SEOUL, Oct. 1 (UPI) -- Rumors that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un had been overthrown in a military coup circulated among participants at a conference here on Korean Unification Tuesday. The story came from blogging sites in China. It illustrated a key conference message that change could come at any moment on the Korean peninsula so people should prepare now for unification.
The Global Peace Leadership Conference – Korea 2014 was held to build consensus in South Korean society to prepare for future unification. Action for Korea United, the main organizer, is a coalition of almost 400 religious and civic organizations in South Korea, representing a broad range of views, which are active on North Korean issues. The Korea NGO Association, and the Buddhist-related Korean Sharing Movement were also active organizers.
Participants came from a wide spectrum of Korean society to discuss the theme: "Vision, Principles, and Values for a Unified Korea." They included politicians of both main parties, government officials, scholars, leaders of six main faiths in Korea, and humanitarian aid and human rights groups.
A feature of the conference was the launch of the book, "The Korean Dream: A Vision for a United Korea," by Dr. Hyun Jin Preston Moon, founder and chair of the Global Peace Foundation. It calls for greater public engagement with the unification issue through the activities of civil society organizations working in partnership with government. Dr. Moon and GPF were instrumental in setting up AKU in 2012.
This call was supported by government representatives. "It is time for the people to cooperate with preparing for unification," Vice Minister for Unification, Nam-sik Kim told participants. Representative of the ruling Saenuri party, Sang-hyun Kim, said, "This conference has opened the door for the people to talk about Korean unification."
"The Korean Dream" also looks to Korean history for a framework that can move Koreans past the current division. Dr. Moon explained, "I realized in talking about Korean unification, political leaders and academics were not tapping into that rich wealth of common identity, history and culture that could be the basis of unity for the Korean people, North and South, and in the diaspora community. That became the genesis for this book."
International speakers included Dr. Edwin Feulner, founder of the Heritage Foundation in Washington, DC, Dr. Victor Cha, Korea Chair at the Center of Strategic and International Studies in Washington, DC, and Professor Feng Zhu of Nanjing University in China.
Dr. Feulner urged the continued importance of the U.S.-South Korea alliance in any move toward unification with South Korea taking the lead.
Professor Zhu said, "International dynamics in the Asia-Pacific region have never been better for the grand enterprise of Korean reunification since the end of the Cold War." He pointed to the growing cooperation between China and South Korea, a reassessment of China's policy on North Korea, and public opinion that was 75 percent in favor of unification under South Korean leadership.
Dr. Cha said that China and South Korea's interests would overlap significantly once China stopped believing it needed North Korea as a buffer state. He did not believe that this might lead to a deal that excluded the U.S. "South Koreans ... know that their outreach to China is only credible if it is grounded in a strong alliance with the U.S."
He concluded by saying unification was something "many of us in this room will witness, perhaps not next week or next year, but certainly within our lifetime."