August 1, 2006｜Korean Peninsula
Lee Jeong Ok
Director, Public Participation Division, Ministry of Unification
On 30th June this year, a law of landmark importance in the history of the development of South-North relations entered into force in the ROK. This was the “Law Concerning the Development of South-North Relations” (hereafter referred to as the South-North Relations Development Law). The significance and impact on the future development of South-North relations of this short law, which consists of 23 clauses in total, are expected to be very great.
Since the South-North summit in 2000, when they recognized each other’s existence, the two Koreas have reestablished trust through exchange and cooperation, and have devoted every effort to achieving reconciliation and joint prosperity. As a result, South-North dialogue has increased and exchange and cooperation in various fields has also intensified. In particular, by 2005, the number of people crossing between the ROK and the DPRK each year was close to 90,000, in excess of the total number of those crossing between the two countries during the 60 years after partition, and the value of trade has reached $1 billion annually. The compelling nature of the need to develop institutional and legal measures to support further efforts to promote the development of South-North relations amidst this changing situation was behind the birth of this new law.
Since 1990, the Law on South-North Exchange and Cooperation, which stipulated procedures for exchange and cooperation at the private level, has regulated such matters as movements of people and trade in commodities, but this law did not comprehensively regulate the reality of South-North relations. The South-North Relations Development Law stipulates basic issues aimed at the development of South-North relations, such as the basic principles of the development of South-North relations, as well as South-North relations themselves, the responsibilities of the government of the ROK, the appointment of representatives at South-North talks, and the conclusion of South-North agreements.
In other words, this law sets forth the basis and procedures for appointing special envoys to the DPRK and representatives at South-North talks, which had hitherto been conducted without a clear legal basis, and also clarifies the procedures relating to policy on the DPRK, such as the conclusion and ratification of South-North agreements. Consequently, it is expected that, while shifting policy on the DPRK from the realm of a sovereign act, to which it had hitherto been confined, into the realm of the rule of law, and laying the foundations for the promotion of transparent policies, this law will make a significant contribution to ensuring the legal stability of the development of South-North relations in the future.
Moreover, this law stipulates that South-North relations are “not relations between states, but special relations formed tentatively in the process of aspiring to unification.” This is an open concept that, rather than recognizing the DPRK as a political entity, takes into consideration the fact that the constitution does not permit relations between them as states, while in practical terms it is difficult to perceive their relationship as internal relations. On the other hand, with regard to the nature of South-North trade, it is designated as “internal trade between members of a single nation, rather than trade between states”, and a legal basis has been established to ensure that South-North trade is not subject to the imposition of customs duty.
In addition, with regard to the responsibilities of the government concerning the development of South-North relations, this law regulates such matters as the promotion of peace on the Korean Peninsula, the realization of a South-North economic community, the recovery of a sense of kindred amongst the Korean people, the resolution of humanitarian problems, support for the DPRK and the promotion of cooperation in the international community. In particular, under this law, the Minister for Unification must formulate a “Basic Plan Concerning the Development of South-North Relations” every five years, aimed at presenting a medium- to long-term vision for the development of South-North relations, and parliamentary approval must be secured for basic plans that require a budget. It is thought that, through this, policies vis-à-vis the DPRK will be translated into reality with regard to each subject and the conditions will be put in place for promoting the medium- to long-term vision consistently, without being affected by changes in the domestic political situation. In addition, it will guarantee the participation of private sector experts, including personnel recommended by the parliament’s speaker, in the Committee on the Development of South-North Relations, which will be the forum for discussing these five-year basic plans, and will seek the consent of the populace from the stage at which policies concerning the DPRK are formulated.
Just as the basic treaty concluded in the past between East and West Germany and the various laws implementing this formed the legal basis for German reunification, I hope that this law, which reflects the main content and spirit of the Agreement on Reconciliation, Nonaggression, and Exchanges and Cooperation Between South and North Korea (concluded in 1992), will deepen trust and peaceful coexistence between the two Koreas and become a solid foundation supporting unification.
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