With inter-Korean confrontation expanding into a "New Cold War" narrative involving the United States, Japan, China and Russia, the outlook is getting gloomier for a unified Korea.
A recent poll by Seoul National University's Institute for Peace and Unification Studies showed that 43.8 percent of 1,200 respondents said they believe unification is necessary, marking the lowest number since the annual survey began in 2007. This means that a growing number of people are taking the two Koreas' division for granted at least in South Korea.
In the North, the Kim Jong-un regime has started referring to the South as "the Republic of Korea" instead of its usual term "South Chosun." This change, in comparison to its self-designated name of "North Chosun," signals the North's repositioning of the South as a distinct nation.
However, Hyun Jin Preston Moon, the founder and chairman of the Global Peace Foundation (GPF), a Washington D.C.-based non-governmental organization, says this is not a desirable progression, given the benefits and advantages that unification could bring.
"You have all the world leaders now realizing that the peaceful unification of the Korean Peninsula is the only and the best way to deal with the nuclear proliferation issue, as well as the destabilization in Northeast Asia, the most dynamic and significant region in the world," Moon said during a joint interview with news outlets on the sidelines of the International Forum on One Korea in Seoul, Monday.
Moon cited the recent trilateral summit between South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol, U.S. President Joe Biden and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida at the U.S. presidential retreat of Camp David in August as a case in point illustrating the proven importance of unification.
During the Camp David summit, the leaders elevated the three countries' ties to a level of quasi-alliance in fields spanning from security to economy and social exchange.
While the stronger three-way cooperation was widely recognized for its function as a countermeasure to the North's escalating nuclear and missile threats, Moon underscored the fact that the leaders stated their support for the peaceful unification of the Korean Peninsula in their joint statement, titled the Spirit of Camp David.
"What is one of the clear outcomes of Camp David? It was that the trilateral alliance would support the peaceful unification of the Korean Peninsula. It is not just to strengthen the trilateral alliance," Moon said.
"The key element of the Camp David accord is not just the strengthening of the tripartite alliance, it is actually, the commitment of these nations to the peaceful unification of Korean Peninsula."
Moon, who founded the GPF in 2009, has been championing the benefits and necessity of unification through international forums and a belief that the unification must be driven by a civil movement of Koreans, in the South and the diaspora, with broad international support.
He underscored that the unification should be driven by grassroots movements because inter-governmental talks have achieved nothing to date except to help create a more powerful nuclear-armed North Korea.
"At around 2010, some of the most influential thinkers in Korea advised me that Korean people are not interested in unification," Moon said. "They looked at the feasibility and the possibility of unification being some type of inter-governmental negotiation. That is a flawed model."
He said those inter-governmental negotiations do not guarantee what the Korean people really want from unification, but rather become a dangerous gamble risking the future of a unified Korea without understanding how Koreans want to shape their new country.
"They were just throwing the dice," Moon said. "As long as we have some type of inter-governmental dialogue or some type of commitment, the future of a unified Korea turns into a crapshoot."
To this end, Moon claimed that the most urgent task for Koreans is recovering the Korean identity, such as the founding ideal of Korea "Hongik Ingan," which means to live for the greater benefit of all.
"Everyone knows how hyper-partisan and hyper-divided South Korea is … but I can tell you one thing. Regardless of if you are on the liberal side or the conservative side, whether you're Christian or Buddhist, whatever your background is, there is one thing that brings Koreans together -- the Korean identity, rooted in the Hongik Ingan ideal," Moon said.
"What do you think it's going to bring North and South Koreans together? It's going to be their Korean identity."
Along with the civil unification movements among Koreans, Moon also noted that unification cannot be done by Koreans alone. He said his foundation's Global Peace Leadership Conference in India in April was also part of hopes to convince Indians to use relations with Pyongyang to influence North Koreans.
During his keynote speech at Monday's forum, Moon said a unified Korea could play a role in addressing global tension between global superpowers by becoming "a model nation and a catalyst for advancing a new civilization" through "unalienable rights and freedoms."
Under the theme of "Free and Unified Korea: A Catalyst for Regional and Global Peace and Development," the forum hosted hundreds of scholars, former government officials and other experts on geopolitical matters, including former United States Forces Korea (USFK) Commander John Tilelli and former South Korean Vice Minister of National Defense Paik Seung-ju.
During the session, Tilelli shared a similar view to Moon that people should be "the instigators of change" toward unification. He said that unification could be a solution to various challenges that surround the Korean Peninsula and Northeast Asia.
"Peaceful reunification in the peninsula is a strategic imperative for all of us," Tilelli said. "The main instigators of change, were the people themselves, as one who witnessed the change in Germany … Governments cannot build the relationships that friendships and people do."
The former U.S. general cited the North Korean leader's recent meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin. "Crimes against humanity will not be resolved until the Korean dream is realized," he said referring to Moon's idea that a unified Korea could be a model to the world, adding that Korean society should lead such efforts.
"I believe the only way we will see an end to nuclear weapons of mass destruction, provocations and human rights abuses is a reunified Korea," Tilelli said.
Who is Hyun Jin Preston Moon?
Having graduated from Columbia University, Harvard Business School and Unification Theological Seminary, Hyun Jin Preston Moon, 54, founder and chairman of the Global Peace Foundation (GPF), has been leading the nonprofit organization for 14 years since its foundation in 2009.
He presented his idea of the Korean Dream in 2010 and authored a book titled "Korean Dream: A Vision for Unified Korea" in 2014. Moon published the book with the purpose of inspiring civil society, individuals and overseas Koreans aspiring for the peaceful unification of the Korean Peninsula to be "more hopeful about unification."
After the first edition came out in 2014, English and Japanese editions were published, and the centennial edition, published in August 2020 to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the March 1 Independence Movement, became a bestseller across the United States. In April 2018, the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) selected it as a must-read book for 2018.