Since the split of the Korean peninsula in 1945, there was always a question of when the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) and Republic of Korea (ROK) would reunite to make one singular state. With the development and enhancement of nuclear technology from DPRK and counter tactics with the introduction of Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) from ROK’s government, the feasibility of reunification on the Korean peninsula has become even more slim in recent years. Public attitudes are shifting more towards staying as separate states rather than joining again.
However, even though public attitudes are changing towards separate states in the newer generations, there isn’t a rejection of the possibility that reunification is necessary for a peaceful peninsula. Difference in economic development, government and weapon systems have become major obstacles to overcome if the two Koreas want to merge into a singular state. To formulate national unification or reunification between the two countries, a definition needs to be established.
For national unification when the two countries merge, there needs to establishment of common ground such as singular judicial authority, financial system, legal system, borders, and a common national identity. Establishing national identity would be able to recognize each other as Koreans without the difference of North and South. Looking at both sides of public attitude towards reunification, shows more implications for different directions towards inter-Korean relations and the possibility of national identity in the future and the feasibility of what both sides in South Korea want.
The two main attitudes towards inter-korean relations would be whether to stay as two separate countries or unify to become one country. Looking at a United Korea, main reasons for unification would include resolving separated families, stabilizing the peninsula, increasing international influence, and sharing a common identity or ethnicity. However, examining a survey done by the Institute for Peace and Unification Studies by Seoul National University show numbers dropping in every age group for unification being necessary for the Korean peninsula. Numbers have dropped more than 10% between the ages of 20’s-40’s, while the percentage went down by 5% for people in the 50’s age group (Harlan).
The main concern is the uncertainty of the economical system in a United Korea. The first several years of a United Korea would be financially difficult because of the GDP gap, income gap between North and South Koreans, South Koreans shouldering the tax burdens, and rehabilitation of potential victims in North Korea. Skill differences could maintain economic divide between North and South Koreans. Attitude towards economic growth and change in the status quo in South Korea puts doubts in people’s mind on whether North Korea and South Korea should merge. As of 2011, North Korea’s per capita GDP was $1,800 while South Korea is $32,400 GDP per capita. The stark differences leads to question on how and who is going to make up for the income gap if the Koreas merge. In Goldman Sach’s report about Korea’s economic potential, it would take at least until 2038 to reach a maturing age in economic growth. The transition years to get to the stage of economic development would last til 2027, at the very least.
The uncertainty of what could happen financially and the amount of time it would take for their economy to recover is worrisome, as well as the skills that North Koreans might lack because, “already today, defectors from North Korea struggle to find qualified jobs in South Korea” (Niederhafner). Depending on how fast the reunification is, there might not be a solution except welfare aid from the South Korean government. About 20% of South Koreans live off an annual income of $5,551 in 2013 and the “annual income-to-debt ration exceeded 160% in 2011” (Niederhafner). It is questionable whether the population can handle the financial burden. Starting the process of merging, would by highly stressful for the current generation to cope with and their responsibility to provide financial support for further industrial development in North Korea territory and financial support for the amount of North Koreans who are classified as victims.
However, looking in the long term, methodical projections of Goldman Sach Commodities and Strategic Research in 2009 shows untapped potential in North Korea that could lead a United Korea to “overtake France, Germany, and possibly Japan in 30-40 years in terms of GDP” (Goldman Sach, 3) as long as it has effective economic reforms and investment. Three factors include a larger labor force, large potential for mineral deposits, and potential gains from productivity (Goldman Sach, 9). This would as well increase per capita GDP under a Unified Korea from $13,000 in 2012 to $86,000 by 2050 (Goldman Sach, 16).
Attitudes toward North Korea for economical purposes, could lead South Korean companies to invest in North Korea for financial benefits towards the end of the Kim regime. These implications could lead South Korea and North Korea to establish exports and imports that would include mineral deposits. Opening up more financial trade could wane DPRK’s financial dependency on Chinese investments in Pyongyang. Increase in trade, exports and imports, could lead to a stronger dependency on South Korea and further develop economic relationships, set a stronger economic foundation and an increase in normalizing talks between the two nations.
However, a down turn of this report and what would cause hesitation, is that the report is highly indicative because of the lack of economic data that comes from North Korea. The data is also projecting these results within a course of 30-40 years and would mean that there is potential for a big outcome but it also means that within the first several years, it would be extremely difficult on the population financially. Thinking in the long term, merging and dealing with financial problems in the country would have a good outcome. Even with economic benefit, there are political aspects that can’t be overlooked between capitalist and communist systems.
