Wednesday, July 23, 2014

A Communication Theory of Korean Unification

This post was prompted by an article entitled "Five Theories of Unification," by Victor Cha of Georgetown University who also holds the Korea Chair at CSIS.  It appeared in The Korea Joongang Daily and in a slightly different form on the Korea Chair Platform.  The article briefly sketches five possible perspectives on unification that correspond roughly to different periods in Korean history and different presidential administrations.   However, readers of this blog will not be surprised to learn that I found another very persuasive perspective on Korean unification missing from Professor Cha's analysis, and that is the communication and network theoretic point of view.  (Check out my prior numerous posts on this topic here.)  My hunch that something was missing in the five theories was confirmed by viewing President Park Geun Hye's historic speech in Dresden earlier this year, where she laid out her three-point agenda for Korean unification.   The accompanying YouTube video contains the Arirang Television live broadcast of her speech, with simultaneous translation in English (the speech begins at 35:44 of the video, should you choose to view it here).
As I've discussed in earlier posts, communication is in many ways the essence of the unification problem, both in terms of digital network infrastructure for modern mobile broadband and in terms of human communication across what President Park described in her speech as a "wall of distrust" and a "socio-cultural" divide that has grown on the Korean peninsula over the past 70 years.
I also found it highly significant that President Park chose the Dresden University of Technology for her speech, which she began with reference to a Korean saying that "the impact of education lasts for generations and beyond."  She followed that by noting that she herself had majored in electrical engineering and that she firmly believed science and technology were the key to unlocking a nation's growth.  "This is why I established the Ministry of Science, ICT and Future Planning early in my presidency and this is also precisely why I have been highlighting the importance of building a creative economy."
All of the three main points in President Park's Dresden speech involve strong elements of human communication of different sorts, ranging from reunification of divided families, to building telecommunications, transportation and other forms of infrastructure.   Communication is arguably, as Wilbur Schramm wrote years ago, the "fundamental social process."  As Korea's continued tragic division shows, it is also central to politics and economics.  Finally, it is an essential ingredient in education at all levels, underscored over the past several years by the rapid rise of massive open online courses (MOOCs).  Near the conclusion of her speech, President Park envisioned a day when young students from North and South Korea (like those in her audience at Dresden University of Technology) would study together side by side on a unified Korean peninsula.

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