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B. Courmont: Address to Summit 2022, Session VIIa

Address to Summit 2022 and Leadership Conference,
Seoul, Korea, August 11-15, 2022


I would like to give a special thank you to the UPF for giving me the opportunity to be here. It’s a great pleasure to have this meeting with very distinguished and very prestigious experts on many issues.

It is also my great pleasure to come back to Korea. As Jacques has mentioned, I used to live and teach here. I was actually a professor in the International Relations Department of Halim University in Kunshan. I think every person from Korea in this room knows that Kunshan is famous for three things: chicken, hiking trails, and the drama “A Winter Sonata.” I enjoyed this for three years. It was also my privilege.

It was also my privilege during that period of time to teach one very specific class to my Korean students at Halim. That class was about Korean unification. At first, I was a bit worried: How can I provide any new evidence for Koreans about the unification of their own country? Very quickly it came to me that it was actually great to open a dialog based on a different understanding of what it means for Koreans and for the world to think about the unification of Korea and to think about different trajectories of unification. It was an extremely interesting experience for me and I hope it was also interesting for my students.

What I noticed in the dialog, in the exchange of views, is the diversity of the perceptions of unification for the Korean students and perhaps for the whole Korean society. I had many students who had absolutely no interest in unification. They were probably more interested in K-Pop or thinking about their future than thinking about trying to combine forces with this country which has always been a foreign country, after all, for them, at least in the past seven decades, as several speakers have already mentioned. I had some students who just told me, “Well, unification will happen. We don’t know how, but it will happen anyway.” And they didn’t have any solution. But they had this certainty in mind that eventually the two Koreas will be combined.

I had some other students who were willing to tell me, “Well, yes, we are open to the idea of being reunited with the North Koreans. But what will be the cost and what would be the consequences? Is it going to create a greater Korea, a more powerful Korea, a more visible Korea? Or to the contrary, is it something that might somehow jeopardize the future of Korea and leave us back to the situation that we used to know before—stuck in between two powers, China and Japan, to which we may add another one, the United States?”

You see many different perceptions, many different views. I think it is very interesting to listen to the Koreans to know exactly what is the perception they have of unification and to combine it with our expertise and with the geopolitical aspects of this unification.

I listened very carefully this morning to the two presenters and their very interesting and comprehensive presentations, and I would like to emphasize just three points that I find very interesting and inspiring.

The first one, which was given by a Professor Kim, is the idea that unification does not really exist. We may talk about absorption and of course the example of Germany is here to remind us that, well, when it comes to such a difference of political regime, unification is only possible once one of the regimes accepts that it will collapse and disappear, which is what happened with East Germany. So are we going to make it possible? And if yes, how can we somehow convince the North Koreans to give up on their regime and to accept the idea of becoming citizens of the Republic of Korea and therefore advocate the enlargement of South Korea?

The second idea, which was actually presented by both presenters this morning, is the idea that we have to consider it from a larger point of view, including also those who have a particular experience in unification or the process of unification or, let’s say, peace talks. Both of them mentioned the European Union, for instance.

Yes, it is a geopolitical problem. It is a problem of concern for all of us. I think this is also what justifies the fact that in various countries in the world, we are very interested, if not sometimes obsessed, by Korean unification and the peace talks in the peninsula.

The last point was made by Professor Mansourov, which I found also very interesting, which is how to understand the North Korean regime and the rationality of the North Korean regime. Any possibility to engage in a dialog based on either unification or implementation of peace in the peninsula requires a more comprehensive dialog with the North Koreans. We have to advocate this dialog.

What we have noticed in the past couple of decades—I’m not even talking about ancient history here—is the fact that sometimes it worked pretty efficiently, and sometimes unfortunately not. The question is, how can we make it possible and sustainable for future implementation, first a peace agreement and then maybe at the second stage, unification, I think over time.

Thank you very much.



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