South Korean President Park Geun Hye turned to reunited Germany for inspiration as she pushes for an end to the Korean peninsula’s six-decade divide.
Park met Chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin today on a trip that includes a stop in Dresden, where mass protests helped bring down East Germany’s communist regime in 1989. She may use the city as the stage to expand her vision for unification with North Korea in a speech scheduled for March 28, according to South Korea’s Yonhap news agency.
Underpinning Park’s visit is Germany’s experience of east-west reunification in 1990, which sealed the end of Europe’s division during the Cold War and paved the way for Merkel to become Germany’s first woman chancellor in 2005. Park, 62, became South Korea’s first female president last year and shares a scientific background with Merkel, 59. Merkel is a physicist and Park studied electronic engineering.
“Germany and Korea have a special relationship through the painful experience of division,” Park said at a joint news conference with Merkel today. “Germany is an example and a model for a peaceful reunification of our own country.”
Merkel said there’s room to expand trade with South Korea, the world’s 12th-biggest economy and the third-biggest importer of German goods in Asia. Germany’s goods-trade surplus with South Korea increased 34 percent during the first six months of 2013 compared to a year earlier, according to Eurostat.
Park faces “growing pressure at home to produce a more concrete vision” for reuniting the two Koreas, Shada Islam, an Asia analyst at the Friends of Europe advisory group in Brussels, said by phone. “Looking to Germany for unity lessons isn’t new, but it’s picking up momentum because the situation in North Korea is so dire, unpredictable and volatile.”
Park has described last month’s resumption of Korean family reunions, last held in 2010, as the starting point for improved relations with the North in the stalemate that has festered since the Korean War that ended in 1953 without a peace agreement. Shinyoung Asset Management this month opened the first South Korean fund focusing on equities that would benefit from a unified peninsula.
Korean reunification is more difficult than Germany’s because the two countries have fewer cross-border links, Merkel said. “It will require a lot of strength,” she said.
Public interest in Korean unification “has admittedly declined,” Park said in an interview with Bloomberg News in January. Unity would allow South Korea’s economy “to take a fresh leap forward,” said Park, the daughter of Park Chung Hee, who ruled South Korea during the 1960s and 1970s.
Park will receive an honorary doctorate and give a speech at Dresden’s Technical University on March 28, according to a schedule e-mailed by the Saxony state government. While details haven’t been disclosed, Park said in an interview with the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung newspaper that Korean reunification requires a longer lead time than German unity because the communist North is so isolated.
“Looking around the world, you don’t find many examples and even fewer good examples of unification or reunification,” Fredrik Erixon, head of the European Centre for International Political Economy in Brussels, said by phone. “President Park wants to use German unity symbolism to burnish her discussion of Korean reunification.”