This article is going to look at the difference between North and South Korea and the challenges of reunification.
After World War 2, Korea regained its autonomy from Imperial Japan. On August 10 1945, the 38th parallel was established as the dividing line between the Soviet administered North and American administered South. The Korean war made this supposedly temporary division seemingly permanent. We already know that after 70 years of separation, the differences between the authoritarian North and democratic South Korea couldn’t
be more profound. There is constant tension from nuclear tests, military skirmishes, threats of turning one side or the other into ‘powder’. Even though officials from both countries met again in December 2015 to discuss improved relations, the failed unification talks in 1972 and 2000, coupled with the intense secrecy of Kim Jon Un’s regime, leave plenty of room for well-founded skepticism. But let’s go deeper with this topic. Anyone could tell you that finding the political will for unification will be difficult. What would reunification actually look like? The first factor is the means by which the unification comes about. Since 1969, the South Korean Government has maintained a Ministry of Unification, which plans for the scenario of a gradual reuniting of the two countries.Indeed, most reunification plans are premised in gradual integration over time. However, many experts believe that a total collapse of the north korean regime is the only way reunification could ever truly happen. But this is the nightmare scenario for world governments. A sudden collapse of the North Korean regime would leave Nuclear Arms unsecured. North Korea has nuclear weapons estimated between 10-15 kilotons in strength. North
Korea experiences nearly constant famine. Collapse would lead to the evacuation of potentially millions of refugees to the South and to China. In fact, in leaked documents, the Chinese already have emergency planning for this scenario which includes gathering North Korean refugees in camps, turning back ‘undesirables’
at the border, and protecting North Korean military & political leaders from what they call ‘foreign influence’. But even if stage one after a collapse is handled orderly, there are huge obstacles to a smooth unification.
First, after 7 decades of separation, the language and culture of the two Korea’s has shifted dramatically. For example, though both dialects of Korean maintain similar grammar, experts estimate that up to one third of words
used on a daily basis have diverged, and it currently takes north korean defectors up to 2 years to feel comfortable conversing in the South. Second, Korean courts have the potential to be overwhelmed, as formerly held residential
and business property is reclaimed from the pre-separation times.Health Care Infrastructure would also be a
severe challenge. The life expectancy in South Korea is currently 10 years more than in the North, and infant mortality far lower. Bringing the north’s hospitals into the 21st century,and retraining their doctors would be pricey. Another difference between North and South Korea is general infrastructure. The North has between 12,000 and 20,000 miles of unpaved, crumbling roads with few privately owned vehicles. Their train system is ancient compared to the South’s high speed network. Even the majority of their planes are outdated soviet aircrafts flying out of dilapidated airports. By far, the largest price tag would come frombalancing economic disparities. South Korean President Park Geun-hye describes the economic activity associated with unification as a
‘bonanza’, “Just as the German people secured freedom, prosperity and peace by tearing down the Berlin Wall, we too must tear down barriers in our march towards a new future on the Korean peninsula,” she said. but according to the IMF and World Bank, South Korea is the world’s 13th largest economy with per capita income of over 32,000 us dollars.Meanwhile, the average north korean might take in about 2,000 us dollars per year, and many of those are employed in the country’s massive 1.2 million man army. The South’s economy is 43 times larger than the north and bridging the gap wouldn’t be easy. Overall cost estimates for all this, for total reunification vary widely, from 50billion to more than 3 trillion.
While the difference between north and south korea continues to grow, relations between the us and another one of our cold war adversaries has thawed.We will soon write about thecomprehensive history of that relationship. And subscribe to Social Scientists for a deeper understanding of the news and of history.
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