- Yonseians’ perspectives on the possible reunification of the Korean peninsula
IMAGINE HAVING naeng-myun* for lunch in Pyongyang or waiting at Seoul Station for a bullet train to Mt. Baekdu**. It seemed unimaginable last year when North Korea’s prolific testing of nuclear missiles drove the North-South Korean relationship in a seemingly endless downward spiral. On April 27, 2018, however, this deep-rooted tension took an unexpected turn as the leaders of the two Koreas met at Pan-mun-jeom for the 2018 inter-Korean Summit. The historic moment elicited a diverse spectrum of reactions from across the South Korean society: while a compelling wave of optimism is circulating the country, voices of concern and skepticism continue being raised. Taking this debate a step further is the issue of reunification: people are arguing over whether it is a possible track of action, and if it is, whether it should be pursued. Therefore, The Yonsei Annals decided to explore the views of Yonseians on the possible reunification of Korea.
Sim Jae-hoon (Jr., UIC, Economics)
Reunification can be compared to “dating.” It may start off beneficial, but as time passes, we may encounter mental and financial hardships. If national productivity is simply assumed to be a product of labor and capital, there is a chance that reunification will cause a boost in the economy. However, before considering these long-term benefits, my mind jumps to the immediate burdens first. Reunification of Korea is not merely an arithmetic addition of the North and South; rather, reunification is thinking of each other as people of the same nation. Reunification can be seen as undesirable in the short term because people with drastically different ideologies will have equal votes in deciding the future of the country, leading to various clashes. There are also imminent economic burdens that cannot be ignored. Nevertheless, much like asking someone out on a date, the ultimate criterion for a decision should not be a materialistic calculation but rather a national value that the people share. In the long term—nationally and economically—reunification is a desirable choice. Much like how it is dim-witted to always make a courtship display, I believe the effort for reunification should be made not “always” but when “it is the right time.”
Park Jin-sung (Fresh., Dept. of Political Science & Int. Studies)
I am strongly for a unified Korea, but on the condition that reunification is achieved through self-determination of both Koreas. Firstly, reunification will bring enormous economic benefits that will outweigh the costs. Low growth rate has been solidified in South Korea, but reunification will result in much economic growth, leading to the Miracle of Han River*** once again. Also, South Korea is spending too much on military defence expenditure. With the reunification, much of the expenditure can be invested on the lives of ordinary citizens. Secondly, both Koreas share a common historical root. Although they have been in conflict for decades, it does not change the fact that they are one ethnic race. Moreover, I do not believe that the Koreas were voluntarily divided. The Korean War started as a proxy war of two strong nations with conflicting ideologies, namely the United States and the Soviet Union. Lastly, a reunified Korea will be able to significantly influence East Asia.
John Delury (Associate Prof., Graduate School of International Studies)
I think the third summit is about reconciliation and peaceful coexistence between the two Koreas. A prolonged period of peaceful coexistence is probably the best path you can find to ultimate reunification. Although this stalemate can also feel like there is no agreement to unify, I believe that both the leaders and the citizens of the country want to reject this feeling because, deep down, they believe that this division is false. It is imposed, not real, and not in our bones. Still, I consider alienation as one of the main reasons for past disagreements in the topic of reunification. Alienation has gone hand-in-hand with the long period of division, and younger generations find this concept quite abstract.
So, if reunification were to happen, it would probably prompt a period of reconciliation and reintroduction, which would be a great thing for the country. Reconcile, re-introduce yourselves to each other, learn your languages, dialects, and learn about each other. That is what we need to do.
Park So-mi (Jr., HASS. Creative Tech. Management)
I feel that the reunification of the Korean Peninsula will never be achievable because the two Koreas have been separated for a very long time. Unlike the separation of Germany, which was relatively shorter and overseen by foreign countries, the separation of the two Koreas has divided them into two different countries. There is no commonality between us and it seems unlikely that these immensely different countries will reunite merely based on their historical past. For the younger generations like us who have to take on the burden of reunification, the idea seems too sentimental and emotional. It is undoubtable that reunification will take up a lot of economic suffering especially on South Korea, which is more economically stable. Looking in the long term, there may be some economic benefits, such as the vast resources unused in North Korea’s lands; however, in the short term, the younger generations are the ones who actually have to suffer the disadvantages to reap from the reunification.
Jung Yoon-ho (Fresh., Dept. of Electrical & Electronic Engin.)
I am against reunification. We are living in an era of globalization and many countries are investing in economic and technological development. It is not an appropriate time for us to invest in reunification. For example, after the reunification of Germany in 1990, West Germany spent 1.7 trillion euros (in the current value) to raise the economic standard of East Germany to match that of the West. If we spend that much money for the sake of reunification and its related expenditures, Korea would fall behind in the global market. In South Korea, there are not even enough investments in welfare or scientific developments, so reunification should not be a priority. We should maintain peace with North Korea, but reunification is too early to discuss.
Shin Young-in (Soph., Dept. of Mech. Engin.)
To the younger generation, the reunification of Korea is more of a concept than an actual possibility. In theory, who wouldn't want the two Koreas to be reunited? It makes logical sense to come together, just as all the other countries that had once been divided in the past have had. But at what point do we ask ourselves, “have our differences become too much to overcome for the reunification?” By supporting reunification, we are assuming a peaceful process where the expected conditions are the two countries coming together as one, and one not overpowering the other. However, consider the differences that have accumulated through the years while the country has waited for this political “happily ever after.” One is a democracy and the other a tyranny. There is no doubt we are at a worse-off end of the deal. Of course, there are benefits to this reunification, but at what cost? We have been taught throughout our whole lives that North Koreans are our brothers and sisters, merely divided due to unfortunate events in history. We will accept our brothers and sisters when the time comes, but perhaps not with open arms as our grandparents would have expected.
Daryl Bockett (Prof., UIC, International Studies)
Reunification makes more sense as a humanitarian project than a matter of the national interest. The suffering of the North Korean people is tragic, but it is feature of the Kim regime, not a bug. That means the only way to end that suffering is to end that government, which means pursuing a Seoul-led reunification.
However, the costs and risks of reunification are almost certainly too great for the South Korean public to bear. It will cost billions just to update the physical infrastructure in the North, let alone put effective social systems in place, educate the people, and so on. The brainwashing of the people may take generations to undo. And that is the best-case scenario. What happens if you can’t hold the North together or control internal migration while you’re struggling to heal the wounds caused by seven decades of mismanagement? Those costs and risks begin immediately, and whatever benefits there may be from reunification will most likely take many years to materialize. Sometimes the best foreign policy is to just muddle through. That’s why I think South Korea will work to prop up the status quo for as long as possible.
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Hearing various perspectives on the notion of reunification brings us to the conclusion that even within Yonsei, there are a multiplicity of conflicting views. Korea’s path to reunification is a project that should involve the voice of the entire nation, and every Korean is entitled to an equal stake in the matter. After all, solving decades-long hostilities cannot be accomplished in a day. Each and every step in this process of reunification and reconciliation should be taken with the utmost care.
*Naeng-myun: A traditional Korean dish that directly translates to “cold noodles”
**Mt. Baekdu: A volcanic mountain located on the border between North Korea and China
***Miracle of Han River: A term that refers to the rapid development of the Korean economy from 1961 to 1997
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