Should North and South Korea reunite?

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North Korean leader Kim Jong Un with US President Donald Trump in Singapore on Tuesday, June 12. photo credit: insidemarketing

The media frenzy regarding the summit between North Korean leader Kim Jung Un and American president Donald Trump has heralded in much speculation not only about the potential disarmament of a nuclear North Korea but also the possible reunification of North and South Korea. In point of fact, many political commentators have already suggested both the benefits and the drawbacks of a united Korea. In my opinion, a reunification between the North and South Korea is morally correct and a noble action. However, from a realistic point of view, the reunification of the two Koreas can have a detrimental effect on the economy and cause conflicts between the two. 

History

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South Korean soldiers patrol their side of the demilitarised zone separating their country from North Korea. photo credit: undark.org

To halt the carnage of war, North and South Korea agreed to a ceasefire in 1953. Since then, the 38th Parallel has divided the North and the South. This division has steadfastly remained for 65 years and symbolizes physical division that is ideological and social impenetrable. This is easily demonstrated by the dichotomy of an oppressive totalitarian communist regime run by demagogues who demand absolute power over their citizens. In contrast to these types of leaders, the South has a political government that is democratically elected and is a representative of the citizens’ wishes. Unlike the North, where leaders can’t be replaced despite not fulfilling their assigned roles in upholding the constitution. Not to mention, they are also only working for personal power and gains, without considering the good of the citizens.

What about their differences?

 Park Geun-Hye was alleged to have helped a friend extort money and allowed the leak of classified documents

Last year’s impeachment of South Korea’s former president, Park Geun Hye, sets a clear example of a leader being removed by an independent and impartial judicial system that implemented South Korea’s laws and duly imprisoned the president for fraud.

This, however, would not be the case for Kim Jung Un, who would never be forced to take responsibility, despite his proven acts of tyranny and embezzlement. Moreover, it is also clearly shown by North Korean refugees who have risked their lives to escape to South Korea that the indoctrination and enforced cultural values North Koreans have experienced can never be reunited. with the aspirational and highly religious beliefs of the South Koreans.

Image result for North Korean leader Kim Jong Un greeting a women’s subunit during a rocket launching drill. photo credit:
North Korean Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un greets a women’s subunit during a rocket-launching drill. photo credit: business insider

An example to show the differences is how North Korea brainwashes its citizens. The process of this involves the total embrace of Marxism and worship of Kim Jung Un which cannot come together with the majority Christian and Buddhist South. Therefore, it can be concluded that the differences in religious and political ideologies are far too great for a possible United country. In addition, a reunification would have a devastating economic impact on both sides. According to leading world economists, South Korea’s emerging economy can’t withstand the burden of propping up the economic basket case that is North Korea.

Are South Koreans prepared to give up a comfortable middle class existence to pay for: urgent building and road infrastructure; education, health and the right to fair wages?

According to OECD 2011 data, 48.6% of North Koreans live in abject poverty. It is indisputable that the current high standard of living enjoyed by the majority of South Koreans would be in financial jeopardy given the billions and billions of dollars necessary to finance bringing North Korea out of the dark ages.

What about the economy?

It is clear that the economic restoration of the North is paramount for any plan of reunification but the obvious financial burden for everyday South Koreans may simply be too much to bear. There are many humanitarian advocates who would argue that the reunification of Korea is a humane and noble goal, especially in regards to assisting millions of impoverished and oppressed North Koreans. (They may refer to the successful reconciliation of East and West Germany in 1990, to demonstrate the positive consequences of allowing a country, artificially divided by political ideology, to come together again. However, there is a need to acknowledge the fact that not all Germans wanted to embrace a democratic capitalist regime- that is, they believed in the communist or socialist ideology.

Any examples?

A recent opinion poll published in Stern magazine in Germany found that 67% of easterners did not feel like they are part of a united country. Moreover, only 47% of West Germans felt that the two parts of Germany have overcome the bitter divisions of the past. In fact, one in thirteen East Germans preferred the Berlin Wall to remain and to have the two Germanys. Nearly thirty years after unification, former East Germans vote for different political parties compared to West Germans.

Undoubtedly, free speech and freedom to travel have been largely welcomed but millions in the east lost their jobs, their homes, and not to mention, their social and political structures that constituted their way of life.

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Berliners celebrate the very first German Unity Day on October 3rd 1990. Photo credit: news@thelocal

Despite being nostalgic for a pre-communist united Germany, those from the west resented paying over 1.6 trillion euros to rebuild a crumbling and neglected East Germany. Hence, instead of applauding the unification of the two Germanys, one must heed the warning that uniting two very different societies is fraught with danger. With this idea in mind, reuniting the South and North of Korea could bring the country a lot of difficulties.

With the given insurmountable obstacles, South and North Korea should not contemplate reunification but instead, seek a peaceful coexistence of the two Koreas, with free trade, free exchange of people and no military threats. This would mean that the North and the South would remain as two separate countries with two separate governments and economies having a porous border just like Europe. Thus it can be, that all Koreans can come and go and share expertise, knowledge and of course, mutual respect and peaceful understanding. Such is not only good for all Koreans but for the world. 

Author: Hyun Ju

Hyun Ju Lee is currently a junior and this is her first year working for The Eye. She was born in Boston, United States, but her parents are both Korean and this is her 14th year living in Singapore. As a hobby, she really likes to draw both digitally and on paper, listen to music, and binge watch korean dramas and variety shows. In addition, she also really loves animals and food. She can be contacted at lee46856@sas.edu.sg.

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