부분은 장기적인 목표로 보고 있다. 실제로 북한의 미사일 발사와 지난해 핵실험은 북한과 협력하는 남쪽의 능력에 대한 대중의 낙관론에 찬물을 끼얹었다.

북한과 대결이 아닌 포용 정책이 이제 한국에서 충분히 뿌리를 내렸다. 진보세력은 남북 간 정상회담이 12월 선거에서 행운을 소생시켜 줄 것을 희망하고 있으며, 한나라당은 여론조사에서 선두를 놓치지 않도록 더 온정적인 북한정책을 수립하는데 전력투구하고 있다.

선거를 넘어서 보면, 어떤 후계 정부에서도 대한민국의 통일 정책은 지속적인 경제 협력에 의해 지원되는 장기적인 노력에 초점을 유지할 것처럼 보인다. 그것은 서서히 제한 경제 개혁과 외국인 투자를 개방하면서 점차 통일을 향해 이동하려 하는 북한에 좌우된다.
이것은 통일이 더 급속하게 일어날 수 없다는 것을 말하는 것은 아니다. 북한의 경제적 어려움 뿐만 아니라, 김정일의 나이(65)와 불확실한 건강을 감안할 때, 이벤트는 통일의 속도를 제어하기 위한 한국인의 열망에 상관없이 빨리 감기 모드로 넘어갈 수 있을 것이다.

2019년 8월 15일. 경기도 일산 킨텍스 제2전시장에서 열린 '통일실천 축제한마당'에서 참석자들이 모두 함께 '우리의 소원은 통일'을 합창하고 있다. [연합뉴스]
2019년 8월 15일. 경기도 일산 킨텍스 제2전시장에서 열린 '통일실천 축제한마당'에서 참석자들이 모두 함께 '우리의 소원은 통일'을 합창하고 있다. [연합뉴스]

한국인들의 통일관은 지난 몇 십년간 상당히 변화됐다.

1960년대 후반까지, 대한민국은 한반도의 유일한 합법 정부라고 주장했다. 북한도 어느 정도로 같은 주장을 했고, 여전히 그렇게 하고 있다. 한국의 입장 변화의 초기 징표는 대한민국이 북한과 평화적으로 기꺼이 공존할 수 있다는 제안한 박정희 대통령의 1970년 8월 15일 연설이었다.

더 중요한 것은 자주적이고 평화적인 통일을 추구하는 것을 강조하는 1972년 7월 4일 남북 공동성명서였다.

남북한의 공존의 개념은 1970년대에 이식되었지만, 통일은 여전히 ‘제로-섬 게임(Zero-Sum Game)’으로 간주됐다.

남북 정상 회담을 향한 최초의 노력은 당시 대통령 전두환이 먼저 남북 관계를 정상화 할 수 있는 평화적 통일 방식을 말했던 1982년이었다. 또한 정상 회담을 준비하기 위한 고위급 대표단의 교환을 제안했다. 정상회담은 일어나지 않았지만, 한국은 직접 대결 정책에서 물러나는 단계를 지속했다.

1988년, 당시 대통령 노태우는 공동 번영을 추구하는 잠재적인 협력에 기초해 남북 관계 증진을 기대하는 “대통령 특별 선언”을 발표했다. 그는 서독 모델 “Ostpolitik”에 따라 “Nordpolitik” 정책을 추구했다. 또한, 남북 교류 협력 추진위원회를 설립하고, 다시 정상회담이라는, 1989년 평화롭게 함께 살 수 있는 남북한에 대한 열망을 표명했다.

1991년 12월 남북한은 “화해, 불가침 및 교류에 대한 협정” 또는 기본 합의서를 체결했고, 1992년에 효력이 발생되었다.

지금도 종종 남한과 북한은 현재 화해 노력의 기초로 이 문서를 참조한다. 그것에서 남북은 서로의 정치 체제를 존중하고, 남북 간의 협력과 교류를 수행하며, 이러한 규정을 제도화하기 위한 위원회의 웹을 만들기로 합의했다.

통일의 점진적이고 평화적인 과정을 말했던 당시 대통령 김영삼은 한쪽 정치적 체제의 붕괴에 기반를 둔 독일식 통일이 아닌 방식인 “흡수 통일“은 없을 것이라고 말했다. 동시에 “자유와 민주주의의 가치를 중심으로”한 통일을 요구했지만, 분명하게 북한이 그러한 변화를 하기 위해 준비 되었을 때 만 이었다. 또한 첫 번째로 대한민국 정부가 북한에 직접 쌀 지원을 시작했다.

김대중 대통령과 김정일 국방위원장이 2000년 6월 백화원 영빈관에서 열린 김 위원장 주최 송별오찬에서 마지막으로 건배하고 있다. [연합뉴스]
김대중 대통령과 김정일 국방위원장이 2000년 6월 백화원 영빈관에서 열린 김 위원장 주최 송별오찬에서 마지막으로 건배하고 있다. [연합뉴스]

김대중 전 대통령과 그의 지지자들은 “햇볕 정책”을 내세웠다. 그것은 명확하게 긴장을 완화하려는 노력의 파생물이었고, 한국은 계속 방해받지 않고 경제성장이 가능했다.

