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North Koreans left without clear national vision after unification policy shift: experts

2024-07-13 21:35:14      点击:720
This <strong></strong>Feb. 16 photo, released by North Korea's state media on Feb. 17, shows North Koreans paying their respects to the statues of Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il at Pyongyang in North Korea. Yonhap

This Feb. 16 photo, released by North Korea's state media on Feb. 17, shows North Koreans paying their respects to the statues of Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il at Pyongyang in North Korea. Yonhap

Experts say Pyongyang’s denial of own founding principle will likely weaken young leader’s legitimacyBy Jung Min-ho

Deeply embedded in North Korea’s founding principle and the lives of its people for decades, the vision of a united Korea cannot be denied or abandoned even if its leader Kim Jong-un demands it, experts said on Friday. They added that the young leader's recent policy shift is expected to undermine the legitimacy of his rule.

Speaking at a forum in Seoul, experts said the North Korean ruling elite will find it impossible to replace its unification vision with something else and to convince its people that they should continue to persevere despite never-ending economic difficulties without that vision. The decision, they added, could be his biggest political miscalculation since he rose to power in late 2011.

“The principles of independence, peace and national unity have been promoted since 1953. Denying them is tantamount to challenging his father (Kim Jong-il) and grandfather (Kim Il-sung),” Ko Young-hwan, a former North Korean diplomat, said at the forum organized by the Peaceful Unification Advisory Council.

“Many North Koreans, particularly the elite who had been working at the regime’s divisions related to South Korea, would find this insane.”

When former President Park Chung-hee tried to redefine Seoul’s relations with Pyongyang by recognizing the possibility of a separate U.N. membership for the South and the North in the June 23 Declaration of 1973, Kim Il-sung criticized his policy direction as one that would lead to “national division” in a speech he gave to a massive crowd in Pyongyang.

Perhaps the South Korean government should consider using that speech to rebut the policy direction of his grandson, Ko said.

With the concept of unification enshrined in every fabric of North Korean life from the rules of the Workers’ Party to country's constitution and school materials, the task of removing it all will be extremely challenging, if not completely unachievable, experts said.

As a result, South Korean policymakers should focus more on finding the underlying motives behind the decision rather than formulating policies for possible changes it might bring to inter-Korean relations because it could change again any time Kim feels it should, they added.

“I see the decision as a passive declaration of its loss to South Korea,” said Park Won-gon, an expert on North Korea at Ewha Womans University. “This came after North Korea’s obvious recognition that unifying the Korean Peninsula on its terms is no longer possible. The regime appears to have concluded that demonizing South Korea would be better for its stability and legitimacy amid growing South Korean cultural influence among its own people.”

The regime’s fear of that influence is well-demonstrated in laws it recently enacted, such as the Pyongyang Cultural Language Protection Law, under which a woman could face years of hard labor for calling her boyfriend “oppa” ― a term only used to refer for an older brother in the North but with a broader range of use in the South. Yet the popularity of South Korea’s cultural content among North Koreans and their desire for more outside information are expected to only grow, experts said.

They called on the government in Seoul to continue to carry on with the vision of unification ― that Korea should be united peacefully based on the basic free and democratic order. Park said one of the biggest risks of abandoning that vision for South Korea is the possibility of a regime change or other forms of political turmoil in North Korea.

“Without South Korea’s consistent unification policy under the Constitution, we could lose our basis upon which to protect the Korean people living in the North in the face of interventions from China or other countries,” he said.

 

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