On March 6, there was some surprising news for all of the people in the world. This big news is that North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-un, has told the South Korean envoys “he is willing to negotiate with the United States on abandoning his country’s nuclear weapons” (“Denuclearize”) Mr. Kim said “he would suspend all nuclear and missile tests while such talks were underway” (“Denuclearize”), during the envoys’ two-day visit to Pyongyang, the North’s capital, “the two Koreas also agreed to hold a summit meeting between Mr. Kim and President Moon Jae-in of South Korea on the countries’ border in late April, Mr. Moon’s office said in a statement” (“Denuclearize”). Thus, many were amazed that Mr. Kim changed his attitude towards South Korea from what he showed in the past. Although the majority of people around the world and even South Koreans do not trust in North Korea’s denuclearization, the issue can be a great opportunity that can change from the cold war diplomacy between South and North over a ten-years to a peaceful atmosphere.
Many experts say that “the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics and single inter-Korea women’s ice hockey team have had the most positive impact on leading to the summit meeting between the two Koreas” (Park 2 “The Evaluation”). Overseas, the result of the meeting in Pyongyang has received positive evaluations from a lot of foreign presses. They have further acknowledged that “the Winter Games in Pyeongchang and the single inter-Korea team have been the most prominent role in the remarkable consequence” (2). However, there are peculiarly pessimistic eyes to the issue in South Korea.
Domestically, there were numerous disputes over the Pyeongchang Olympics and the management of single inter-Korea women’s ice hockey team before the Winter Games formally opened. Many people were against the consultation between the two Koreas for the participation of North and the combination of their women’s ice hockey teams. Some people still have a negative perspective, even if the Olympic Games successfully closed with the positive evaluations from out of the country. “Opponents mainly consisted of the younger generation in their 20’s and 30’s” (Park 3 “2017 survey”).
The most common reason why they opposed the implementation of a single inter-Korea team is that the management can make the loss of their national players’ opportunity to attend the Olympics. This is an understandable reaction against the use of the national players as political victims for the government’s unilateral decision to seek an amicable mood in the Korean Peninsula. There is another common reason why they rejected the North. It is that they would not like to co-exist with North Korea. In other words, many of them no longer think that they regard the North as the Korean race. Likewise, they even have a pessimistic opinion of unification.
Statistically, it is apparent that they have such a pessimistic viewpoint on unification. According to “2017 survey on the Public Perceptions of Unification” (Park 2 “2017 survey”), the percentage of respondents of all ages, who replied unification is ‘necessary,’ was higher than the percentage of those who answered it is ‘unnecessary’ except the 20’s and 30’s. In the survey, the people responded to even the ‘maintenance of a peaceful division’ along with the ‘necessity of unification.’
“The percentage of those who agreed with the opinion that ‘If the two Koreas can coexist peacefully without war, unification is not necessary’ was higher than the percentage of those who disagreed” (3). Ironically, the public perceptions of unification and division appear contradictory at a glance. The younger people and the higher education and income levels were, the stronger the tendency to keep the division was. As a result, there is a different perspective on unification between the younger generation and the older generation. Moreover, there is nationally an inconsistent viewpoint between unification and division.
Firstly, to understand the rising age’s perspective on unification, we should consider the incidents that occurred involving the North in their lifetime. The image of North Korea in the eyes of those 20’s and 30’s is quite negative owing to its provocations of nuclear weapons and missiles, the Cheonan sinking, and the bombardment of Yeonpyeong. The most distressing incident for the younger people was the Cheonan sinking in which the warship was sunk by a North Korean torpedo fired by a midget submarine. When it was conveyed to the younger people by the news, they were in deep sorrow due to the victims who were both soldiers and mainly their peers. It would not be an exaggeration to say that there is no positive recollection of South and North Korea doing something cooperative in their memory.