당시 김대중 대통령은 한국이 탈취를 위한 낚시질을 하고 있다는 북한의 조그만 의심도 제거하기 위해 더 한층 노력했다. 그는 “통일”은 그의 정부 정책의 모든 설명에서 제외해야 하고, “건설적인 포용 정책”을 주문했다.

그는 남한은 북한으로부터의 어떤 무력 도발도 용납하지 않을 것이며, 북한을 해롭게 하거나 흡수하는데서 찾지 않으며, 남북한은 화해해야 하고 평화롭게 공존하면서 살아야 한다고 요약했다. 더욱 간결 요약은 2000년 6월 정상 회담 후에 배포된 기념 펜 상자에 인쇄됐다.

평화로운 공존 - 평화 교류 - 평화 통일

햇볕 정책에 따르면, 통일은 미지의 시간표 - 연합, 연맹 그리고, 완전한 통일, 에 대한 3단계에서 발생하는 것이다. 포용 정책을 처음에는 상호관계의 기초 위에서 진행하기로 했지만, 실제로는 김대중 정부가 대결을 피하는 것을 우선에 두었다.

예를 들어, 북한이 원조를 대가로 이산가족 상봉 센터 세우는 것을 거부하면, 남한은 처음에 파악했던 것처럼, 형(더 발전된 남한)이 인내해야 하고, 긍정적인 반응을 기다려야 된다고 설명하면서 ‘유연한 상호관계’로 이동했다.

즉, 햇볕 정책은 화해를 위한 수십 년간의 노력에서 나왔다. 대한민국이 뒤로 밀어놓았던 통일을 위해 평화적 공존, 적극적인 계획 그리고 준비를 강조함으로써, 대한민국의 정책이 적대적으로 나타나지 않게 됐다. 특히, 독일 통일 이후에 증대되는 인식, 한국 통일은 무거운 비용을 수반 할 것이라는 것을 강조했다.

노무현 대통령의 '평화 번영'정책

통일 정책이 평화 공존에 뒤로 밀렸을지 모르지만, 통일은 대한민국의 공식목표로 남아 있다.

통일은 헌법 서문에 있는 주요 내용과 대통령 선서를 통해 짜여 있다.

헌법 제4조 ”'대한민국은 통일을 지향하며, 자유민주주의적 기본질서에 입각한 평화적 통일정책을 수립하고 이를 추진한다.”

따라서 어떤 대한민국 정부든 통일 정책을 유지해야 하는게 지상 과제인 것이다.

노무현 정부의 대북 정책은 본질적으로 김대중의 햇볕 정책의 연속이지만, '평화와 번영' 레이블은 경제적 참여를 강조하게 된다.
통일을 향한 접근 방식은 영어로 된 번쩍번쩍한 팸플릿으로 발행된 통일부의 “한국 통일의 길”에서 자세히 나와 있다. 그것을 3단계 과정이라고 부른다.

(1) 차례로 “남북한 관계의 안정적인 발전“; ”평화와 협력의 강화“ 그리고 ”평화와 협력 체계의 구축”의 세 가지 구성 요소를 가지는 화해와 협력

(2) “남북한 사이의 사회경제적 공동체“ 구축에 의한 사실상 통일의 달성에 이르는 한국연방

(3) “법적 제도적 통일과 완전한 부문별 통합”을 의미하는 통일 한국

노무현대통령과 김정일 위원장이 2007년 10월 평양 백화원 영빈관에서 남북공동선언문에 서명한 뒤 손을 맞잡아 들어 올리고 있다. [연합뉴스]
노무현대통령과 김정일 위원장이 2007년 10월 평양 백화원 영빈관에서 남북공동선언문에 서명한 뒤 손을 맞잡아 들어 올리고 있다. [연합뉴스]

통일부에 따르면, 대한민국 정부의 현재 평가는 이제 “'남북한 관계의 안정적인 발전'에서 '평화와 협력을 강화‘로 진행하는 화해와 협력 방향으로 발전되고 있다는 것이다.

1998년 금강산 관광의 구축과 2003년 개성 공단의 기공이 협력의 상징이었다.

가장 중요한 것은 핵문제가 해결될 때까지 완전한 것으로 간주될 수 없다는 것이다.

노 대통령은 1월 23일 연설에서 정부의 접근 방식을 재차 강조했다.

“최우선은 한반도 평화입니다. 우리는 통일을 위해 평화를 깨뜨려선 안 됩니다. 대결 태도는 아무것도 이룰 수 없습니다. 평화를 향한 전략의 본질은 공존할 수 있는 지혜입니다.”
 
통일에 대한 대한민국 공무원들의 시각

김대중 대통령이 2000년 6월 김정일과의 정상회담 동안의 기간을 포함하는 1991년에서 2001년까지 통일부장관으로 있었던 박재규는 최근, 그는 항상 장기적인 전망으로 한국 통일을 바라보았다고 미 대사에게 말했다.

