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Inter-Korean exchange and cooperation strategies of the Seoul Metropolitan Government: Focusing on the role of a local government

Min-gyu Lee

This report provides an accurate analysis of Seoul Metropolitan Government (SMG)’s role as a local government in inter-Korean exchange and cooperation projects. It also suggests six directions of 「Comprehensive Plans for a City-to-City Partnership between Seoul and Pyongyang」 through which the SMG can increase its capability to interact with North Korea. 

First, the SMG ought to organize current three areas and ten projects into priority tasks and mid-and long-term tasks and fulfill them in phases. In the present situation, where sanctions against North Korea are being enforced, the SMG needs to initiate exchange by pushing ahead with projects covering the following areas: sociocultural exchange, humanitarian aid, and nonprofit public infrastructure-
building projects. 

Second, the SMG is required to plan and carry out projects that are in the interests and meeting the needs of both South and North Korea. It is  possible to continue sustainable city-to-city exchange through the projects bringing tangible benefits to both sides. Such projects can be designed and implemented through economic and city infrastructure cooperation.

Third, the SMG ought not to promote projects which can stir dispute by  taking into account North Korea’s political system. It is necessary for Seoul to ponder on forming a joint project group and undertaking tasks based on existing three areas and ten projects upon mutual agreement by conducting field research.

Fourth, building a legal and institutional framework, where local governments can independently forge a partnership with North Korea, is needed. It ought to be part of regular tasks which needs to be done for laying the  groundwork for Korean reunification. To that end, a new amendment to the inter-Korean exchange and cooperation- related Act restricting the role and autonomy of local governments is required.

Fifth, hosting a range of social and cultural events and education programs that engage citizens to build a consensus about peace and reunification needs to be a regular task. Since 2015, the SMG has run peace and reunification education programs. It is necessary for Seoul to examine the following four points in order to systematically develop them :

To deliver consistent reunification education, continuous cooperation and management of the Institute for Unification Education and the Seoul Institute is required. 
“Hot cognition” needs to be triggered by linking art performances such as concerts and exhibitions. 
Customized education ought to be offered by collecting public opinion in real time through establishment of an online platform. 
The SMG ought to hold forums on peace and reunification to ensure opportunities to interact with experts from home and abroad are presented.

Sixth, to enhance inter-Korean exchange and cooperation-related capability of the SMG, a multilateral network of cooperation ought to be created as part of regular tasks which needs to be done for the purpose of preparing for reunification.
It is crucial to cultivate a cooperative relationship with the central government through which the SMG will receive help and support for relevant projects. 
Nongovernmental organizations extending aid to North Korea are also essential partners. The reason is that they have relatively more experience in exchange and cooperation with North Korea than local governments.
It is required to formulate and implement inter-Korean exchange and cooperation-related policies, in conjunction with urban diplomacy. By doing so, the SMG will be able to overcome the limitations of local-level inter-Korean exchange and cooperation model. Furthermore, it is possible to set up a comprehensive multilateral partnership with cities in Northeast Asia, including North Korea, through urban diplomacy. 
It is suggested that the SMG work with other local governments. There are differences in the level of experience in exchange and cooperation- related projects among local governments. When taking this into consideration, it is vital to build a network where contacts with North Korea will be made and retained and success cases will be shared in terms of development of the capability.