In fact, looking at the number of negative issues associated with North Korea, the older generation has suffered more negative incidents than the younger generation in their 20’s and 30’s. However, the older ages already have two clear memories of “single inter-Korea team concerning youth soccer and women’s table tennis in 1991” (Nahm and Hoare 53). They know a sorrow at the KBS search broadcast for millions of Korean families separated following “the division in 1945” (34) and the “1950-53 Korean War” (36). They have been left grief-stricken for more than half a century. Hence, they have a positive feeling regarding the single inter-Korea team and unification because the division has been a grief to them.
Besides the gap between the younger and older generations, there are more reasons why the younger generation do not think that unification is essential for them. These are mostly related to South Korean social characteristics and problems such as education, politics, individual life and international relation. In Korean schooling, students do not have an opportunity to learn about North Korea. In other words, they do not have enough time to look it up and think of it because they always spend their time to study for a top-level university entrance. Therefore, this educational atmosphere has taken away their opportunities to learn about various issues of North Korea. When they even learn the Korean modern history, they briefly deal with some conflicts between the two Koreas such as the Korean War.
So, the students only know dates like when the war began and ended. Furthermore, they cannot correctly look for the importance of unification and the problems between North and South from their textbooks. These problems show that the older generation does not have the will to teach their growing generation about the necessity of unification. On the contrary, the older generation learned it from their experiences with the war or the social atmosphere which regarded unification as important. That is why they can still emphasize the importance of combination with North Korea.
In politics, there is a politically sensitive contradiction about the words and behaviors of the older generation. It is that the majority of them always desperately oppose a good-neighbor policy with North Korea although they still support unification. Their contradictory attitude towards the North has been affected by the Korean political characteristics. In South Korean politics, there are two main parties which are commonly named the conservative and the democratic. Their support rate can be classified by regions and generations. The older people make up most of the advocates for the conservative. Conversely, the proponents of the democratic mainly consist of the younger generation in their 20’s and 30’s recently.
The conservative stresses the importance of national security from North Korea. When they were the ruling party, they severed a diplomatic relation with the North and induced their supporters to criticize the democratic as ‘communist’ or ‘red,’ who agree on a policy to establish an amicable relationship with the North. Accordingly, the older people have an inconsistent attitude. Their contradictory opinions have a negative influence on the younger generation’s perspective on North Korea and even unification. As a result, the younger generation reacted strongly against the decision for the participation of North in Pyeongchang Winter Olympics and the implementation of the single inter-Korea women’s ice hockey team even though they support the present ruling party which is democratic.
In international relationships, there has been a stubborn problem since Korea was divided. The division was not our independent decision. It was a conclusion from “the Yalta Conference of the Big Three in February 1945” (Nahm and Hoare 34). Three countries, the United Kingdom, America and the Soviet Union, attended this conference for the trusteeship of Korean Peninsula without the provisional government of Korea. In that situation, “the Soviet Union established the northern region of the Korean Peninsula as a satellite state and the U.S. governed the southern region” (34) as the Soviet Union did. There are two reasons why Korea was divided into the two Koreas by foreign powers.
Firstly, some of the Korean people supported the decision when the four big countries decided. If all of them had reacted strongly against it, they would have changed it in a better way. Secondly, there were two big countries’ ambitions in the Cold War. America had a plan to advance on Asia and Russia wanted to seize power over the Pacific Ocean including all of the Asian nations in those days. Thus, they decided to divide Korea into North and South maintaining their powers. In the present days, these problems still happen in a consistent form. When big countries mention and discuss the issues of North Korea, South Korea is always situated in a conflict between America and China. Therefore, many Korean people do not think that unification is what they must to achieve any longer because of outside interference.
Overall, there is a different perspective on unification between the younger and older generation in these days. The younger generation principally has a negative perception of unification and the older people regard it as essential. However, the older generation has shown their contradictory attitude towards North Korea in politics and education. Consequently, the younger people’s negative opinion is growing stronger year by year. If the older generation seriously considers unification as not a matter of choice but a must, firstly, they will have to change their political attitude towards North Korea. Further, they will have to try improving their children’s perspective on unification through education. Then, they can expect that their rising generation will be able to create a better future towards unification.