2000년 정상 회담 당시, 그는 통일이 현실로 간주되기 전에 세 가지 문제가 해결 될 것으로 믿었다.

(1) GDP에서의 광대한 차이 (2004년 수치를 사용한 2007년 OECD 비교에 의하면, 한국 6천60억 달러에 비해 북한은 180억 달러, 34:1의 비율);

(2) 현재 남한에 살고 있는 이전 북한 주민의 재산권을 포함하는 가시 법적 문제;

(3) 기술이나 동기 없는 북한 주민들에 남겨진 문화 및 교육의 차이.

박씨는 2000년 정상 회담 기간 중 김정일과 이러한 문제를 논의했는데, 북한은 북한을 흡수하거나 공격하려는 대한민국 정부의 노력을 걱정해서는 안 될 것이라고 김정일이 말했다고 주장했다. 박재규는 위의 문제를 해결하는데 20~30년은 걸릴 것이라는데 김정일이 동의했다고 말했다.

통일부 남북한 간 사회 교류팀을 맡고 있는 박광호 국장은 “옛날에 다녔던 고등학교에서 통일에 대한 이야기를 하러 갔는데, 관심이 없을 뿐 아니라 ’왜 우리가 그들을 위해 지불해야 하나요?‘라는 질문으로 인사했다”고 자세하게 말했다.

통일부 평화체제 구축팀의 김기웅 국장과 국제협력팀 김종로 국장은 대한민국 정부의 통일 행동 계획에 설정된 시간표가 없었다는 것에 동의했다.

천문학적 통일 비용

많은 공무원과 학자들은 통일은 부담스럽다고 평가하고, 방송언론은 천문학적 비용 견적은 한 세대에서 떨어진 것으로서 통일을 생각하는 많은 대중을 주도한 것은 의심의 여지가 없다고 인용하여 보도한다.

골드만삭스는 통일이 2005년에 일어나는 것을 가정하고, 남한과 북한의 GDP가 2015년까지 같아지는 것으로 하여, 대한민국 현재 GDP의 5배가 넘는 미화 3조5000억 달러의 비용을 예상했다.

2004년 수치를 사용한 OECD 추정에 따르면, 한국의 1인당 GDP는 현재 적어도 북한의 16배, 또는 미화 12,600 달러 대 미화 800 달러다.

무디스 투자 서비스는 통일 후 5년 동안 대한민국 정부는 매년 미화 100억 달러를 지출할 것이라고 추정했다.

골드만삭스 추정보다 더 신중한 무디스의 경우도 여전히 대한민국 정부는 한국의 2007년 예산의 거의 40% 상당을 사용해야 한다는 것이다.

2005년 랜드연구소의 보고서는 실행 가능한 통일을 유지하기 충분한 경제적 모멘텀의 조치로, 5년 이내에 북한 GDP를 2배로 하는 상대적으로 신중한 목표로 미화 500억 달러에서 미화 3천500억 달러의 비용을 들었다. 그럼에도 불구하고, 이 연구는 교육, 복지, 건강, 인프라 등 많은 다른 비용이 있을 것이라고 지적했다.

한국은 독일의 예를 들어 통일이 비쌀 뿐만 아니라 (랜드 보고서에 따르면, 1991년에서 2004년까지 미화 1조4000억 달러 혹은 그 기간 동안 독일의 누적 GDP의 5-6% 정도로 추산) 실업 및 유럽 불경기에 기여했던 한 때 과시하던 독일 경제도 질질 끌었던 것을 보며 걱정하고 있다.

국가비상대책국민회의·태극기혁명국민운동본부 회원들이 2018년 9월 통일대교 남단에서 남북공동연락사무소 개소식을 규탄하는 집회를 하고 있다. [연합뉴스]
국가비상대책국민회의·태극기혁명국민운동본부 회원들이 2018년 9월 통일대교 남단에서 남북공동연락사무소 개소식을 규탄하는 집회를 하고 있다. [연합뉴스]

ROK ATTITUDES ON UNIFICATION: LONG-TERM PLANS VS. POSSIBLE CONTINGENCIES

07SEOUL799 / CONFIDENTIAL / Embassy Seoul
Classified By: Amb. Alexander Vershbow. Reasons 1.4 (b/d)

¶1. (C) SUMMARY AND INTRODUCTION: The February 13 “Initial Actions” agreement has once again brought to the fore the resumption of inter-Korean engagement and the overall relationship between the two Koreas, including reunification. The ROK's constitution and presidential oath call for Korean unification, and most South Koreans seem to support unification at some point in the future. At the same time, ROKG policy emphasizes peaceful coexistence, implying maintenance of the status quo for many years to come. The public also appears to be in no hurry for unification, especially given the large potential costs to an economy in which people are already anxious about their future. The result is that, for many South Koreans, unification is a long-term goal, perhaps 20 years or more in the future. Nevertheless, some observers insist that the ROKG should prepare for a contingency – such as a collapse of the DPRK government – that could accelerate the unification process in unpredictable ways.

