Premature Unification Is Dangerous ②

Five Problems of Premature Unification

Again, let us return to the Korean peninsula. Is the Korean peninsula in better condition than Germany? A long controversial dispute is not necessary in regards to this issue because most people will agree that the relationship between North and South Korea is far more serious than that of Germany prior to its unification.

First of all, the economic gap between the two Koreas is far worse than was the disparity between the former East and West Germany. Regardless of the difficulty of accurately stating North Korea’s economic status, South Korea’s GDP per individual is secured at 10~40 times that of North Korea. This is far beyond the level of comparison when it comes to Germany prior to its reunification–West Germany’s GDP per individual was a mere 2.5 times that of East Germany.

Secondly, although East Germany’s population made up only 1/4 of West Germany’s population, North Korea’s population makes up almost half that of South Korea’s. With this said, it would mean that South Korea’s burden would far greater than was West Germany’s.

Thirdly, prior to unification, the similarities between East and West Germany were much weaker than those between North and South Korea. In East Germany, for instance, although there were aspects in which individual rights were limited and a lack of individual responsibility and economic capability, other aspects, such as the Christian culture and lifestyle, remained widespread allowing common ownership. Even before the unification, exchanges between East and West Germany were fairly vigorous and unrestricted. For instance, in 1973, approximately 2,270,000 West Germans were able to visit East Germany. Interactions in Germany occured consistently up to their unification. Not only is the amount of interaction incomparable to the two Koreas, but Germans were also given freedom. When we visit North Korea, we are not allowed to make statements freely and we are carefully watched until the day we leave. Furthermore, it was not just one West German that visited East Germany. Rather, it was thousands upon thousands that were given visitation rights.

Let us first analyze unification expenditure in detail (there are many who reject the term unification expenditure or expense and the writer does not find this term very pertinent, however, it is used due to the fact that it is a familiar phrase). The extent to what the unification expenditure is varies slightly from person to person. The notion that following unification South Korea and even perhaps the unified nation may have to support North Korea until they are self-reliant, and the general idea that up to about 10 years following unification South Korea and even perhaps the unified nation will have to invest in order to bring up North Korea’s economy to the level of South Korea are the two most commonly used. This unification expenditure consists of social overhead capital (SOC), construction and maintenance, unemployment compensation, various public welfare funds, replacement of obsolete business facilities and investment in new business facilities, funds for standardizing a norm between North and South Korea, residence repairs, and the repayment of North Korean foreign depts. There are some individuals that include various types of societal funds to this equation as well.

The unification expenditure scale differs from researcher to researcher. Even if it is just a single researcher, the results presented may be more than 10 times the difference depending on the situation and the strategic point considered. In July the Senior Researcher, Charles Wolf of the US-based Land Research Center, estimated that the total expense required for the Korean peninsula’s reunification would be between at least 5 billion dollars and at most 67 billion dollars. He emphasized that this process would require much more capital than that of Germany’s case because the state of the two Koreas is far worse. Five billion~67 billion dollars may seem less in comparison to the capital spent on Germany. However, when the difference in the economic scales of both Korea and Germany are considered, the results show that it is significantly higher. In addition to this, even in Germany’s case, there are many hidden factors that endlessly come about. The expenses have increased by geometric progression compared to the estimated budget, and it is expected to be likely in the case of the Korean peninsula as well.

A few years ago the Korea Development Institute (KDI) estimated that with public finance and indirect societal funds included, about 8.5~24 billion dollars would be needed for reunification. In a report titled “21st Century’s Korea,” the President’s Consultative Committee and the policy board, calculated that by adding the distribution of indirect societal funds, living assistance for the North Korean population, and even investments in nongovernmental enterprises would be 4.4 billion~ 12 billion dollars.

Although an exact calculation is almost impossible, it is clearly evident that reunification will require an amount so extraordinary, that it will not be easy to bear.

