A Philippines-South Korea University; unwavering hopes for Korean unification


Jose de Venecia Jr.
Former Speaker of the House

In February, 2010, in Seoul, we proposed to then Foreign Minister Yu MyungHwan the establishment in Manila of a Philippines-South Korea University, following our much earlier discussions with then Korean Ambassador in Manila, HE Choi Joong-Kyung, then Vice Speaker of the Korean National Assembly Moon Heesang, and other senior leaders of the Korean parliament.

We thought the proposed project would strengthen the economic and political partnership between the Philippines and South Korea through an educational facility for development and joint research activities. It would be designed to put in place mechanisms for the conduct of collaborative research and development programs and projects. The relatively more advanced facilities and training sites in South Korea could be replicated in the Philippines.

Foreign Minister Yu’s response was positive and he set the preliminary process in motion. He has since retired and now the project is in limbo.

Perhaps the South Korean and Philippine governments should revive this proposal as the benefits of a Philippines-South Korea University will be valuable and its legacy and operation will endure for hundreds of years and be a continuing testament to the special friendship and partnership between the South Korean and Filipino peoples. Korean Official and Development Assistance (ODA) invested in many finite infrastructure projects in the Philippines but a university is timeless and can last for hundreds of years.

On a related note, earlier in 2006, as our contribution in helping encourage direct talks between Seoul and Pyongyang, we transferred from Manila to Seoul the Secretariat of the International Conference of Asian Political Parties (ICAPP), which we founded and established in Manila in September, 2000, and of which we are privileged to serve as founding chairman and Chairman of the Standing Committee up to now. The ICAPP Secretariat is now most active in Seoul. The political parties of South Korea are members of ICAPP as well as North Korea’s Korean Workers Party.

ICAPP now counts some 350 ruling, opposition, and independent political parties in 52 countries in Asia, including the major political parties in our country the Philippines.

Over the years, since we first travelled to Pyongyang, the North Korean capital, in 1990, as a young congressman, as then acting chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee of the House of Representatives, our visit and talks with North Korea’s founding President Kim Il-Sung resulted in a return visit to Manila by then North Korean Vice Premier Kim Dahl Hyun, and the rapid establishment of diplomatic relations between the Philippines and North Korea (DPRK), with the active support of then President Corazon Aquino and the Foreign Secretary Raul Manglapus.

As chairman of the International Conference of Asian Political Parties (ICAPP), we have been mobilizing the Asian political parties in the hope that we can help bridge the gap between the two Koreas by helping promote the feasibility of establishing the Korean Confederation for the two Koreas, ideally working with the North’s sole political organization, the Korean Workers Party.

We envisioned that South and North would keep their independent countries separate but in peace and join in a loose confederation, normally trading and doing business, engaging in cross-trade and tourism, developing their agriculture, industries, fisheries, highways, airways, and railways system, and connecting from Pusan in the deep south (gateway to Japan), all the way to the north, in a Trans-Siberia Railway leading to Russia and to Europe.

This is possible and probable if there is common will, with the support of the US, China, Russia, and Japan, with ASEAN, the European Union, and UN providing guidance and active support.

It is not fair to ask North Korea now to give up its nuclear weapons and it will not, but the relations between the two Koreas can and should develop normally, if they start preparing for it now.

Now to secure the deal with North Korea, the key is to forge initially a respectable  confederation between North and South, There would be no harm to the South, which is far bigger, already industrialized and wealthy. And the North can build its economy, industries, agriculture and trade. A common North-South railway would extend all the way from Pusan in the south, to Russia and on to Europe.

In earlier days, atomic powers like Kazakhstan, which is almost as large as Western Europe, also voluntarily demilitarized and gave up its nuclear weapons and today leads in Eurasia.

Indeed North Korea could leverage and give up its nuclear weapons in exchange for large-scale cash and economic assistance and rapidly build up its economy and be equal in status as sovereigns with South Korea.

In a confederation, North and South would be co-equal sovereign nations, with some centralizing connectivity, and in the fullness of time, could decide to unite as one nation-state like the two Germanys and the two Vietnams.

Students of realpolitik will say that maybe our hopes represent wishful thinking but that is how all impossible initiatives begin.