South Korea as peaceful actor

Korean institutions organize significant programs for foreigners who are engaged in peace and conflict issues. One of these, the KF Korea Workshop, was held in Seoul in July. The program was organized by the East Asia Institute and hosted by the Korea Foundation (KF).

As an academic, I found a chance to participate and received a lot of information from valuable scholars.

In the first session, Prof. Leif-Eric Easley delivered a presentation under the title “Rising Korea: A Middle Power’s Role in Asia and the World.” 

As an outstanding academic, Easley gave a good explanation of middle power and Korea’s role within this concept. According to Easley, this concept doesn’t fit Korea’s situation regarding the near-historical process of political doctrines in the country. Claiming Korea as rising power would be more understandable if we analyze the current posture of the government. He also emphasized four main features of other middle-power countries, such as historical baggage, budgetary constraints, inadequate economic development and globalization (stalled regionalization).

Therefore, Korea has a position to calibrate when it comes to arranging relations with other countries. Seoul is an honest broker with North Korea, not betraying the alliance with the U.S. and not ganging up on China.

In Easley’s words, the Moon administration’s policy follows the way of peace and multilateralism. The country tried to convene power at the Winter Olympics in 2018 and bridge international efforts on the North Korean issue. Naturally, it is a discussion topic about whether Korea is a middle power or not, but there are various aspects of the subject to be understood by academics. In this case, Easley’s contribution to the literature is very important.

In the second session, Prof. Joon Han delivered a speech on social changes in Korea from the middle of the 20thcentury. His lecture provided essential points to understanding the secret sides of Korean culture with the influence of family and society effects.

According to Han, there is a dizzying process of cultural change in Korea due to economic and technological developments. This directly affects the decisions of young people who are torn between traditional and modern values. The family culture is about to disappear because young people prefer to live alone without getting married, unlike their parents. Therefore, Korea has the lowest birth rate in the world. Instability between materialism and post-materialism is an unchangeable reality of contemporary Korean society that is going to be a unique case in the age of technology.

After the lectures, participants visited the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) in Goseong, which is in the northernmost part of South Korea. Jejin Station here connects the two Koreas, and Seoul finished all preparations for a normalization process with Pyongyang by building an impressive modern train station.

It was a great occasion to listen to Prof. Chul Ho Cho, who is the creator of the “Miracle on the Daedong River” motto. Similar to the Han River that passes through Seoul, the Daedong River passes through Pyongyang.

According to Chul, these two geographically similar cities should have a similar destiny in terms of economic development. There is no reason for North Korea to suffer economically if the regime accepts Seoul’s peaceful proposals. Chul believes that reunification is achievable if both sides accomplish all obligations without any political deception.

As a doctoral candidate who is writing a dissertation about peace on the Korean Peninsula, this program provided me with good opportunities to meet and listen to these valuable scholars as well as North Korean defectors who talked about the hidden realities of Pyongyang.

Mehmet Fatih Oztarsu – The Korea Times

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