“South and North Korea agreed to strengthen cooperation in the areas of quarantine and healthcare to prevent the influx and spread of infectious diseases, including taking emergency steps. (Pyongyang Peace Agreement on Sept. 19)
The Pyongyang Peace Agreement in September contains content that vows to enhance inter-Korean cooperation in health and medical fields. It also means the two Koreans will reinvigorate exchanges in these areas. The healthcare sector has been regarded as relatively free from politics and ideology but the chill in the inter-Korean relationship in the past several years has virtually frozen exchanges and cooperation in the healthcare sector, too.
This is the time to prepare for the future of healthcare in the Koreas by learning from past failures. Korea Biomedical Review, jointly with the Association of Healthcare for Korean Unification (AHKU), has held a symposium to think about ways to strengthen exchanges and cooperation in healthcare area between the Koreas and talk about healthy future for all Koreans.
① Why do we need the “Korean Peninsula Health Community”?
Shin Hyun-young, Public Relations Director at AHKU (Department of Family Medicine, Hanyang University Myongji Hospital)
Chun Wu-taek, Chairman of AHKU(Department of Medical Education, Yonsei University College of Medicine)
Kim Shin-gon, Academic Director of AHKU(Department of Endocrine and Internal Medicine, Korea University College of Medicine)
Park Sang-min, External Affairs Director of AHKU (Department of Family Medicine, Seoul National University College of Medicine)
Yoon Suk-joon, Policymaking Director of AHKU (Department of Preventive Medicine, Korea University College of Medicine)
The top leaders of South and North Korea met no fewer than three times this year. They are creating a reconciliatory atmosphere between the two Koreas and related parties are discussing the “declaration to end the war.” Koreans are beginning to harbor hopes to get out of the fear of war and open the era of peace. Officials are also speeding up moves to enhance inter-Korean exchanges and cooperation that have been severed for the past several years.
Unlike the two liberal governments under Presidents Kim Dae-jung and Roh Moo-hyun, however, many experts say, the Moon Jae-in administration should take a different approach to this issue. It should reflect social situations of the two Koreas that have changed much from the past. Health and medical area is no exception.
All this explains why interests are growing in the concept of “Korean Peninsula Health Community” put forth by the Association of Healthcare for Korean Unification. The association issued “Preparation for Korean Peninsula Health Community,” a publication that approached inter-Korean exchange and cooperation from the aspect of Korean Peninsula Health Community. Twenty experts took part in the book as authors.
|From left: Shin, Chun, Kim, Park and Yoon|
Shin (Moderator): In the past, we commonly used the term “unification.” What are the reasons for using the term “Korean Peninsula community” instead of unification?
Chun: Koreans are beginning to see the small signals showing the political situations surrounding the Korean Peninsula are changing fundamentally, for the first time in the 70 years of national division. The word unification has two meanings. South Koreans should pay attention to the new aspect that North Korea is emerging as a “normal” state in the international community.
When the North remained as an “abnormal” state, unification means South Korea’s absorption of the North. If North Korea emerges as a normal country in the international community, however, it will change the meaning of unification, as South Koreans have long perceived. That means people are entering a period when they should think about the new concept of inter-Korean relationship.
Unification is Korean people’s ultimate goal, and it should come someday under the consensus of South and North Korean people. The process to it has become far more complicated, however. The appropriate term for the complicated transition is the “Korean Peninsula community.” Primarily, the two Koreas are showing keen interests in the economic community, trying to reconnect severed railways and revive tourism cooperation.
In the course of time, they will create the Korean Peninsula Cultural Community, Korean Peninsula Educational Community, and Korean Peninsula Welfare Community. If they manage to create “Korean Peninsula Political Community” and “Korean Peninsula Security Community” eventually, the Koreas will have reached a stage just a few steps from unification.
Moderator: What does “Korean Peninsula Health Community” mean, then?