¶2. (C) Our analysis of current South Korean views, based on recent meetings with ROKG officials and academics, reveals the following:

– POLICY HISTORY: As the ROK has shifted from emphasizing confrontation to peaceful coexistence with the DPRK, planning for unification has taken a back seat (paras. 5-11).

– ECONOMICS BEFORE POLITICS: President Roh Moo-hyun's “Peace and Prosperity Policy” toward North Korea is a continuation of earlier efforts for reconciliation; but the “prosperity” label signals an increased emphasis on economic engagement, aimed at closing the enormous gap in economic conditions so that unification, when it comes, does not impose a huge financial or refugee burden on the South (paras. 12-15).

– ROKG OFFICIALS' PRIVATE VIEWS: Most current and former officials view unification as a long-term prospect. Some focus on possible contingencies that could accelerate unification, and stress that the views of external actors, like the United States and China, will play an important role (paras. 16-21).

– ROK ACADEMICS' VIEWS: Several North Korea specialists at ROKG-supported think tanks believe that the current engagement policy fails to prepare for unification and cedes too much initiative to the DPRK; others defend the approach as cushioning the shock when unification comes (paras. 22-29).

– UNIFICATION COSTS: Alarmed by the costs of German reunification, Bank of Korea economists are working on a “one country, two systems” unification model, akin to that of Hong Kong-China, that would keep North Koreans in place during a prolonged transition phase (paras. 30-33).

– PUBLIC OPINION: The ROK public has consistently viewed unification as a national imperative, but most see it as a long-term objective. Indeed the DPRK's missile launches and nuclear test last year had a dampening effect on the public's optimism about the South's ability to cooperate with the North (para. 34).

¶3. (C) This being said, the ROK's non-confrontational engagement policy with the DPRK is now sufficiently rooted in South Korea that even a more conservative Grand National Party candidate, if elected in December, would not jettison its central elements.
In fact, with renewed optimism following the February 13 agreement, progressive forces are hoping an inter-Korean summit could revive their fortunes in December's election, and the GNP is scrambling to formulate a kinder, gentler North Korean policy to avoid squandering its lead in the polls.

¶4. (C) Looking beyond the election campaign, however, ROK unification policy under any successor administration is likely to remain focused on a long-term effort, supported by continued economic cooperation, that depends on the DPRK gradually becoming willing to move toward unification as it slowly opens up to limited economic reforms and foreign investment. This is not to say that unification could not happen more rapidly, however. Given Kim Jong-il's age (65) and uncertain health, as well as the DPRK's economic difficulties, events may shift into fast-forward regardless of the South Korean's desire to control the pace of unification. END SUMMARY AND INTRODUCTION.

POLICY HISTORY: CONFRONTATION TO COEXISTENCE

¶5. (SBU) What South Koreans mean when they talk about Korean unification has changed considerably over the past several decades. Until the late 1960s, the ROK claimed that it was the only legitimate government on the Peninsula. The DPRK made the same claim, and, to some degree, still does. An early indication of a shift in the South's stance was then-President Park Chung-hee's August 15, 1970 speech suggesting that the ROK was willing to coexist peacefully with the DPRK.

¶6. (SBU) More important was the July 4, 1972 North-South Joint Communique that emphasized pursuing unification peacefully and independently (of outside powers). The notion of coexistence of the two Koreas was implanted by the 1970s, but unification was still seen as a zero-sum game. As Kim Hakjoon wrote in a 1978 book on unification policy, “Each of the Korean sides has defined unification to mean, in effect, the dissolution of the political system of the other party and then its incorporation into that of its own.”

¶7. (SBU) The first efforts toward an inter-Korean summit – which finally happened in 2000 – came in 1982, when then-President Chun Doo-hwan spoke of a peaceful unification formula that would first normalize relations between South and North. He also proposed an exchange of high-level delegations to prepare for a summit meeting.
That summit did not happen, but the South continued to step back from direct confrontational policies. In 1988, then-President Roh Tae-woo issued a “Special Presidential Declaration” calling for North-South relations on the basis of potential partnership in pursuit of common prosperity. He pursued a policy of “Nordpolitik,” following the West German model of “Ostpolitik.” He also established an Inter-Korean Exchange and Cooperation Promotion Committee, again called for a summit, and in 1989 expressed the desire for the two Koreas to live together peacefully.

¶8. (SBU) In December 1991, the two Koreas signed the “Agreement on Reconciliation, Non-Aggression and Exchanges,” or the Basic Agreement; it took effect in 1992. Even now, South and North Koreans often refer to this document as the basis of current reconciliation efforts. In it, the North and South agreed to respect each other's political systems, to carry out exchanges and inter-Korean cooperation, and to create a web of committees to institutionalize these arrangements. Continuing the spirit of rapprochement, then-President Kim Young-sam spoke of a gradual, peaceful process of unification and said that there would be no “unification by absorption,” which was code for no German-style unification based on the collapse of one side's political system. At the same time, he called for a unification “centered on the values of freedom and democracy,” but apparently only when the North was ready to make such a shift. He also started the first direct ROKG rice assistance to the North.

