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South Korea and the Philippines: Focus on defense cooperation

Whenever the matter of South Korea comes up, the issue of reunification of Korean peninsula is always part of the discussion.

This was among the many issues that were taken up with South Korean Ambassador to the Philippines Han Dong-Man during the Business Mirror Coffee Club meeting in Makati last week.

The South Korean envoy admitted that there was a generation gap among South Koreans on how they view the reunification issue.


“Generally speaking, many young South Koreans want the status quo while the older generation who experienced the Korean War wants to see reunification,” he said.

However, that difference in attitude seemed to be decreasing.

The ambassador said that a public poll in South Korea showed that more than 50% of young South Koreans were now in favor of reunification.

This was apparently the prevailing view despite the common perception that reunification could lead to an economic downturn for South Koreans.

The South Korean diplomat, however, explained that the new view was prevailing because reunification could bring an economic resurgence or economic boom for Koreans.

“According to a leading investment bank, a reunified Korean economy would be ranked seventh in the world if we combine North Korea’s cheap labor and abundant natural resources with South Korea’s cutting-edge technologies,” he said.

He admitted that this was a “very optimistic viewpoint.”

“But it is better to be optimistic than pessimistic,” he pointed out.


Despite the prevailing optimism, he acknowledged that reunification would not be an easy task.

“There’s a wrong way to go about reunification,” he said. “We have different social and political systems between the two Koreas so the future lies with how to integrate the two economically, socially, politically and culturally.”

Regarding reunification, he pointed to the German experience.

“We learned many lessons from Germany,” he said. “We should not repeat the same mistakes. That’s why we should be very cautious.”

“It is about bringing about peace and stability, first of all, in the Korean peninsula and then moving on to reunification,” he said. “To do that, we should increase our cooperation and reconciliation with North Korea vis a vis many sectors.”


“For a long time, North Korea has had two policies, nuclear development and economic development,” he added. “But North Korea cannot have its cake and eat it, too.”

“So as things stand now, the North Korean economy has worsened,” he said. “Reportedly, most North Korean children are suffering from hunger and malnutrition. That is why, recently, the United Nations has provided humanitarian assistance.”

That was why South Korea was continuing to cooperate with North Korea, he explained.

“Right now, there’s a huge economic gap between South and North Korea,” he pointed out. “The question is how we can lower that gap.”

The goal was to find a “win-win solution that will benefit both the North and the South in the future.”

“If we look at the reunification of Germany, the West German economy was larger than East Germany,” he explained. “And there were some lessons on how we can we manage it, economically.”


According to the South Korean ambassador, reunification should not just be treated as a Korean issue.

He stressed that it was also an international issue, just like the issue of North Korean nuclear arms was not just a Korean issue but an international issue.

South Korean Ambassador to the Philippines Han Dong-Man

“Korean reunification will bring peace and stability in the in the Korean peninsula,” he said. “I believe the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank can provide assistance to the North Korean territory after reunification. It’s our hope.”

“So, if North Korea gives up its nuclear arsenal, then South Korea, Japan, the United States and the international community can provide a huge economic assistance to North Korea,” he added. “It’s our hope that before reunification, it’s better to revitalize the North Korean economy.”



He also acknowledged the assistance of the Philippines regarding the matter.

“Last year, as chair of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean), the Philippines had a wonderful stewardship about the North Korean issue,” the envoy said. “We hope that the Philippines will continue to show your support for our endeavors to bring peace and stability to the Korean peninsula.”

(AP Photo/Yong Teck Lim)

He pointed out that the Asean Regional Forum could also serve as “a very good vehicle to secure peace and stability not only in the Korean peninsula but also in other issues.”

Aside with working with the Philippines on the North Korean issue, the South Korean diplomat said that Seoul was working on expanding its defense ties with Manila. This was part of South Korea’s expression of gratitude for the Filipino soldiers who fought in the Korean War.


“We are also expanding our military and defense cooperation with the Philippine government, which has purchased our FA-50 jet fighter,” he said. “This aircraft proved itself in the fight against the terrorists in Marawi.”

“And your government has also decided to buy two South Korean frigates from Hyundai,” he added. “These two ships will be completed in 2020. Once delivered, our two Korean frigates will improve your capabilities in the South China Sea, the West Philippine Sea, the Sulu Sea and some other areas that need more security because of the Abu Sayyaf. One South Korean sailor was kidnapped two years ago but released after a few months.”

“Your new frigates will be very useful in improving your country’s safety and security,” he said.

He explained that as part of the expansion of military cooperation between the two countries, Filipino cadets had been invited to train in South Korea.


Another point of cooperation was the sharing of selected defense information between the Philippines and South Korea, he said, pointing to an issue that was of common interest, the abduction of three Filipinos and a South Korean in Libya last July.

“South Korea has deployed one frigate to Libya,” the South Korean envoy said. “Labor Secretary Bello called because he is part of the taskforce tasked to work for the release of the hostages.”

South Korean President Moon Jae-in, right, offers a handshake to Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon. Pool)

“South Korea and the Philippines are fully cooperating to free the hostages,” he said. “However, we have no intention to conduct a military operation because that would put the lives of the hostages at risk.”

According to reports, a still unidentified armed group abducted three Filipinos and a South Korean on July 6 at a water plant in Jabal Hasouna in the western part of Libya.

Reports said the South Korean foreign ministry had requested the press to refrain from reporting the case out of fear that the publicity could adversely affect efforts to have the hostages freed.

When the South Korean envoy said that his government sent a frigate to the Mediterranean Sea, this was about the South Korean anti-piracy unit Cheonghae. This unit was forward deployed as South Korea’s contribution to international anti-piracy efforts off Somalia and Oman.

According to the Korea Herald, the Cheonghae unit was now stationed near the Greek island of Crete.

This unit was received the gratitude of top South Korean government officials for its role in the release of three South Korean pirates last April. However, the exact role of the South Korean unit played was not disclosed.


Aside from working together on the hostage crisis in Libya, the South Korean ambassador to the Philippines said submarines could be another point for military cooperation between the Philippines and South Korea.

“The Philippines has no submarine to secure your sea areas, including the West Philippine Sea,” he said. “It is necessary to have a submarine.  We are now talking about submarines and small arms.”

He said officials were looking at the possibility of South Korean rifle companies to manufacture rifles in the Philippines for use in our South Korean and Philippine armies, and possibly for export to other Southeast Asian countries.

“If the plan is realized, this would create more jobs for the Philippines,” he said. “That’s one probable point of close cooperation. It could happen.” G



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