The Korean reunification is the possible future unification of North Korea and South Korea under a single government.
Liberation and Division
After the end of rule by Imperial Japan, Korea was divided into two countries. Ever since 1945 there were efforts to solve the Korea problem, originally by the ministers of the Soviet Union, the United States and United Kingdom. It was decided that a common government for the whole of the peninsula should be established. The governments of the Soviet Union and the USA agreed to administer the peninsula jointly until it could reach independence, but ideological differences interfered and two different states were declared in 1948. This division led to the Korean War which cemented the division.
See also: Division of Korea, Korean Demilitarized Zone
Despite being now politically different entities, both Korean states proclaim eventual reunification as a goal, that is, the restoration of Korea as a single state. Even though Korea is no longer a state in real political terms, it is very much alive in the minds of Koreans and as an ethno-cultural space critical to Korean national identity. A unified Korean team marched in the opening ceremonies of the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney and the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens, but the North and South Korean national teams competed separately in sporting events. There are plans for a truly unified team in the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing. Similarly, in the 1991 table tennis world championships in Chiba, Japan, the two countries formed a unified team.
Hurdles in the process
There are fears amongst some Koreans that the length of the division makes a reunification difficult, since the culture of both halves has developed independently following division. However, the traditional Korean culture is equally shared amongst the North and the South. Many families have been split by the division of Korea, a fact that troubles elder generations more than younger ones.
The economic difference between South Korea and North Korea also are a cause of concern. With an eye to the German reunification it is apparent that South Korea does not have an economy as strong as that of West Germany; and it is widely thought that the state of the North Korean economy is worse than that of East Germany.
Currently political issues, such as diametrically opposite forms of government, and the influence of the U.S. government in South Korea, cause most concern. There is also a growing reluctance of younger people to potentially give up the recently gained fruits of luxury made possible by a rapidly growing South Korean economy. The feeling of oneness with the Koreans in the North is on the wane, although it is still very strong.
Potential reunification processes
Supporters of the "Sunshine Policy" argue that sanctions and threats from the governments of the United States and South Korea have harmed, rather than improved prospects for reunification. They argue that if the North Korean government does not feel threatened by South Korea or the United States, it will have nothing to lose and everything to gain from dialogue and engagement with the outside world, and will have no reason to build weapons of mass destruction. Many argue that the only alternative to dialogue is the unthinkable resumption of hostilities, therefore they see no other option. Many supporters of the "Sunshine Policy" are motivated by prospects of reunification, a desire to avoid conflict on the Korean peninsula, and a desire to pursue an policy towards North Korea independent of the United States. The "Sunshine Policy" was introduced by the Millennium Democratic Party, and is continued by the Our Party government. A major player in North Korea trade is Hyundai Asan.
A hard-line policy
Opponents of the "Sunshine Policy" argue that dialogue and trade with North Korea has done nothing to improve prospects for peaceful reunification, and have helped bolster the North Korean government, which many see as corrupt, undemocratic, and totalitarian. Many feel that the North Korean government has no real interest in efforts to reunify the peninsula, and is only trying to ensure its own survival. Some argue that trading with a government which they believe is "starving its own people" is morally corrupt. Some even fear that North Korea may still ultimately be planning to reunify Korea by force. It is also argued that South Korea has seen little benefit from engagement with North Korea. Some believe that the entire engagement process is a fraud, as suspicion still lingers that the former Korean President Kim Dae-jung gave government money to Hyundai, which in turn paid the money to the North Korean government (presumably for such purposes as opening up the Kŭmgang-san tourist area). Many also believe that an "overly-generous" policy towards the North Korean government will leave South Korea less prepared in the event of a North Korean attack. The Grand National Party is in favour of a hard-line position on North Korea.
Many South Koreans, while desirous of reunification in theory, having seen the results of sudden reunification between West Germany and East Germany, want to delay the process of reunification until the Northern economy can be developed separately. Sudden reunification could bring a flood of refugees into South Korea, causing a social and economic crisis.
The Chinese government has shown a desire to mantain the status quo on the Korean peninsula; any potential sudden moves that would destabilize the Korean peninsula and threaten a mass exodus of North Koreans into Chinese territory are a major cause of concern for the Chinese government.
The attitude of the South Korean government towards North Korea has changed dramatically in the last few decades; during the Park Chung-hee administration, hatred towards the North Korean government was fostered in the civilian population for example, a poster with two Korean characters (반공; 反共) meaning "Fight Communism" was posted on every schoolhouse wall to encourage fear and hatred of the Northern government). In contrast, a recent comic book published by a South Korean author detailing a less-than-flattering portrait of the North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il was banned because the South Korean government feared that its publication could hurt reunification efforts.
North Korea faces many challenges: Since the 1970`s, South Korea has emerged as the more powerful of the two Koreas; recent famines have made North Korea incapable of feeding itself and has placed the government, as well as the Juche ideology in a difficult position. It is not known how much support the government commands among North Korea`s common people; it has been suggested that few North Koreans are loyal to Kim Jong-Il himself; he is allowed to remain in power partly due to the respect many in North Korea have for his father, Kim Il-sung. North Korea's government is reliant on the foreign aid which feeds most of North Korea's people; at the same time, potential social and political instability caused by the influx of outside influence remains a constant worry for North Korea's government.
Still at War
It should be noted that, technically, North and South Korea exist without a formal peace treaty and thus are still officially at war despite the 1953 ceasefire that ended the Korean War. Millions of Koreans still yearn for unification, but find it challenging to overcome the division of the last century's main ideologic global powers. Where the future of Korea lies remains a mystery. The debate in South Korea and elsewhere continues as to in what way (if any) Korea should be reunited.
Last updated: 08-26-2005 12:17:35
Last updated: 09-12-2005 02:39:13