Is there a real possibility of the Reunification of the Korean Peninsula? Well, that has put much of us in deep thinking about what would be the outcome. Some years ago, many writers and thinkers just wrote off the fact that North Korea and South Korea would remain divided forever, though both the countries are sharing the same language, currency, culture and ethics. It was also assumed that neither of these countries would push for reunification as they differ in terms of governance and development. So, frankly speaking, does South Korea wants a reunification with her northern neighbour for overall equal development, or is it just a bait for them in order to establish supremacy over the whole Korean Peninsula? Well, there are a lot of questions this time and there should be meaningful answers. We will now describe the origin, pros and cons and the possible outcomes of the Korean Reunification respectively.
Korean Reunification refers to the potential future reunification of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea(North Korea) and the Republic of Korea(South Korea) under a single democratic state ruled by a unified government. This process was started by the June 15th North–South Joint Declaration in June 2000, where the two countries agreed to work towards a peaceful reunification in the future. However, this process has always been met with many difficulties due to continuous tension between the two countries, which have become vastly different through over six decades of separation. The June 15th North–South Joint Declaration was adopted between the leaders of both the Koreas on June 15th, 2000 and held various diplomatic meetings in order to work for the reunification. Some points came out during the meetings, which are as follows:-
- The South and the North have agreed to resolve the question of reunification independently and through the joint efforts of the Korean people, who are the masters of the country.
- For the achievement of reunification, we have agreed that there is a common element in the South’s concept of a confederation and the North’s formula for a loose form of federation. The South and the North agreed to promote reunification in that direction.
- The South and the North have agreed to promptly resolve humanitarian issues such as exchange visits by separated family members and relatives on the occasion of the August 15 National Liberation Day and the question of unswerving Communists serving prison sentences in the South.
- The South and the North have agreed to consolidate mutual trust by promoting balanced development of the national economy through economic cooperation and by stimulating cooperation and exchanges in civic, cultural, sports, health, environmental and all other fields.
- The South and the North have agreed to hold a dialogue between relevant authorities in the near future to implement the above agreements expeditiously.
The picture below shows the mammoth Arch of Reunification built by Kim-II Sung in Pyongyang, North Korea in the early 1970s.
After Korea was being ruled by local kingdoms, Japan annexed Korea in 1910 and during the First World War(1914-18), Japan firmly established its supremacy over the peninsula. After Japan was defeated in the Second World War in 1945, Korea was established as a single state ruled by a democratic government, for a short stint. However, the coming up of the two superpowers- USSR(Union of Soviet Socialist Republic) and USA(United States of America), gave rise to a change in the local people’s mind about what system of government would be best suited for the country. USSR was a communist republic while the latter being a federal presidential capitalist republic. Constant tensions and border violence against China, Russia and Japan paved way for the Korean War, lasting for three terrifying years(1950-53).
The Division of Korea into South Korea and North Korea was the result of the 1945 Allied Forces’ victory in the Second World War, ending the Empire of Japan’s 35-year colonial rule of Korea. The United States and the Soviet Union agreed to temporarily occupy the country as a trusteeship with the zone of control along the 38th Parallel, and Japan capitulated in August 1945. An initiative to hold general and free elections in the entire Korea came up in the United Nations in the fall of 1947. However this initiative did not materialize because of disagreement between the United States and the Soviet Union.
During the period between the fall of 1945 and the fall of 1947, in the absence of the opportunity to set up a stable unified government, two separate governments began evolving and consolidating in the South and in the North. A Communist state was permanently established under the Soviet Union in the North and a pro-Western state was set up in the South. The two superpowers backed different leaders and two States were effectively established, each of which claimed sovereignty over the whole Korean Peninsula. The picture below shows the flag of a reunified Korea.
The Korean Demilitarized Zone(DMZ) is a strip of land running across the Korean Peninsula that serves as a buffer zone between North Korea and South Korea. The DMZ is the de-facto border barrier, which runs in the vicinity of the 38th Parallel. The DMZ cuts the Korean Peninsula roughly in half, crossing the 38th parallel on an angle, with the west end of the DMZ lying south of the parallel and the east end lying north of it. It is 250 kilometres long, 4 km wide and is the most heavily militarized border in the world. The Northern Limit Line(NLL) is the de-facto maritime barrier between North and South Korean islands in the Yellow Sea, and the coastline and islands on both sides of the NLL are also very heavily militarized. Both these boundaries came after the Korean War in 1953.