¶9. (SBU) Though former President Kim Dae-jung and his supporters seem to view his “Sunshine Policy” (based on the Aesop's fable of the wind and the sun) as a bolt from the blue, it was clearly the outgrowth of efforts to ease tensions and allow economic growth in the South continue undisturbed. Even so, then-President Kim Dae-jung went the extra mile to remove any suspicions that the North might have that the South was angling for a takeover. He ordered that “unification” be dropped from all descriptions of his government's policies, replaced by “constructive engagement policies.” As he summarized the policy in 2002: the South would not tolerate any armed provocation from the North; it would not seek to harm the North or absorb it; and, the two Koreas should reconcile and live in peaceful coexistence. An even more succinct summary was printed on commemorative pen boxes distributed after the June 2000 summit: “Peaceful coexistence - Peaceful exchange - Peaceful unification.”

¶10. (SBU) According to the Sunshine Policy, unification was to occur in three stages on an indeterminate timeline: confederation; federation; and complete unification. Although the engagement policy was initially supposed to proceed on the basis of reciprocity, in practice the Kim Dae-jung administration put a priority on avoiding confrontation. For example, when the North refused to set up a family reunion center in exchange for aid, as initially envisaged, the South shifted to “flexible reciprocity,” explaining that an elder brother (the more developed South) could be patient and wait for a positive response.

¶11. (SBU) In short, the Sunshine Policy emerged from a decades-long effort for reconciliation. As the ROK emphasized peaceful coexistence, active planning and preparation for unification took a back seat, lest ROK policy appear hostile. Reinforcing that trend was the growing awareness, especially after German reunification, that Korean
unification would entail heavy costs.

PRESIDENT ROH'S “PEACE AND PROSPERITY” POLICY

¶12. (SBU) Unification policy may have taken a back seat to peaceful coexistence, but unification has remained an official ROK goal. Unification is woven through the ROK constitution, in the preamble, main text and presidential oath. As Article 4 states, “The Republic of Korea shall seek unification and shall formulate and carry out a policy of
peaceful unification based on the principles of freedom and democracy.” Hence, any ROK administration must maintain a unification policy.

¶13. (SBU) The Roh Moo-hyun administration's policy toward North Korea is essentially a continuation of Kim Dae-jung's Sunshine Policy, but the “Peace and Prosperity” label points to an increased emphasis on economic engagement. The approach toward unification was spelled out in the Ministry of Unification's “Road to Korean Unification,” published as a glossy pamphlet in English. It again called for a three-stage process:

(1) Reconciliation and Cooperation, which in turn has the three components of “stable development of inter-Korean relations”; “the strengthening of peace and cooperation”; and “the establishment of a peace and cooperation system.”

(2) Korean Commonwealth, which amounts to achieving de facto unification by establishing a socio-economic “community between the two Koreas.”

(3) Unified Korea, meaning ”…legal and institutional unification and complete sectoral integration.”

¶14. (SBU) The ROKG's current assessment, according to the MOU, is that relations are now progressing toward Reconciliation and Cooperation, “proceeding from 'stable development of inter-Korean relations' to 'strengthening peace and cooperation.'” This first stage – whose highlights have been the establishment of tourism to Mt. Kumgang in 1998 and the ground-breaking of the Kaesong Industrial Complex in 2003 – cannot be considered complete until the nuclear issue is resolved, according to the ROKG. There are no timelines associated with these stages.

¶15. (SBU) President Roh reiterated his Government's approach in a January 23 speech: “The top priority is peace on the Peninsula. We should not break peace for the sake of unification. A confrontational attitude cannot achieve anything. The essence of the strategy toward peace is the wisdom to coexist.”

ROKG OFFICIALS ON UNIFICATION

¶16. (C) Park Jae-kyu, who was Unification Minister from 1999 to 2001, including during President Kim Dae-jung's June 2000 summit with Kim Jong-il, recently told the Ambassador that he has always viewed Korean unification as a long-term prospect. At the time of the 2000 summit, he believed that three issues had to be addressed before unification could be realistically considered: (1) the vast difference in GDP (USD 606 billion in the ROK, compared to USD 18 billion in the DPRK, a ratio of 34:1, according to a 2007 OECD comparison using 2004 figures); (2) thorny legal issues, including property rights for former residents of North Korea now in the South; and (3) cultural and educational differences, which Park said left North Koreans without skills or initiative. Park claimed he had discussed these issues with Kim Jong-il during the 2000 summit, telling Kim that the North should not be worried about an ROKG effort to absorb or attack the North. Park said Kim agreed that solving the above problems would take 20-30 years.

