The “third party” in inter-Korean relations and its potential contribution to modern Asian thought
ABSTRACT This article begins by noting the peculiarity of the Korean situation, where a “division system” encompasses both sides of the divided peninsula. It then stresses the role of South Korea’s civilian society as the “third party” in the protracted, hitherto unsuccessful process of reunification, and recalls that an unprecedented Korean-style reunification of gradual, phased re-integration was already agreed upon at the North-South summit of June 2000, and that such a process both allows and necessitates significant civilian initiatives. After discussing the regional and global implications that the success of this process might have, including its impact on the looming historical choice between a substantially better and only superficially different alternatives to the reigning capitalist world-system, it takes up the “third party’s” potential contribution to modern Asian thought, and ends with some cursory remarks on each word of the phrase: Asia, modernity, and thought. A “double project of adapting to and overcoming modernity” is advocated as the only adequate response to modernity while it lasts, and a productive dialogue across the East/West divide in philosophical endeavors as well is postulated as a prerequisite for the successful overcoming of modernity.
Keywords: Korean Peninsula, inter-Korean relations, division system, civic participation, world-system, modernity, Asian thought
Paik Nak-chung is a literary critic, Professor Emeritus of English at Seoul National University, and the registered editor of The Changbi Quarterly.