Relations between the two Koreas have been strained in recent years, with provocative actions taken under the rule of Kim Jong-il and his son, Kim Jong-un. The untested nature of the new regime and general secrecy surrounding the North Korean government have led to speculation about whether Jong-un will prove a reformer or retain the policies of his predecessors. Also, Jong-un’s sudden accession and limited experience governing have also stoked fears about power struggles among different factions leading to future instability on the Korean Peninsula.
Reunification remains a long-term goal for the governments of both North and South Korea. North Korean leader Kim Jong-un made calls in his 2012 New Year’s Day speech to remove confrontation between the two countries and implement previous joint agreements for increased economic and political cooperation. The South Korean Ministry of Unification redoubled their efforts in 2011 and 2012 to raise awareness of the issue, launching a variety show called the “Miracle Audition“ and an internet sitcom with pro-unification themes. However, a 2014 government funded survey found that only 13% of South Koreans viewed North Korea as a hostile state, while 58% of South Koreans believed North Korea was a country they should cooperate with.
Many reunification policies have been formulated and enacted by the Ministry of Unification. But most of these policies have been criticised by the North, citing lack of transparency and information. Also, since North Korea has an underdeveloped economy, the policy may not go well there, keeping in mind the financial burden of the government controlled economy. There are three main policies which were enacted to pave way for a smooth reunification of Korea:-
- In 2011, a group of twelve lawmakers from the ruling and opposition parties of South Korea introduced a bill into the National Assembly to allow for the establishment of a ‘unification tax’. The bill called for businesses to pay 0.5 percent of corporate tax, individuals to pay 5 percent of inheritance or gift taxes, and both individuals and companies to pay two percent of their income tax towards the cost of unification. The bill initiated legislative debate on practical measures to prepare for unification, as proposed by former President Lee Myung-Bak. The proposal for a unification tax was not warmly welcomed at that time, but Lee, has since reiterated concerns regarding the imminence of unification which, combined with North Korean behaviour, led to the tax proposal gaining wider acceptance.
- The Sunshine Policy was introduced by the Millennium Democratic Party under former South Korean President Kim Dae-Jung, as a part of a campaign pledge to actively pursue reconciliation and cooperation with North Korea. The policy was intended to create conditions of economic assistance and cooperation for reunification, rather than sanctions and military threats. The plan was divided into three main parts- increased cooperation through inter-Korean organizations, national unification with two autonomous regional governments, and finally the creation of a central national government. In 1998, Kim approved large shipments of food aid to the North Korean government, lifted limits on business deals between North Korean and South Korean firms, and even called for a stop to the American economic embargo against the North.
- It has recently been suggested that the formation of a Korean Economic Community could be a way to ease in unification of the Korean Peninsula. It also has outlined a comprehensive diplomatic package on North Korea that includes setting up a consultative body to discuss economic projects between the two Koreas. He proposed seeking a Korean economic community agreement to provide the legal and systemic basis for any projects agreed to in the body.
South Korea has also launched a new initiative to show that it is not giving up on the unification of Korea. In this regard, South Korean President Park Geun-Hye unveiled her own unification model in a speech in the former East German city of Dresden in March 2014. This model, now known as the Dresden Declaration, prioritizes three main fields of collaboration that will lay the groundwork for reunification:-
- The first feature of the model is “humanity” and it prioritizes family reunification. For more than 60 years it was impossible to bring the families that were separated by the war and subsequent territorial division back together. It has only been since 2000 that a limited number of family members living on opposite sides of the border were able to meet for only a few days.
- The second element of the model is “co-prosperity”, which can be achieved through the development of inter-Korean infrastructure projects and improvements to be made to the livelihoods of all people in Korea. In this regard, it is proposed that cooperation increase between the North and South with respect to multi-farming agricultural and livestock complexes and in the field of forestry management.
