The following talk was given at the ceremony and dinner commemorating the 12th anniversary of the June 15 North-South Joint Declaration, held on June 14, 2012 at the Convention Hall, 63 Building, Seoul. The event was co-sponsored by the Kim Dae-jung Peace Center, Kim Dae-jung Presidential Library and Museum of Yonsei University, Korea Peace Forum, and the Special City of Seoul.
ⓒ Paik Nak-chung 2012
The June 15 Joint Declaration and the 2013 Regime
Paik Nak-chung (Professor Emeritus, SNU; Co-Chair, Korea Peace Forum)
Today we are gathered to commemorate the 12th anniversary of the June 15 North-South Joint Declaration. Although we are celebrating a historic event, I think many of you must have mixed feelings. It is our third such ceremony without President Kim Dae-jung, the co-signer to the Joint Declaration and founder of Kim Dae-jung Peace Center. And I recall that the atmosphere of the 9th anniversary, when President Kim joined us for the last time, was not all that bright and cheerful, either.
Back then, we had just suffered the tragic loss of the former President Rho Moo-hyun, and in the case of former President Kim, too, the occasion turned out to be his last public address. At the event held under the title, ‘Let’s return to 6/15’, President Kim, as if he was announcing his political testament, “earnestly and with desperate urgency” (and I am quoting him verbatim) appealed to the nation for each citizen to become a ‘conscience in action’. He even affirmed, “Those who do not act are on the side of evil.” And to President Lee Myung-bak he offered the message, “If President Lee and his government do not change their course, I can say confidently that not only the nation but also the Lee administration will face an unfortunate future.”
President Lee, however, has taken no heed of President Kim’s warning. Far from returning to 6/15, his government issued in 2010 the so-called ‘5/24 measure’ in response to the sinking of the naval ship Cheonan, thus reversing the inter-Korean reconciliation process since the 6/15 Joint Declaration, or indeed ever since the Rho Tae-woo administration, and tried to cut off inter-Korean exchanges completely. The result has been only to increase North Korea’s nuclear capability and its reliance on China, while causing enormous damage to the South Korean economy and a sharp diminishing of our role in the international arena. Not only have the entire Korean nation and the South Korean people become unfortunate, the Lee administration doesn’t seem to find itself in a happy situation, either—exactly as the late President Kim predicted.
Many South Korean citizens, on the other hand, did heed the former President’s desperate appeal. Despite the all too familiar red-baiting by the government and the ruling party, the voters in the June 2 local elections of 2010 inflicted defeat on the Grand National Party, and in the by-election for the Mayor of Seoul in 2011, they again punished the unrepentant Lee administration, although this election was not directly related to inter-Korean relations. Even the results of the April 11 general elections this year represented only a denial of confidence to the opposition party with its petty bickering over short-term advantages rather than respecting the late President’s political testament. Despite the opposition defeat voters have made it quite clear that they would not tolerate the ruling party’s reckless unilateralism any longer as in the outgoing 18th National Assembly. At the same time, they have left open the possibility that the opposition circles, if truly united and renewed, can win the Presidential race slated for December this year.
So everything is up to us. We can hardly expect Mr Lee Myung-bak to change after all these years, and even if he did, he could not do much in the remaining months. All we can hope is that he does not make things much worse and that he may open a bit wider the door for civilian inter-Korean exchanges that he has recently been allowing by fits and starts. Meanwhile, the ruling party’s leading presidential candidate Park Keun-hye has been trying to differentiate herself from President Lee and talks about acknowledging in principle the June 15 and October 4 Declarations. But it is doubtful how much sincerity and real content we may find in her words, given the kind of people that surround her, the hackneyed red-baiting she doesn’t hesitate to indulge in, and her harping on ‘loyalty to the state’ of which we had had more than enough during the years of dictatorship. In the end there is no alternative than for each of us to become a ‘conscience in action’ and to reform politics and society as a whole, and to pick a leader with conviction in and a strong vision for democracy.