¶17. (C) Speaking privately, current Unification Ministry officials see little movement toward carrying out the “Road to Korean Unification” plan. The MOU's Director of Inter-Korean Social Exchanges Park Kwang-ho told us that it was understandable that people could ask what the ROKG's unification plan was because the Roh government did not talk about it; the emphasis has been on establishing peace. He dismissed the “Road to Korean Unification” as outdated, saying that a more accurate description of the current policy was maintaining the status quo.

¶18. (C) Asked the likelihood of unification at some point, Director Park said it was plausible that the ROK would not proceed toward unification and that the two Koreas would instead remain separate. Few young people were interested anymore, he said, recounting that he went to talk about unification at his former high school and was greeted with either no interest or the question, “Why should we pay for them?” The MOU's Director of the Peace Regime Building Team, Kim Ki-woong and Director of the MOU's International Cooperation Team Kim Jong-ro agreed that there were no set timelines in the ROKG's unification action plan.

¶19. (C) The ROKG's unification action plan might be in low gear, but the more important questions, according to these MOU officials, were: (1) whether unification could become more realistic due to a contingency, for example a collapse of the DPRK government; and (2) how outside powers would react to such an event. Park believed that the ROKG needed to prepare for contingencies because that was how the unification question would probably arise, rather than through the ROKG's gradual plan. Director Kim Ki-woong said that in such a situation, three issues would have to be addressed: accommodating refugees; China's reaction; and how to govern the North. He also was skeptical that China would allow unification.

¶20. (C) The MOU's Director of the International Cooperation Team Kim Jong-ro emphasized the costs of unification, both the financial burdens and the social costs of integrating undernourished and undereducated North Koreans into South Korea. He said that Japanese academics had written papers highlighting the significant costs of unification, which, he said, was consistent with Japanese reluctance about seeing a unified Korea.

¶21. (C) Three Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MOFAT) officials provided different perspectives on the ROKG's unification policy. Shin Chae-hyun, Director of North America Division I, said that unification was not a front-burner issue because most Koreans did not think about it. Politicians got mileage talking about jobs and most politicians were content to leave North-South relations on the gradual-engagement track. Director of MOFAT's Inter-Korean Policy Division Yu Joon-ha, who served in the MOU during 2005-2006, told us off-line that the ROKG's engagement policy was based on two faulty assumptions: (1) that the DPRK would reform because of cooperative projects such as the Kaesong Industrial Complex; and (2) that any ROKG effort to be firm with the DPRK would provoke a crisis. But Yeo Seong-bae, Assistant to the Foreign Minister Song Min-soon, with experience at the Blue House, was more bullish on the current approach.

He said not to mistake the ROKG's economic engagement policy as benign assistance; instead, it was a “Trojan horse” designed to destabilize the DPRK to create the conditions leading to unification.

ROK ACADEMICS' VIEWS

¶22. (C) Of the eight ROK academics we spoke with in recent weeks about the ROKG's unification policy, Ryoo Kihl-jae, Dean of Academic Affairs at the Kyungnam University of North Korean Studies, was the most critical of the existing policy. He said that engagement was premised on fostering gradual improvement in the DPRK regime but the changes – including the partly successful attempt to introduce capitalism at the KIC – meant little until the whole DPRK system began to change, which it had not.

¶23. (C) Ryoo said that the Sunshine Policy and Roh's Peace and Prosperity policy had failed on three levels: there had been no structural change to the DPRK regime; there had been no improvement in the DPRK's international situation (witness the nuclear issue); and on the day-to-day level, there was an increased number of exchanges but with no improvement in quality. There was no reason to expect the Kim Jong-il government to change, since it was in essence a continuation of the original Kim Il-sung government, and Kim Jong-il had no motivation to open the door. North Korean leaders must be thinking about the fate of other authoritarian leaders, such as former Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceausescu; they want a guarantee of internal regime stability that neither the U.S. nor the ROK could provide.

¶24. (C) Dismissing the rationale for the engagement policy, and seeing no concrete progress toward unification, Ryoo said the most likely road to unification would be changes in the DPRK 2-3 years after Kim Jong-il's death.
The ROKG should stop claiming it was advancing toward unification and instead admit that it was merely “managing the status quo.”
Echoing MOFAT's Shin, Ryoo said that most South Koreans do not care about North Korea, adding “they're exhausted with the issue.”

¶25. (C) Yang Moo-jin, Director of External Affairs at Kyungnam University's Institute of Far Eastern Studies (IFES), defended the ROKG's gradual approach toward unification on both economic and political grounds. Economically, he said, echoing former MOU Minister Park, the GDP gap was too big, and would have to be reduced to about 5:1 or even 3:1. Now, the ROK would not have the ability to reconstruct the DPRK, he said, and a sudden collapse of the DPRK should be avoided because it would take the government's entire annual budget for emergency support to the DPRK and absorption of refugees. Politically, he continued, a peace regime replacing the 1953 Armistice Agreement would be needed before unification could progress to the second stage – commonwealth. The two Koreas were at the primitive stage of reconciliation; it was reasonable to believe experts who saw unification taking 20 to 50 years. Beyond these inter-Korean considerations, external factors mattered. Unification would require both U.S.-DPRK and Japan-DPRK normalization, he said.