Since the public approval rate of a unified Korea has gone done, main concerns like economic uncertainty for South Korea, political merge, human rights problems, nuclear weapons, and the sheer amount of poverty and famine. The biggest concern in question is the tactic of recently impeached President Park Geun-Hye is the Dresden Declaration of 2014. Park Geun-Hye planned to use Germany, the unification of East and West Germany, as an example for uniting North and South Korea.
Although it would have positive aspects, such as reuniting families and expanding their economic potential, it overlooks the feasibility of merging under Park Geun-Hye’s Dresden Declaration. Using Germany as an example would need either capitalist system or a communist system (Dresden Speech). When Germany became united, elites of old East Germany had been prosecuted and gotten rid of. East German political system was replaced through West Germany’s laws and rules. There would be questions as well if companies and enterprises would survive the merge between the two nations. Judicial authority would come into question because legally, North Korea is part of ROK’s legal jurisdiction.
Prosecution for the amount of victims would be impractical because of the numbers of trials and the number of convicted persons. As well as the differences in treatment between the North Koreans and South Koreans. Political differences would lead one state to absorb the rules of the other, similar to West Germany absorbing East Germany. North Korea has been working towards self-preservation and improving their economy and defense by producing nuclear weapons. Being absorbed into South Korea would destroy the Kim regime and their legacy. With Park Geun-Hye talking publicly about the Dresden Declaration without DPRK’s knowledge created further tension and hostility with the North. Future relations towards reunification would have to be approached delicately without insinuating the destruction of the Kim regime.
After this proposal, it resulted in a poor response from North Korea. Therefore, prompting that the two Koreas should not use Germany as an example of merging and becoming one country. Implications for merging should look at building more communication between the two nations and work on a slow merge, such as economic foundation and policies for peaceful communications, rather than quickly merging without a foundation. Relations between the two, as of now, are hostile and have a possibility of not having any effect even if South Koreans are in favor of merging or not. Instead, policy makers could try to lay framework for foreign policies that would minimize the threat of North Korea’s nuclear arsenal and promote more relationships between North and South Koreans.
Even with South Korea attitudes split about inter-Korean relations, there is always a question about feasibility in uniting both Koreas and forming a national identity. Forming a national identity would take several generations to develop because even though today, both sides recognize each other as Koreans, there is still a separation of government ideologies. Not only is there a separation of government but the merge of both Koreas would be hard to execute if the Koreas use Germany as an example.
There are several points that are central to North Korea, sustaining the Kim regime, international recognition, and improving their economy. Merging would improve their economy long term but would destroy the Kim regime and have no international recognition if South Korea would absorb North Korea. The North Korean regime would not approve of this merge unless North Korea was absorbing South Korea. Pushing this merge under the Dresden Plan of 2014 would increase hostility between the two countries. Looking at the economics of merging South Korea and increasing trade and invests with North Korea would be problematic as well. The financial trade could be limited because of the North Korean government’s hold on the economy and what appears to be a lack of interests in foreign investors.
Even with foreign visitors, such as Google Chairman Eric Schmidt, DPRK’s leader did not prioritize time with him. Declines in Chinese investments also implicate North Korea’s poor infrastructure, property rights not properly protected, and lack of profits because of the current economic conditions. Implications for interpersonal relations could be non existent until North Korea is more invested in attracting non-Chinese foreign investment and or North and South Korea merge. The attitudes are different to inter-Korean relations and the approval rating of merging is declining. Even though there are economic possibilities, it’s still not feasible to create a united national identity even with the divided opinions. It is not feasible not only because of South Korean opinions but because of external factors such as DPRK’s widening their nuclear arsenal and threatening ROK against using THAAD.
This relationship have been increasingly getting more hostile as nuclear tests have become more frequent and adds another obstacle to see if there is a possibility merging peacefully. So, none of these attitudes would be telling about inter-Korean relations in the future. Each point to merge also has an equally negative drawback that would hinder normalization talks to start. Merging the two Koreas would also would be hard to execute politically and which Korea will absorb the other. The results would be that whether or not South Koreans want a United Korea and want a national identity but it would not be plausible because of the current differences in GDP and with having one political system absorbed into the other.