Korea Unification: Is It in Everyone's Interest But Korea's?

The Korean peninsula has been separated since 1948. The North has became a communist Stalinist dictatorship ever since, while the South has enjoyed economic progress and American aid as it has become capitalistic. At the moment, the North’s per-capita income is less than 5% of the South’s: “Each year the dollar value of South Korea’s GDP expansion equals the entire North Korean economy."


South Korea has bolstered its economic capabilities, copying Japan with its creation of chaebols, or business conglomerates. Hyundai, LG Electronics, and Samsung are the primary examples of the country’s economy, which is the world’s 15th largest. The country’s economy relies on neomercantilism, which is an abundance in exports. The economy has grown 0.9%  from January and March, and has taken a two year high. No one can refute that South Korea has grown into a regional powerhouse — if not a world one — by the Miracle on the Han River. Under the guidance of Park Chung-hee and Park Geun-hye, the South has grown from a poverty-stricken nation in the 1970s to a rival of Japan in the 2010s.

The North has followed a different path. Its history is one of oppression, personality cults, and paranoia, where the country's dictator does not miss a chance to blame the United States as a culprit in the international arena and is constantly making threats to attack its neighbors. The country’s citizens are in poverty and the 1990s famine devastated much of the population. Yet, these two countries share a similar culture and history. We cannot forget that they were the same country. So is it possible to unite them like West and East Germany were reunited in the 1990s?

No matter what people in each country want, it depends on the rulers. The ruling conservative Saenuri Party and even the liberals in the South follow a very different economic and foreign from the communist north. Though the two parts of Korea might share an antagonism towards Japan, the South has American soldiers stationed in its country while the regime of the North is China’s puppet. Thus, it is good for both of the United States and China if the North and South are separated. The U.S. can remain in South Korea to influence it in military and economic ways, and has guaranteed a lifelong partner in the area.

This situation is to China's advantage too. China has a partner in the North, although despite their shared communist beliefs, the two countries are drastically different. China has risen to be a magnificent power in East Asia, and it influences the North in military and economic ways. Therefore, we can say that the two Koreas are like chess pieces of the U.S. and China. If unification does happen, this situation ceases to exit. China is also intent on not wanting an economic rival in its neighborhood, and if the Koreans want to unite, China would find itself with a bigger economic competitor, especially in the field of electronics and industry.

Overall, it depends on only Koreans to decide on unity. Just like the German people had to make that decision, now it is time for the Koreans. But it might take decades. Do not expect it to happen without the softening of the communist dictatorship. If Kim Jong-Un becomes a Gorbachev, it could happen. But the borders must be opened and Western lifestyle must be exported to the North. The people must think more democratically and let to participate.

Yet, for the South this might cause troubles: Its leaders are intent on keeping the country as it is, and unification could cause a drastic economic setback. Most people would see their old families, but at the price of decreasing GDP per capita. Only Koreans can decide if this tradeoff — giving up a degree of wealth for the sake of family and history — is worth it.