¶26. (C) IFES Professor of North Korean studies Kim Keun-sik largely echoed these views favoring gradual unification, adding that an engagement policy that preserved the status quo was also in the USG's interest because a sudden DPRK collapse would lead to Chinese attempts to fill the vacuum.

¶27. (C) Huh Moon-young, Director of North Korean studies at the ROKG-affiliated Korean Institute for National Unification (KINU), said he supported the engagement policy but not the ROKG's approach, for many of the same reasons as Ryoo: a lack of conditionality on aid to the North and a lack of planning beyond the initial tension-reduction phase. Huh said he had suggested revising the engagement policy to President Roh before the October 9 nuclear test. Huh stated that Roh's initial October 9 comments that the engagement policy needed fundamental changes were in line with Huh's recommendations, which were: (1) to condition ROKG assistance to the North on DPRK behavior; (2) to allow NGOs to take charge of and continue humanitarian aid; and (3) to encourage businesses to develop long-term relationships with North Korean companies. Huh lamented, however, that the ROKG later settled back into old habits.

¶28. (C) KINU's Jae Jean-suh, a sociologist, said that ROK public opinion was against unification because the people had been given the wrong information. They had heard huge cost estimates but did not understand that these should be seen as investment costs that could help the North catch up with the South relatively quickly. On the contrary, it was a divided Korea that faced exorbitant costs, Jae said not only security costs, but the opportunity costs of having the North underdeveloped. Viewed more broadly, unification would benefit Korea because it would strengthen the nation and help stabilize Northeast Asia. The key to achieving unification, in Jae's view, was to convince the DPRK “cadres” – about 200,000 mid-level officials (or 10 percent of the estimate 2 million Korean Workers' Party members) that they would be better off after unification. This would be a shift from current ROKG engagement policy, targeted at a few non-elites who could not effect change. Turning to external considerations, Jae said that China, Japan and Russia would all prefer the status quo to a unified Korea.

¶29. (C) Conservative academics from Myongji University, home to many retired ROKG officials, were critical of the ROKG's current engagement policy. The ROK should induce change in North Korea by letting more North Koreans know what was happening in the outside world, said former MOFAT official and now North Korea specialist Song Jong-hwan, who was joined by professors Do Joon-ho and Lee Yung-kee. Unification should be actively pursued, but instead the ROKG was soft, giving the DPRK whatever it wanted. Song said that the DPRK appeared to pursue reconciliation with the ROK for three reasons: (1) to get as much money as possible; (2) to increase pro-DPRK sentiment in the ROK; and (3) to drive a wedge between the U.S. and ROK. The DPRK had succeed in all three, he said. Echoing Ryoo, Lee said that DPRK policy had toughened as a result of ROKG policy. Some economic engagement was needed, but the ROKG should be in the lead rather than letting the DPRK dictate each step. That South Koreans generally did not appreciate the strategic threat posed by North Korean nuclear weapons was a danger, these academics concluded.

UNIFICATION COSTS: STICKER SHOCK

¶30. (SBU) Many officials and academics call unification unaffordable, and media reports citing astronomical cost estimates have no doubt led much of the public to think of unification as at least a generation away. Cost estimates vary widely because their underlying assumptions vary greatly. For example:

– Goldman Sachs in 2002 estimated costs of USD 3.5 trillion, or over five times current ROK GDP, based on unification occurring in 2005 and with the goal of equalizing North and South per capita GDP by 2015. (The South's per capita GDP is now at least 16 times that of the North's, or USD 12,600 compared to USD 800, according to OECD estimates using 2004 figures.)

– Moody's Investors Services estimated that the ROKG would spend USD 100 billion annually during the first five years post-unification. While more modest than the Goldman Sachs estimate, the Moody's case would still have the ROKG using an equivalent of almost 40 percent of the ROK's 2007 budget, though polls indicate that few South Koreans would support hefty tax increases to pay for unification.

– A 2005 RAND Corporation study cited costs of USD 50 billion to USD 350 billion for the relatively modest goal of doubling DPRK GDP within five years, seen as a measure of sufficient economic momentum to keep unification viable. Even so, this study noted that there would be many other costs such as training, welfare, health, and infrastructure.

¶31. (SBU) South Koreans worry about the German example, seeing it not only as expensive (estimated at USD 1.4 trillion from 1991-2004, or about 5-6 percent of Germany's cumulative GDP during the period, according to the RAND study) but as a drag on the once-vaunted German economy that contributed to unemployment and European sluggishness. Another factor that many interlocutors cited was the sharp drop in ROK GDP after the 1997-1998 Asian financial crisis, leading to more hesitation about paying for unification.