South Korea’s ability to shoulder such enormous expenses is seen as an exceptional case, but whether or not these expenses are necessary needs further consideration. Many specialists believe that if the North Korean government was to collapse and become democratized, a stabilized political and legal system would take root. Under a new reform policy, the first 5 years will experience an annual average growth of about 10~15 percent–without a large scale of foreign support. The following 10 years is believed to be capable of experiencing an annual average growth of 8~12 percent. Higher growth rates may be obtained if South Korea was to receive tremendous support and investments. Nevertheless, having higher growth rates than that was mentioned may not necessarily be a positive attribute. Growth rates higher than what the economic, social, and political structures of a society can handle may potentially work as poison. There is a case during the Stalin era where the Soviet Union reached a record growth rate nearing 20% during a 5~10 year period. However, not only is the validity of these statistics questionable, but the system in its nature was different. Even if the statistics were accurate, because it was a system of government ownership, a planned economy, and a powerful totalitarian structure, it is a difficult universal application. In the case of general democratic market economies, it is known that growth rates exceeding 12~15% result in great impacts on its economy, society, and politics. In the 1970s Korea reached an annual average economic growth of 9.7 percent. However, Korea suffered between 1979~1981 due to the overlapping of this economic growth, political turmoil, and oil shock. In the years 1986, 1987, and 1988 the economic growth rates were at 12.9%, 13.0%, and 12.4% respectively. Korea suffered from its aftermath as wages and real estate prices skyrocketed uncontrollably in addition to experiencing other social and economic hardships. Korea’s rapid economic growth in the 1970s up to 1996, the year before the financial crisis, the average economic growth rate was at 7.24 percent. This is the top level globally.

North Koreans are known to be highly productive because they are very diligent and have extensive education. Additionally, there is the assistance of a very friendly pro-North Korean market in South Korea and one that is somewhat helpful in China. When looking at the North Korean economic scale, it would be sufficient enough if North Korea was to take full advantage of both the South Korean and Chinese markets. Even without the government’s assistance, it is presumed that there will be plenty of voluntary investments in North Korea by the South Korean private enterprises. Active Chinese investments are also predicted. In addition to the monetary investments, South Korean support of technology and manual training is also expected to play a significant role. In addition to this, there are many other favorable indications for North Korea’s economic development. If only the North Korean government was to become democratized (even if not completely democratic) and politically stabilized, North Korea’s economic development would take off on a broad and level highway.

Under these conditions–one in which it is yet to tell whether the government supporting at a large scale is advantageous or not–where the Korean government itself cannot even deal with such an extraordinary sum, is it fit to pour such amount into North Korea? A bigger problem is that it may in fact may weaken or even obliterate the mindset of the North Koreans which focuses on self-help, self-reliance, and self-sustenance. This is actually the most important factor. Capitalism triumphed over socialism for that reason alone – the fact that individuals of capitalistic societies required and demonstrated more characteristics of self-help, self-reliance, and self-sustenance.

In a democratic society, the government neither protects everything nor does it take responsibility for everything. The current North Korean society can not be called a socialist society. Rather, it is more like a mafia structured nation. Thus, the level of protection from the government and the responsibility it takes is far less than democratic nations. However, if the current structure was to collapse, the people of North Korea will grow all the more dependent on the government for protection. Although the South Korean people are protected and assisted by the government, they are growing more and more independent, self-reliant, and responsible for themselves. North Koreans may supersede their southern counterpart in protecting themselves in a state of hunger and chaos, but they will fall behind in taking responsibility for themselves and self protection in a stabilized constitutional government. For example, they will fall behind in the ability to protect one’s personal property from frauds, the ability to protect one’s self when asked to take responsibility of something far beyond one’s own authority, and the ability to foresee and avoid the dangers in acts such as investing. The problem is that although the government did not take the initiative of protecting the North Korean people, when faced with trouble, the people in general expect the government’s protection and aid.

Korea is not very satisfactory, but amongst the least developed amongst developing countries (LDDC) it houses the most outstanding social welfare system. North Korea falls short of this system, and is behind other LDDCs such as Vietnam and Indonesia. The North Korean hospitals run short of cotton so it is not unusual to boil used cotton and reuse it several more times. It is referred to as free medical care, but it is not free at all–everything down to the smallest amount of medication must be paid for or it is not obtained. It is hard to find even a bit of government assistance in North Korea; only exploitation and oppression exists.

There is no doubt that the social welfare in North Korea will rapidly improve once the regime collapses and normalizes. However, even if North Korea was to normalize the level of social welfare, if will differ significantly from that of South Korea, and to force upon ties between the two would not be good for either side. In the perspective of South Korea, a lot is needed to be invested and sacrificed–which is economically consequential–in order to bring up the North Korea’s social welfare to a level more similar to that of their own. North Korea’s viewpoint is not much different. When globally analyzed, there was not one positive case in which a social welfare system surpassed the level of development in a nation. On the most part this only makes people spiritless and crushes their self-reliant attitude and fervor. This is known on both sides–the side that supports and the side that receives assistance–but once this particular social welfare system is set up it is difficult for either side to take reform initiatives. This is because each side has its own strong inertial force. Everyone knows that the excessive social welfare benefits provided for the Hawaiian and Alaskan native societies are ruining them, but no one even thinks of doing anything about it. More than anything it is the fear of not being able to live normally after the possible changes–the reliance on such benefits is too great.

