Branding an imagined nation in South Korean unification discourses

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Branding an imagined nation in South Korean unification discourses

Sarah A. Son

Post-Doctoral Research Associate, School of Oriental and African Studies / AKS Research Fellow 2015

Sarah Anne Son
Name in Latin Alphabet:
Nationality: 영국
Affiliation: SOAS

Abstract In early 2014 South Korean President Park Geun Hye described national unification of North and South Korea as daebak, or the “jackpot”, thereby following her predecessors in positioning unification as an unwavering desire of all the Korean people. Unification remains a central ideal in South Korea’s domestic and international policy programme, albeit vague and largely rhetorical in its policy manifestation. Despite its enduring signficance, unification has not been immune in its reasoning and aims to the shifting sands of both state and national identity construction over time. Particularly since the mid-1990s, the South Korean government has sought to adapt its approach to, and promotion of unification both at home and abroad in accordance with the expression of its particular and evolving brand of soft power. Applying constructivist theory from international relations, this paper examines the internal (domestic) and external (international) sides of the unification policy framework during the Sunshine Policy era (1998-2007) and since the return to conservative government (2008-present), highlighting the strategic politicization and occasional securitization of issues poignant to both nation-building and South Korea’s promotion of its state identity abroad. In this way, this paper traces the discursive construction of state and national identity in South Korea’s unification policy programme in order to understand how the unification ideal has adapted amid challenges to its salience as the divided status quo continues indefinitely, and to evaluate how the ideal may endure in the national imagination looking into the future.