Concerns over post-unification circumstances increase

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un (l) and South Korean president Moon Jae In (r) at the inter-Korean summit on April 27, 2018. Image: Korea Summit Press Pool

The warming relations between the two Koreas has led to exchanges and cooperation across a number of areas, and sources in North Korea report that high hopes for unification among residents remain unchanged. Many are, however, concerned about what will happen after unification.

“North Koreans want unification to happen,” said a Pyongyang-based source on July 19.

“However, they believe that ordinary residents won’t live that well in a unified Korea,” he continued. “The government talks about everyone living well after unification but no one believes it anymore because they have been fooled by such propaganda for so long.”

A separate source in Pyongyang added that there are some who believe that unification will only bring limited benefits to the people.

“People hope for unification but they don’t believe there will be free travel between the two Koreas,” the additional source said.

“If someone has a relative in South Korea, people think that person would be unlikely to return to North Korea. Because of the fear of mass migration southwards, they think the authorities will close off the border.”

Even if free travel is allowed between the two Koreas, many North Koreans believe that the authorities will not give permit travel southwards due to fears of a shrinking North Korean population. This common opinion reflects the strong restrictions on freedom of movement currently in place in North Korea.

Daily NK reported last month that positive expectations toward unification have been increasing following the US-North Korea summit. Sources reported that many people were hoping for unification as a way to improve their poor quality of life, largely due to economic difficulties.

In April, Daily NK further reported that unification had become a topic of conversation among North Koreans as inter-Korean exchanges began. However, a student who had said that he “wanted to visit South Korea as soon as unification happens” had been punished, reflecting the oppressive measures still in place.

Daily NK also obtained documents revealing that North Korea has also ramped up resident-facing lectures on social problems in South Korea in an apparent effort to stoke fears about capitalism and rally support for the regime.