¶32. (SBU) For those reasons, the ROKG has been looking for a different model, according to Bank of Korea economists Sung Min-moon, Song Oek-heon, and Lee Young-hoon, who make up the central bank's Northeast Asian Economic Studies Team. They shared a January 2007 working paper that looked at Korean unification under a “special zone model,” which Song explained was meant to be analogous to Hong Kong-China unification: one country, two systems. According to this model, which the Bank of Korea economists stressed did not yet have official standing, the North Korean population would remain in place, encouraged to do so by government incentives as well as by a closed border. Meanwhile, the ROKG would invest in basic infrastructure, but would rely on private investment to raise productivity and output in the North. North Korean won would be exchanged at market value, not by declaring parity as was done, at great expense, in the German case. Depending on the assumptions about how effective investment in the North would be, this “special zone model” would cost the ROKG from USD 550 billion to USD 1 trillion in government spending (transfers and investment) over a time horizon of 19 years or longer; additional private investment would be needed too.

¶33. (SBU) The large costs under any of these scenarios go against the grain of the ROKG's “Vision 2030” social-welfare plan, which – without mentioning potential unification – calls for increased government spending to develop the ROK into a “fully advanced” country with social welfare levels on a par with other OECD countries. The “Vision 2030” plan foresees spending on North Korea increasing from about 0.1 percent of GDP now to 1.0 percent by 2030, on the order of USD 10 billion per year. Any of the unification scenarios would entail much higher costs, but among the unknowns is how the international community would share the burden.

PUBLIC OPINION: UNIFICATION IS A NATIONAL TASK

¶34. (U) Poll results from the Korean Institute for National Unification (KINU) provide a glimpse of South Korean attitudes toward unification:

– Asked in 2005, “What do you think about the claim that unification is a national task?” 84 percent said that they strongly agreed (49 percent) or agreed (35 percent), compared to 12 percent who disagreed.

– Asked in 2005, “Why do you think unification is necessary?” 35 percent cited “national unity,” 28 percent “economic development,” 20 percent “prevention of war,” 11
percent “to alleviate pains of separate family members,” and 3 percent “to improve the quality of life for North Koreans”; these responses generally tracked with responses in 2003 and 1999.

– Asked in 2005 what the South should focus on to prepare for unification, 41 percent cited “economic development,” followed by 36 percent who cited “national consensus.” A similar question in 1999 also spotlighted economic concerns, in keeping with a common South Korean perception that the South had to build its economy further before it can afford unification.

– Asked in 1999, “When do you think unification will happen?” 28 percent said “within 20 years,” 27 percent said “within 10 years,” while 18 percent said “within 30 years” or “over 30 years.” In the 1994 survey, 57 percent of respondents thought reunification would happen within 10 years. This question was not repeated in later surveys.

– Asked in 1999, “What is your opinion on unification?” 83 percent of the 1,000 adults surveyed said, “Conditions for gradual unification should be constituted,” while only 6 percent said, “efforts for immediate unification should be made.” This question was not repeated in later surveys.

– In response to a 1994 question that was not repeated in later surveys, 63 percent of respondents said that the Kim Jong-il regime would only last 2-5 years.

COMMENT: “UNIFICATION IS OUR HOPE?”

¶35. (C) By the time South Korean children enter kindergarten, they know two songs by heart. The first is the national anthem and the other is “Unification is our Hope.” All polls now seem to show that the song, written over fifty years ago, is outdated because most South Koreans do not want to deal with the unification question, at least not in their working lifetimes. Still, for virtually all South Koreans, having one sovereign nation again on the Peninsula is a powerful goal, evoking passion, establishing movements and populating think tanks. Above all, how to approach the unification question has been a key issues dividing “conservatives” and “progressives” in South Korea.

¶36. (C) The progress in the Six-Party Talks, especially the February 13 “Initial Actions” agreement, has again triggered a soul-searching internal debate on this very question. What does it mean to officially declare an end to the Korean War? What will be the status of North Korea if a peace treaty is signed? Should the Constitution be revised? How about the National Security Law, which criminalizes all published material sympathetic to the North? Is this a leap toward unification? Or is it an acceptance of a “one peninsula - two countries” model?

¶37. (C) These questions come at a time of frenetic domestic political activity; the presidential election is less than nine months away. The ruling party and fellow progressives–languishing at single digits in the polls–now believe that, in pushing for an inter-Korean summit in tandem with progress in the Six-Party Talks, they have found the “home run,” and that their prospects are now far from hopeless. Meanwhile, the opposition GNP is virtually in a panic mode, with the party leader even suggesting a much more forthcoming stance on the whole question of engagement policy. The electoral debate, which is heating up fast, will have consequences for how South Koreans approach unification, as will the election outcome.

¶38. (C) In any direction we look – history, economics, security, politics or diplomacy – the United States is definitely an interested party in Korean unification. Our strategic interests dictate that we must approach this question well prepared and expecting the unexpected. Above all, we need to maintain the position that this is, first and foremost, an issue that the Koreans must settle, and that the United States, while an interested party, will never stand in the way.

VERSHBOW

 

violet813@naver.com


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