(ATTN: ADDS remarks in paras 13-19, photo)
SEOUL, Nov. 24 (Yonhap) — The Peaceful Unification Advisory Council (PUAC) and Yonhap News Agency held a forum Friday to assess the environment for unification and discuss North Korea’s evolving threats following its launch of a spy satellite earlier this week.
The event took place at the Grand Walkerhill Seoul hotel under the main theme of “International cooperation aiming to realize freedom, peace, and prosperity on the Korean Peninsula,” bringing together key government officials and security experts.
PUAC is a presidential consultative body established to draw up policies on democratic and peaceful unification.
The inaugural 2023 Global Dialogue on Korean Peninsula Unification came as part of efforts to seek international cooperation amid North Korea’s missile and nuclear threats as well as a prolonged war in Ukraine and the escalating Israel-Hamas conflict.
It followed Pyongyang’s launch of a military spy satellite late Tuesday, which the recalcitrant regime claimed to have put into orbit in its third attempt. North Korea vowed to launch several more satellites within a short span of time to enhance its self-defense capabilities.
Participants called for a new approach to reunification and responding to the North’s provocations.
“The dialogue for unification should be conducted under the clear basic principle of free democracy. An alternative means should be sought within the frame of respecting universal values such as freedom and human rights,” Kim Kwan-yong, executive vice chairperson of PUAC, said in his opening remarks.
Unification Minister Kim Yung-ho, Seoul’s point man on North Korea, vowed to strengthen what he called “unification diplomacy” to better realize the vision of a unified Korean Peninsula that is free and at peace, as supported by the Camp David Principles and the Downing Street Accord.
“I am certain that North Korea would have to opt for a change if the international community, under close cooperation, continuously makes efforts to show the North that there is nothing to gain from wrong acts such as nuclear development,” Kim said.
Seong Ghi-hong, CEO and president of Yonhap News Agency, called for efforts to establish a solid security posture.
“While the situation surrounding the Korean Peninsula appears to be murky, it is at such times we have to continue with efforts to assess the situation in a calm and level-headed manner and establish a solid security posture,” Seong said.
Among the experts taking part in the discussions were Patrick Cronin, Asia-Pacific security chair at Hudson Institute, Lee Che-chuan, research fellow at the Institute for National Defense and Security Research in Taiwan, Georgy Toloraya, director of the Center for Asian Strategy at the Russian Academy of Sciences, and Ken Endo, a professor at the University of Tokyo.
Experts said escalating competition for global hegemony will likely worsen conditions for unification and may further encourage the North’s nuclear development.
“A vision for the unification of the Korean Peninsula is facing difficulties amid intensifying Sino-U.S. rivalry and growing cooperation among China, Russia and North Korea,” Lee of the Taiwanese think tank said.
Toloraya echoed the view, saying that sustained cooperation with China and advancing ties with Russia offer a “new alternative” for the North.
With the current situation likely to continue for the time being, experts stressed the importance of managing inter-Korean risks in a stable manner.
Projecting that a hostile co-existence of the two Koreas may persist for many decades, Toloraya said the South and North should learn how to co-exist peacefully.
Hwang Ji-hwan, an international relations professor at the University of Seoul, said appealing to North Korean residents would become more important under such circumstances.
“As seen in the case of Germany, South Korea should earn the support of North Korean residents,” Hwang said. “The notion that progress in inter-Korean relations would benefit both South and North Korea should be promoted.”
The sessions — organized under the themes of “Freedom, Peace, and Prosperity of Korean Peninsula: Vision and Strategy,” “Democracy, Freedom, and Human Rights in North Korea” and “Indo-Pacific Strategy and the Future of Korean Peninsula” — were livestreamed via YouTube on PUAC’s official channel.
The first day of the forum, which consisted of closed-door discussions by experts on themes including public diplomacy on unification and North Korea’s political situation, took place Thursday.