Why don't Koreans like the South?
Germany and Korea : The lost friend
After two years of hope, diplomatic efforts to bring about a peaceful settlement of the nuclear conflict on the Korean peninsula have again stalled.
Despite all the declarations of intent, the summit that US President Trump and North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un brought together in Singapore in June 2018, where they mainly talked about reducing the North Korean nuclear program, did not achieve any reliable success. War between North and South Korea is no longer excluded. The German public does not seem to be affected.
As a South Korean living in Germany, that makes me sad. Because it's about a war in my homeland, about the death of a great many people and destruction of unimaginable proportions. The argument that you have to accept a war yourself to force the denuclearization of North Korea pains me.
To hear something like this in Germany, the country that Koreans love so much and that they have a lot of trust in, hurts me deeply. I had always thought that in Germany you could best understand the pain of a divided country and that you would therefore do everything possible not to endanger the precarious peace on the Korean peninsula.
70 years of the Korean War
2020 will mark the seventieth anniversary of the Korean War. In this war, the first military conflict of the Cold War, millions of people lost their lives. They didn't know what to leave it for.
The traumatic memories of that brutal war that began on June 25, 1950 have persisted in all Koreans to this day. Not least because of this war, the consensus is said to have developed in Germany that a war between East and West Germany should definitely be avoided.
Even after the Wall was built in 1961, Willy Brandt insisted on the need for a new Ostpolitik. This was the beginning of the “change through rapprochement” policy.
In a situation in which there seemed to be no way out of the hardened confrontation between East and West, he appealed to everyone to use a policy of small steps to alleviate the suffering of the citizens caused by division. The majority of the citizens of West Berlin supported him in this.
One can imagine how horrified these citizens were when Gerhard Schröder, Adenauer's then Interior Minister (not to be confused with the later SPD Chancellor), announced in 1959 that it would be cheaper to move West Berlin to the Lüneburg Heath than it was then Maintain state. The response to Willy Brandt's appeals from West Berliners was all the greater.
Feelings like at the time of the Cuban Missile Crisis
Today the South Koreans view world politics with similar feelings as the West Germans during the Cuban Missile Crisis and the construction of the Berlin Wall at the beginning of the 1960s. There is little they can do by themselves when politicians and generals in the US and Europe are talking about another Korean War. You can only hope and pray that the renewed tensions between the US and North Korea will not have disastrous consequences for the Korean peninsula.
If war breaks out - in whatever form - 75 million people in the north and south of the Korean peninsula would be threatened. In the metropolis of Seoul alone, 25 million people live less than 50 kilometers from the border with the north.
In view of the horror of war and the limited resources available, they can only hope for the will of the great powers and their allies for peace and for their support for the dialogue and rapprochement between the two Koreas.
However, Germany does not currently appear to be on the side of those who support South Korea's efforts to maintain peace and dialogue. Rather, as a member of the United Nation's Security Council, Germany has sided with the hardliners.
Germany has adopted the demands of John Bolton, who was until recently the US President's security advisor. It requires, although this is already considered technically unrealistic by most experts, as a prerequisite for negotiations an immediate, complete and irreversible destruction of all North Korea's nuclear programs. Most recently, the recent summit between Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un in Hanoi in February 2019 should have failed due to such demands.
The hardened position of all these hardliners who operate on the international political stage is making the Korean peace process, for which South Korean President Moon Jae In has been campaigning with all his might since he took office two years ago, considerably more difficult. Unfortunately, Germany does not support him either. For me and many others this is a bitter disappointment.
Small Step Policy
Germany, of all people, the trusted friend, is not one of the supporters of the peace process on the Korean peninsula!
In the past, German politicians and experts have always emphasized to their South Korean colleagues the special importance of the policy of small steps for reunification. In February 2018, Federal President Steinmeier emphasized this at the meeting with President Moon Jae In and assured him of his support for the peace process initiated by Moon.
Nevertheless, Germany is currently ignoring the efforts of the South Korean government. Instead, it calls for a tightening of sanctions against North Korea, even though international sanction experts all say that there is next to nothing to sanction because of the current comprehensive sanctions regime.
The reasons why Germany of all people does not support the peace process on the Korean peninsula and why it has become the engine of even more stringent EU sanctions are not known.
Here, research on German-Korean relations will have to deal with an ungrateful field in the future. But I - and with me many South Koreans - wish with all my heart more than ever that Germany will become a good friend of Korea again and support the peace process with all of my strength and imagination.
Eun-Jeung Lee, born in Daejeon in 1963, heads the Institute for Korean Studies at the Free University of Berlin. Among other things, she deals with the history of intercultural ideas and has published several times on Confucianism. In November 2019 she received the Moran Medal of the South Korean President for her contribution to the scientific communication of the problems of reunification.
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