Chun: Korean Peninsula Health Community has both similarities and dissimilarities to other areas. The health community is different from others in that it can start ahead of all else. As seen in the Pyongyang Peace Agreement, the two Koreas can reach an agreement and win approvals in areas related with the prevention of the influx and spread of contagious diseases and medical supplies, far faster than in other areas. They can start symbolic projects that can create Korean Peninsula community in health and medical area than in other fields. Korean Peninsula Health Community has a pioneering character that leads other Korean Peninsula communities.
Moderator: “Preparations for the Korean Peninsula Health Community” is a book that explains what preparations we should make to create the Korean Peninsula Health Community. Twenty experts took part in its publication as authors.
Chun: Even before the establishment of AHKU, many academics had conducted unification-relate studies in their respective areas. The launch of AHKU in 2014 allowed them to share ideas and they compiled such thoughts in a book.
Kim: We have prepared by holding two academic conferences every year since 2014. We could make a framework in which we met not only medical experts but also those in dental medicine and nursing science. As a result, we could contain high-quality contents in the book.
Moderator: You explained the concept of Korean Peninsula Health Community as the process that prepares for unification. And you said the Korean Peninsula Health Community could lead the process. As seen in the case of Germany that attained the national reunification earlier than Korea, health and medical area seemed to take the lead in the unification process of two Germanys.
Yoon: East and West Germany signed the “Health and Medical Agreement” on April 25, 1974. In October 1990, 16 years and six months later, the two Germanys were reunified. The health and medical accord served as the priming water for German unification. It is true that West and East Germany concluded the Basic Agreement in 1972 ahead of the healthcare accord.
However, the Germanys failed to observe many parts of the basic agreement because of the Cold War and other reasons. It was the healthcare areas, in which the Germanys had maintained exchange and cooperation, and the healthcare agreement served as its foundation. Through the health and medical agreement, the Germanys could not only exchanged medical personnel and provided massive vaccine aid, the atmosphere of which had continued immediately before their unification.
In the current Korean situation in which all other areas cannot help but depend on political order, it is desirable for the Koreas to make a promise on inter-Korean agreement to create a health community. It will work as the basis and connecting link that can bring about changes in other forms.
Kim: East and West Germany signed the health and medical agreement 16 years before the unification, but Koreas are far behind in our in preparation. The two Koreas have had three summit meetings, and officials in various fields visited Pyongyang as entourage in the latest summit, but it included no one representing the healthcare sector.
Yoon: It is also problematic a bill that serves as the basis for supporting inter-Korean exchange and cooperation in the healthcare area has failed to pass the National Assembly. Not many people oppose the need for supporting North Korea in the healthcare area, but there are rooms for conflict when it comes to details. There are voices opposing the South’s hardware help for the North, such as the construction of hospitals. In the 19th National Assembly, Speaker Chung Eui-hwa proposed the “bill on promoting the inter-Korean exchange and cooperation in healthcare,” but saw it repealed upon the expiry of its tenure. In the 20th Assembly, Rep. Yoon Jong-pil of the opposition Liberty Korea Party has proposed a similar bill. To reduce “south-south” conflict and enhance cooperation in the healthcare area, it is essential to approve the bill in a bipartisan consensus.
Chun: In principle, few oppose the need to support North Korea in the healthcare area, but the issue becomes complicated if we move from generalities to particulars. That explains why we should minimize rooms for south-south conflicts. Views can vary not only between progressives and conservatives but also among different government agencies and experts. Opinions can also differ between local and foreign experts.
South and North Korea can have different priorities. North Korea may want hardware support more while the South can balk at helping the North’s projects that need lots of money. Sufficient discussion and preparation are a must to reduce conflicts.
Park: The Korean Medical Association has shown keen interests in inter-Korean exchange and cooperation, and other medical and health societies are holding related symposiums and conferences. The medical community is creating a consensus regardless of political and ideological differences.
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