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‘Economic interdependence key to resolving nuclear standoff’: ex-Unification Minister

JEJU ISLAND -- Deepening economic interdependence with North Korea is key to resolving the decades-old nuclear crisis and preventing war, a former unification minister said Tuesday at an international forum on peace and security.

“The best way to avert a war is to create an economic cooperative body with North Korea,” Lee Jong-suk, the former unification minister who advises President Moon Jae-in on inter-Korean relations, said at the 13th Jeju Forum. “We should more strategically consider (expanding) economic cooperation with North Korea, given that is what makes the Korean Peninsula war-free and nuclear weapons useless.”

“As we are preoccupied with the issue of denuclearization and North Korea’s nuclear weapons, we forget the implications of creating an economic cooperative body among South Korea, North Korea, China and Japan on politics and security in the region,” he said at the session on change and continuity of North Korea. 

Former Unification Minister Lee Jong-suk. (The Korea Herald File Photo)
Former Unification Minister Lee Jong-suk. (The Korea Herald File Photo)

The three-day Jeju Forum, titled “Re-engineering Peace for Asia,” opened Tuesday on the southern island of Jeju, bringing together hundreds of government officials and prominent scholars on Korea from around the world.

Through sessions in five categories including peace, prosperity and sustainability, attendees are to delve into the fast-changing diplomatic landscape over North Korea’s commitment to “complete denuclearization” and explore ways to establish a lasting peace regime in the region, following an unprecedented summit between the US and North Korea on June 12.

Amid a rare rapprochement in relations between North Korea and the US, South Korea is also preparing to further defuse cross-border tensions and expand inter-Korean exchanges as agreed at the historic inter-Korean summit on April 27.

Citing North Korea’s skilled labor, natural resources and location wedged between South Korea, China and Russia, he said, “International capital will be naturally flowing into North Korea when the US lifts sanctions against North Korea and establishes diplomatic relations with it.”

Fellow former Unification Minister Jeong Se-hyun said at the forum that South Korea should move proactively to gain a competitive edge over China and Japan in engaging with North Korea financially in the post-denuclearization era.

“There is a resistance in South Korea about economic support for North Korea,” he said. “But imagine. When South Korea is hesitant, China makes inroads into North Korea and the North Korean economy will become dominated by China. If Japan makes inroads into North Korea with its economic power, the North Korean economy could become dominated by Japan.”

By Ock Hyun-ju (