- Towards Korean Reconciliation: Socio-Cultural Exchanges and Cooperation
At a time when Pyongyang has pretensions to become a nuclear power and South Korea has transformed from being an outpost of globalized cosmopolis to being one of its centers, any debate about the specific mechanisms of Korean reunification may seem hopelessly remote. It is one of the virtues of Gabriel Jonsson's Towards Korean Reconciliation that, in filling a gap in English-language scholarship on the peninsula's reunification, he underscores the continuing relevance of that debate to rapidly changing contemporary events. In doing so he usefully outlines the differences between Korean perceptions of the North-South conflict and the much less nuanced understanding exhibited by the United States and its current leadership. In this respect, one can only hope that Jonsson's book enjoys a wider readership than the rather limited scholarly audience at which it is obviously aimed.
Jonsson compares prospective Korean reunification with the reunification processes in Germany and Yemen, both of which achieved unity in 1990. West Germany's strategy of "absorption" and of "change through rapprochement" fed a bottom-up approach to reunification that benefited from three key factors: the enormous difference between the two German economies, in terms of size and performance; the progressive social and cultural penetration of the East by the West; and the withdrawal of Soviet support from the East German regime as the dynamics of communism's collapse swept central Europe. By contrast, [End Page 112] the top-down political agreement that led to unification of North and South Yemen failed to resolve mutual distrust and led to political violence and the subsequent takeover of the South (Aden) by the North. Jonsson argues that the German model of unification would be the better one for the two Koreas to follow, since that model "largely integrated political and economic systems during the unification process," albeit over a long period of time during which the two German societies were increasingly exposed to each other.
The problem, of course, is that the conditions that shaped German reunification do not exist on the Korean Peninsula, where—by Jonsson's own admission—the two Korean societies are moving further apart. Most East Germans were for years able to watch West German television, a circumstance that does not prevail in the DPRK, and German family exchange and visitation programs dwarfed the fitful program of family reunifications that Pyongyang has so far agreed to.1 In Korea, post-unification difficulties would be exacerbated not only by the growing social and cultural disjuncture between North and South, but also by the fact that the economic gap between the two Koreas is even greater than the gap that existed in 1989-90 between the two Germanies. (For example, a September 2006 Korea Development Bank report estimated the North's total social overhead capital assets at only 0.68 percent those of the South.)2 Both Seoul and Pyongyang have looked at the German experience and, for their own different reasons, have drawn caution from it.
The core of the book is Jonsson's account of socio-cultural exchanges and inter-Korean cooperation. Two lengthy chapters provide an almost mind-numbing litany of inter-Korean contacts in such fields as sport, tourism, music, the arts, publishing, academia, and medicine. These events are related by Jonsson to programs of economic cooperation and the rather stilted efforts, over the years, at North-South family visitations, as well as to the state of the political and security relationship between North and South. The survey data presented by Jonsson point to generational differences within the South with regard to such issues as perceptions of the North and the likelihood and importance of reuni fication (younger South Koreans have been more open to the North and its peculiar species of nationalism, though they no longer attach particular priority to re-unification). Jonsson takes careful note of the increasing role of South Korean conglomerates such as Hyundai and NGOs such as the Korean National Red Cross in shaping the...