- The third element of the vision emphasizes “integration” of the people of North and South Korea. The prominent point here is to redress the overwhelming absence of people-to-people contact among those living on opposite sides of the border.
The Korean Reunification has been compared to several and similar reunifications over the last three to four decades. Prominent examples includes the reunifications of Germany and Vietnam. Comparing with the German Reunification, both sides of Germany did not have a civil war during the Cold War and they maintained a working relationship after the war, but the two Koreas’ relationship has been more acrimonious since 1953. The East Germans also had 360,000 Soviet troops on their soil during the Cold War. However, North Korea has not had any foreign troops on its soil since 1953.
The East Germans looked favourably at the fact that West Germans had good retirement benefits, public order, and strong civil society, whereas the North Koreans are not aware of any immediate benefits from uniting with South Korea, because of its isolation and aloofness from the rest of the world. The North Korean population is far more culturally distinct and isolated than the East German population was in the late 1980s. Unlike in East Germany, North Koreans generally cannot receive foreign broadcasting or read foreign publications. Germany was divided for 44 years and did not have border clashes between the two sides. By comparison, the Koreas have been divided for over 60 years, and hostilities have flared over the years since then.
Another cause of concern is the economy of the two Koreas. While the former is an underdeveloped and an isolated state-run economy, the latter is an advanced and a well off one. In relative terms, North Korea’s economy is currently worse than that of East Germany in 1990. The income per capita ratio(PPP) was about 3:1 in Germany.The ratio is close to 18:1 in Korea as of now in a 2012 data. While at the moment of German reunification the East German population was about a third of West Germany, the North Korean population is currently around half of South Korea’s population.
Comparing with the Vietnamese Reunification, Vietnam was also divided into communist North and capitalist South respectively in the same manner. Unlike the Korean War, the Vietnam War spanned a much longer period and spilled over to the neighbouring countries of Laos and Cambodia. The end of the war resulted in all three countries coming under control of the communist-oriented independence movements, with China and the Soviet Union competing for influence. Relations between North and South Vietnam were also tricky, with North Vietnam being largely isolated and unrecognized except by other communist states, similarly to North Korea.
The North Vietnamese population was similar to the North Korean population in that foreign broadcasting or publications was prohibited in the country. In contrast, the South Vietnamese population saw a rising middle class that became increasingly Westernized, maintaining some of the French cultural and social trends of the colonial period and increasingly, becoming influenced by American cultural trends as well.
The reunification of Korea could see similar economic effects to that of Vietnamese reunification. Although South Vietnam’s economy was almost exclusively dependent on USA for financial and military aid, it had developed strong industrial, agricultural, and manufacturing output and infrastructure, with trade relations with the West and Japan. North Vietnam’s state-run economy had large collective farms, developed urban industrialization, and had trade relations with the Soviet Union and China. As a result, the income per capita ratio of South to North Vietnam was much higher than that of West to East Germany and may have been at a similar level to that of present-day South and North Korea, although South Korea’s current economy is much larger than that of South Vietnam’s in 1975.
At reunification, the state-controlled economy that had formerly run North Vietnam was extended into South Vietnam, which saw the dissolution of its capital and entrepreneurial institutions. This, along with a combined mass movement of North Vietnamese to the wealthier South and mass exodus of capital assets to USA, saw the South Vietnamese economy collapse, creating a period of economic decline for the entire country until the unified government began market socialist reforms in the late 1980s. Near reunification, North Vietnam had a greater population as compared to South Vietnam’s population. Nevertheless, the difference is of a much closer ratio than that of current North and South Korea.
Hence, it is now hoped that after seeing the pros and cons of unification and the comparing of the German and Vietnamese reunifications, a unified Korea could have great implications for the balance of power in the region, with South Korea already considered by many a regional and a global power. Reunification would give access to cheap labour and abundant natural resources in the North, which, combined with existing technology and capital in the South, would create large economic and military growth potential. A unified Korea will become one of the most powerful countries of the world having a strong, advanced and a well balanced economy to feed its people.