In the process we need also to clearly settle the controversy over ‘following North Korea’ that has recently been ignited. The deterioration of mainstream journalism and public discourse in South Korea over the years of the Lee government has propagated a tendency to condemn even the support for the 6/15 Joint Declaration as a sign of ‘following North Korea’ or of belonging to ‘pro-North Korean leftist forces’. It is precisely such discourse that has made it difficult to openly discuss and criticize the problem of blind adherence to North Korea, and helped shelter from public eyes minority groups actually following the North Korean line. For it has blurred the distinction between the approach of ‘engaging North Korea’ (t’ongbuk), which favors dialogue, contact and, where necessary, cooperation with the Pyongyang regime for the sake of South Korea’s national interest and the safety and well-being of the population of the Korean peninsula, and ‘following North Korea’ (chongbuk), which, in the context of North-South confrontation, chooses to consistently follow the official North Korean line. Recently, in connection with the disastrous developments in the United Progressive Party, President Lee, the ruling party and conservative media have raised with one voice the issue of ‘following North Korea’, dreaming of an easy victory in the upcoming Presidential election. But we have no reason to fear a debate on this issue.
‘Engaging North Korea’ and ‘following North Korea’ should by all means be differentiated. Our clear choice is the former. In criticizing the latter, however, the important thing is to decide from what vantage point the criticism is made. The criterion should be the principle of democracy, not an anachronistic anti-communism or authoritarian statism; and it must reflect the principle that in order to achieve a peaceful, gradual, and phased reunification as agreed upon in the June 15 Joint Declaration, we South Korean citizens should assume the role of ‘the third party’, that is, we should stand tall as sovereign citizens refusing blind submission either to the North Korean regime or even to our own government.
Only when the opposition circles manage to get their act together in line with this principle and conviction will they be able to win the coming Presidential election and go on to build a new era successfully.
Many people including myself who aspire to open a new era with the launching of the new administration in 2013 have adopted the notion, ‘the regime of 2013’. The idea is to make the year 2013 as great a turning point as the one marked by the June Uprising of 1987, which is said to have initiated a new stage of contemporary South Korean history generally known as ‘the regime of 1987’. This regime has indeed accomplished much, including the end of military dictatorship, economic liberalization, and positive developments in inter-Korean relations marked by the Basic Agreement of 1991, the June 15 Joint Declaration (2000) and the October 4 Declaration (2007). Despite such achievements, however, various factors both at home and abroad militated against its advancing in time to a new stage. As a result the constructive driving force of its early years has been spent, and social disruption gradually has become aggravated. Amidst such confusion the Lee government came to power with the slogan of ‘a leap into an advanced society’. However, it not only failed to make that ‘leap’, but has indulged in misrule and backtracking, so that the country has come to face a wholesale crisis, including crisis in democracy, ordinary people’s livelihood, justice, and peace on the Korean peninsula.
The June 15 Joint Declaration occupies a crucial place in ‘the 2013 regime’, which should overcome the current crisis and must, this time, carry out a genuine leap. It signifies more than a simple restoration of the process of inter-Korean reconciliation, peace and cooperation opened up by the 6/15 and 10/4 Declarations. The inter-Korean relation under the 2013 regime will be played out on the basis of popular judgment on the forces that have been negating those Declarations. Consequently the role of ‘the third party’ will have vastly increased in the process of building a peace regime on the peninsula and in the move towards a gradual integration of the two Koreas. Thus, an unprecedented virtuous cycle will be created for domestic democratic progress, improvement of inter-Korean relation, and betterment of people’s livelihood.
As a matter of fact, the ‘87 regime had the intrinsic limitation that, while the June Movement managed to terminate the military dictatorship that had been in place since 1961, it failed to bring about a fundamental change to the Armistice regime of 1953, which served as the basis of the subsequent dictatorships. True, the ‘division system’ was shaken by the arrival of the 1987 regime, but never really overcome by it. It was the June 15 Joint Declaration that opened up the possibility of a new peninsular order beyond the current division system. The fate of the 2013 regime will depend on whether we can replace the Armistice with a peace agreement in the spirit of the Joint Declaration.
Of course, the 6/15 Joint Declaration does not contain any reference to a peace regime. That is because at the time the concerned powers had not reached any agreement on peace in the Korean peninsula and in Northeast Asia. Only after the Joint Declaration came the US-DPRK Joint Communiqué of October 2000, and in 2005 the September 19 Joint Statement of the 4th Six-Party Talks in Beijing produced the first comprehensive agreement among major stakeholders. But with the inauguration of the Bush administration in the U.S., obstacles kept presenting themselves; and above all, there was insufficient preparation on the part of ‘the third party’, South Korean citizens, and insufficiency in their ‘conscience in action’ as well. The painful consequence is now plaguing the country, the nation, and the incumbent president himself. In this circumstance, if we South Korean citizens can change politics and society through our own efforts, nothing will stop the coming of the 2013 regime. I hope this 12th anniversary will be the last to commemorate the June 15 Joint Declaration with so much mixture of somber feelings.