North vs. South: Can Two Koreas Reunite?

By Sadie Bass

Nov 9, 2009 1:29pm

ABC's Joohee Cho reports from South Korea: When the Berlin Wall fell, South Koreans were high in hopes that the wall dividing North and South Korea might also come down ‘in the near future’. Since then 20 years have gone by and now many South Koreans, especially the younger generation, are feeling that the last Cold War frontier collapsing may not be such a good idea after all. Discussing unification to any Korean – both North and South – can be a very touchy subject. First of all, the politically correct term to use is ‘reunification’, not ‘unification’. Koreans say that is because the Cold War and the great powers ‘slashed their country into half’ along the 38th parallel; against the Korean people’s wishes. So when you ask anyone on the streets of Seoul or Pyongyang whether they want reunification, even a five year-old will say ‘yes, our wish is reunification’. That ‘Our-Wish-Is-Reunification’ is a long-time catchphrase and a title of the song that Korean kids learn at elementary school. It is also the favorite song to sing – holding hands and often in tears – when North and South Korean civilians get together for example at occasional family reunions But if you ask the next question, ‘when and how’ they want reunification, the answers will come back very mixed. North Koreans trained and educated to shout the text book answer would respond, ‘we shall rescue our southern brothers from the imperialist Americans by military force to reunite as soon as possible.’ But down South where national income is 17 times higher than the North, people have been in doubt and calculating how much it would cost if the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) was dismantled.  According to a recent study from the Korean Institute of Public Finance, more than 8 percent of a united Korea’s GDP would have to be spent to guarantee South Korean-standard minimum social welfare to the North Koreans The study also forecasted that the gap between North and South would still exist even long after 20 years. Experts say the cost of Korean reunification will be 2.5 times more than what the Germans have spent. That means starting from the day North collapses, South Koreans would have to donate at least 10 percent of their GDP for an unspecified time. Most South Koreans – under the age of 59 – were born after the Korean War (1950-1953). Throughout their lives there has been no communication or travel to the North. They have been living under daily threat of North Korean military force and its nuclear programs.  They are content and proud of their nation’s economic performance ranking Asia’s 4th and world’s 14th largest economy. Perhaps that is why these days more South Koreans respond to the last question of when and how, ‘sometime in the future… gradually.’

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