The Korean Peninsula: Peaceful Unification of a Democracy and a Dictatorship? by Taylor Robinson @ Georgia State University
Sixty-five years after the beginning of the Korean War, leaders of South Korea and North Korea began meeting with the intention of declaring peace and mending their damaged relationship. In addition to reconciliation, both president Moon Jae In of South Korea and dictator Kim Jong Un of North Korea expressed the desire to reunite the Korean peninsula. Although, the opposing governments hold different values both leaders made promises to bring peace. Is a unification between a democracy and a dictatorship possible, or is South Korea’s democracy at risk with the pressure of unification?
Following the impeachment and arrest of ex-president, Park Geun Hye, in light of her bribery charges in 2016, South Korea was quick to hold elections. This is the beginning of Moon Jae In’s era marked by the transition from a conservative government to a liberal one. Undoubtedly, South Korea has an exemplary democracy that other countries could learn from. The procedure of impeachment, removal, and the election was an impeccably swift transition.
Moon, a progressive liberal, was the Blue House’s first progressive president in a decade (Tharoor). Moon demonstrated his devotion to South Korean citizens with promises to improve government transparency and meticulously regulate conglomerates that have in the past influenced government policies (Fifield). Furthermore, he made promises to narrow the gap between rich and poor, add jobs to the public sector, as well as reduce work hours despite the fact that his party does not hold majority (Fifeld). However, regardless of his devotion, Moon is willing to jeopardize democracy for the seamless unification of the two countries.
In order to propel the unification between South and North Korea, Moon mentioned amending the constitution to allow for it. This amendment endorses direct democracy, allowing citizens to participate more directly in government processes, instead of representative democracy. This would also allow Moon to make movements concerning unification more quickly which is not entirely unwanted, but Moon seems to be making an effort to please North Korea for unification.
Every South Korean president since September 1989 has endorsed the National Community Unification Formula which states that the union should be a liberal democracy. However, Moon took the formula lightly, instead insisting “liberal” be removed from the concept of democracy (Chang). His Ministry of Education even attempted to remove the word “liberal” in connection with democracy from textbooks. Although unsuccessful, the implications are large. Kim Jong Un’s regime rejects the term “liberal” although it maintains that it too is democratic (Chang). According to Illiberal democracy has been on the rise (Berman), but this demonstrates that Moon is willing to sacrifice South Korea’s integrity for the sake of unification. Going forward, the new textbooks will leave out the statement that “Seoul is the only legitimate government on the peninsula”.
Moon has ignored North Korea’s crimes against humanity, and even “bowed down to Chinese demands that South Korea severely restrict missile defense systems in the South” (Chang). Although originally, Moon agreed with Washington that sanctions on North Korea should be held until Kim gave up his arsenal, he changed his stance, instead lobbying the UN Security Council to pour money into North Korea. Moon insisted that this money would convince Kim to give up his weapons.
Recently, Moon has shown incredible protection and promotion of North Korea, even going as far to convince the United States to yield to North Korea’s demands. His newfound confidence in North Korea has worried US officials that he will end military alliance with the US in the light of unification (Chang). This would leave South Korea vulnerable to North Korea considering Moon also plans to decrease military size. His goal of unification is admirable, yet it seems to be challenging democracy in South Korea and the wellbeing of his country. Moon has gone to far extents to flatter Kim, and it may risk the integrity of South Korea.
A unification means the joining of the countries into one entity, but what implications does it have for the peninsula? Does it mean that one leader will step down and relinquish his position, or that they will make swift agreements concerning nuclear disarmament? Does it insinuate that South Korea will forgive the authoritarian regime for all of the human rights violations and abuses suffered in North Korea? Regardless of the positive effects of the unification, the peninsula would still have to undergo reconstruction of government and reach agreements on every aspect of the law. Moreover, president Moon is jeopardizing democracy by manipulating the system to allow for benefits for North Korea to seduce them into agreeing to unification. Unification under president Moon would create a legacy for his presidency, but if the results of the union destroy democracy in the Korean peninsula, it would be an unwanted one.
*Photo by Korea Summit Press Pool/Getty Images, “The Stars of North Korea Talks Revolve Around Moon”, https://foreignpolicy.com/2018/05/10/the-stars-of-north-korea-talks-revolve-around-moon-trump-kim-summit-singapore/