South Korean President Chun Doo Hwan's new formula for reunification of the Korean peninsula, has given him a a clear diplomatic edge over the communist regime of North Korea in the ''peace offensive'' stakes.
The new formula is more concrete and comprehensive than any past proposals and has immediately been applauded overseas as ''imaginative,'' ''constructive, '' and ''practicable.''
The Chun proposals go beyond anything proposed by assassinated President Park Chung Hee in that they offer an explicit and comprehensive, step-by-step path to final unification, and detail South Korea's ultimate position on the issue.
Yet most observers agree that North Korea could not accept Chun's formula without an unthinkable loss of face. As one foreign diplomat commented, ''President Chun is in an enviable position, he can suggest anything in the almost certain knowledge that the North will not accept.''
Chun's latest peace initiative was made in his new year policy statement. For the first time since 1967, the presidential new year speech was delivered in the national assembly, a move undoubtedly designed to demonstrate the restoration of democracy in the republic and the renewed significance of the parliamentary role.
The new formula proposes the organization of a Consultative Conference for National Reunification (CCNR) in which North and South participants would draw up constitutions, to be forged into a single draft, for a unified Democratic Republic of Korea.
The first step towards this CCNR, would be talks to set up a South-North summit meeting, then a provisional agreement of basic relations. The terms within this agreement form the most concrete section of Chun's formula and include: recognition of each other's sociopolitical system and noninterference in internal affairs; an end to the arms race and military hostilities; the establishment of resident liaison missions in Seoul and Pyongyang; and respect for each other's international agreements until unification.
This last clause is an immediate challenge to the North which has always demanded the withdrawal of the 39,000 US troops from Korea as a prerequisite for starting unification talks. But it also allows the North to maintain their links with the communist bloc.
The provision within the basic relations agreement that perhaps would mean mostto the average Korean is that which allows free travel and communication between the two Koreas.
An estimated 7 million of the 38 million inhabitants of South Korea have family links in the North; but since the 1950-53 Korean war, the demilitarized zone that separates the two Koreas: has acted as a soundproof wall. Many do not even know if their relatives are still alive.
The gradual approach of peaceful coexistence through Chun's basic relations agreement, differs from proposals by North Korea which go straight to the final hurdles leading to unification. Another major difference is that Chun's formula is based on the existing status quo of both nations - unlike Kim Il Sung's, which in the past has demanded not only the removal of American troops but also the removal of President Chun.
There has been no direct reference to Chun's speech from North Korea, but it's Central News Agency called for the establishment of a confederation while leaving the existing social systems and ideas as they are.
However most Korea watchers feel that progress in the immediate future is unlikely.
A Korean journalist summed up the problem: ''Both sides have their cards down but there's a long way to go. The 'one nation, two states' formula may work for Germany but in Korea, no one will be happy with that.''