Seoul wants UN office in DMZ

October 29, 2014
Chung Chong-wook, vice chairman of the Presidential Committee for Unification Preparation, speaks during an interview with The Korea Times at his office in Changseong-dong, central Seoul, Tuesday. (Korea Times photo by Shim Hyun-chul)

Chung Chong-wook, vice chairman of the Presidential Committee for Unification Preparation, speaks during an interview with The Korea Times at his office in Changseong-dong, central Seoul, Tuesday. (Korea Times photo by Shim Hyun-chul)

By Shim Jae-yun, Yi Whan-woo

South Korea is seeking to host an office of the United Nations within an envisioned peace and ecological park inside the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ), according to a key unification policy architect.

The government is considering several candidate sites for the new U.N. body under close consultation with Gyeonggi Province, and hopes to begin talks with North Korea toward that end soon.

“The envisaged U.N. body will become a very symbolic monument toward peace in the world as well as on the Korean Peninsula,” Chung Chong-wook, vice chairman of the Presidential Committee for Unification Preparation, told The Korea during an interview, Tuesday.

It took place at his office in Changseong-dong, in central Seoul, in time for the 64th anniversary of The Korea Times, which falls on Nov. 1.

Chung, 73, is one of the committee’s two vice chairmen along with Unification Minister Ryoo Kihl-jae. President Park Geun-hye spearheads the 50-member committee, which was launched on July 15.

If established, Korea will have the fifth U.N. office following those in New York, Geneva, Vienna, and Nairobi.

Currently there is no such U.N. office in Asia. Experts say the possible setup of a new secretariat in Korea will have far-reaching effects, given Asia’s population of more than 4 billion and the 54 U.N. member countries in the region.

“The government is poised to have dialogue with North Korea about the possible establishment of the peace park, and the hosting of the U.N. body requires consent from the reclusive nation,” Chung said. “North Korea seems to have no reason to oppose the plan as it will pose no security threat.”

He added the setup of the new U.N. body will help facilitate inter-Korean reconciliation and promote peace in Northeast Asia.

Chung expressed hope that the two Koreas will be able to embark on the construction of the park sometime next year, which marks the 70th anniversary of the national liberation from Japanese colonial rule.

In a related move, the Gyeonggi Province in conjunction with the Ministry of Unification plans to hold an international conference on the prospects for the peace park and Korea’s hosting of the U.N. office in Geneva, Friday (local time).

Noted U.N. experts will engage in an in-depth discussion on the feasibility of the U.N. organization on the Korean Peninsula. The participants will include Michael Muller, director general of the U.N. Office in Geneva (UNOG) and Keith Harper, U.S. Representative to the Human Rights Council.

In the meantime, Chung, a former ambassador to China, stressed the role of China in promoting the reunification of the two Koreas. “China’s role toward that end cannot be overemphasized.”

He said the relation between Pyongyang and Beijing has begun to take a pragmatic and realistic approach, and enter into a normal track.

“In the past, their relations were ideology-oriented with each of their communist parties taking the lead.

“But these days, the relationship has ushered into a normal one at the governmental level, which is a good sign toward changing North Korea in the lead up to reunification.”

He cited as an example the more brisk market activities in the North. “The active exchanges with other countries, like China in particular, will help facilitate the much-touted national reunification.”

Chung said the two Koreas will be able to lay the groundwork for unification in the next five to 10 years.

He also said North Korea appears to be ramping up efforts to restore inter-Korean talks in spite of a series of recent military provocations.

“It’s important to engage in inter-Korean relations with a big picture mindset,” Chung said.

“The time has come for the two Koreas to have active inter-Korean dialogue. We need to put aside Pyongyang’s latest military threats, which I’d consider small incidents, as we increase inter-Korean reconciliatory efforts.”

According to Chung, the committee is seeking long-term solutions to bring the two Koreas together peacefully.

“North Korea seems to have a stable power structure under its leader Kim Jong-un and has shown no signs of civil or military disturbance,” he said.


Seoul’s possible NK assimilation

The Presidential Committee for Unification Preparation was set up to implement President Park’s Dresden Initiative.

The initiative seeks to bolster cross-border exchanges as a first step toward building trust between the two Koreas to lay the groundwork for their unification.

The goals include South Korea investing in infrastructure, along with the construction of multi-farming complexes in North Korea, collaborative projects with China and Russia, and joint natural resource development projects.

The President’s two signature North Korea policies, however, have provoked Pyongyang, which claims they are intended to tear down and assimilate its regime.

Chung dismissed such speculation.

“We have been embarrassed by such perspective,” Chung said.

“The cost for possible assimilation of North Korea will be extremely burdensome for us. Furthermore, we can’t predict what the consequence will be because our neighboring countries, including China, will be very concerned.

“I want to make sure we seek to bring the two Koreas together in a peaceful and cooperative manner.”

The 50-member committee is subdivided to cover four areas — foreign affairs and security, the economy, social affairs, as well as politics and legal systems.

The committee members are comprosed of the President, 11 high-ranking government officials, 30 private experts from research centers and universities, a lawmaker from the ruling and main opposition parties and heads of six state-run thinktanks.


Who is Chung Chong-wook?


Ph.D. in political science, Yale University (1975)

MA in political science, University of Hawaii (1970)

BA in international relations, Seoul Nat’l University (1965)

Academic career

Distinguished professor, Incheon Nat’l University (2014-present)

Professor of international relations, Seoul Nat’l University (1977-1993)

Governmental activities

Vice chairman, Presidential Committee for Unification Preparation (2014-present)

Member, Presidential National Security Advisory Group (2013-present)

Korean ambassador to China (1995-1998)

National security adviser to President Kim Young-sam (1993-1994)