Looking through a global scope, the current society is one of intense economic competition. Once becoming reliant, self-reliance is lost and it becomes all the more easy to dangle unto dependency. Wages that exceed the levels of production and excessive social welfare benefits will only back down the competitive power of the North Korean economy, and private enterprises of other nations including South Korea will be reluctant in investing. Problems will only worsen and the chances that the situation will become more serious than Germany will increase. Many have suggested that following unification North and South Korea be dealt with on different standards, but this is not easily done. The biggest problem of all is that in doing so it may only widen the already prevailing gap between the two societies.

North Korea is currently a decomposing and deteriorating nation. Every little aspect of the society is moved through bribery and personal favoritism. If the North Korean structure is reformed, the corruption will radically change, but other changes will require much more time. Simply catching up to China’s level alone may take a while, and even at China’s level it will not reach Korea’s level of integrity. Consequently, the South Koreans will naturally abhor the corruption. Up until now everything was blamed on Kim Jong Il, but once North Korea is reformed no one will be left to blame, and the people of North Korea will have to carry their own weight.

North Koreans lack public order and the consciousness of abiding by the law. They are not even interested in how the law is set up. All they need to do is follow the orders of Kim Jong Il and the Party, and this is only a mere result of the oppression. Thus, the notion of following the law voluntarily and willingly is weak in the minds of North Koreans. Furthermore, there will be many instances of breaking order and going against the social norm. Fixing this would take a tremendous amount of time. When individuals are harmed by breaking the law or by not fully understanding the law, they may easily blame the government and society for not educating them about these laws. This is yet another factor that may cause the South Koreans to frown upon the situation.

Most importantly, despite the fact that South Koreans sacrificed so much in helping North Korea, North Koreans may see how much they lack compared to the South Koreans and complain. South Koreans will see this sort of response as an ungrateful one. The same situation took place in Germany.

So then, how are the South Koreans? How they will treat North Koreans is predictable by seeing how they treat the Korean-Chinese countrymen. About 20~30% of Koreans treat these individuals and other foreign laborers cordially. However, for the most part Koreans disregard and neglect them. Among them 20~30% are arrogant and do not hesitate in acting insultingly. It looks as though it will not be much different in interacting with North Koreans. West Germans who are much more gentlemanly than South Koreans even heard that they were arrogant and neglecting the East Germans–South Koreans are bound to do the same. If this was to take place in Korea the problem will only grow. This is a problem much bigger than the conflict between the Gyungsang and Jeolla provinces, and will constantly threaten political and social stabilization.

Whether or not unification is needed will only become more complex if the discussion expands to this issue. Let us expand this discussion while remaining in the premise of unification being necessary.

Even if unification is eventually needed, premature unification is not the resolution. Premature unification causes many problems.

To briefly summarize:
First of all, premature unification means a tremendous unification expense which will bring about a downfall in the South Korean economy. The Korean peninsula as a whole will fall into an economic depression.

Secondly, even without such significant South Korean assistance, if North Korea was to become democratic and take a step into reformation, they have the capability of development. Excessive economic aid will suffer from side effects such as the distortion of the market-economy relationship within the society.

Thirdly, there is the high chance that excessive support will weaken the self-reliant attitude and characteristic of the North Koreans disrupting their growth potential.

Fourthly, under the conditions of unification, it will be difficult to overcome North-South discrimination. Even if the system and institutions were changed to fit social needs, the problems will not be easily resolved.

Lastly, it is almost given that under the conditions of unification, the emotional conflict and confrontation between the North and South will worsen.

Unification Is Not Needed Urgently

Many individuals do not know the meaning behind unification or understand why unification is necessary. When asked, students respond that they would like to visit North Korea freely or that separated families can be reunited and live together, or that the positive attributes of North and South Korean economy can complement one another in creating a synergy effect. However, this is all sufficiently possible even without unification. People from Hong Kong were able to freely travel to mainland China prior to unification; they were allowed to freely visit those they wanted to see, reside anywhere with family members they were once separated from, and even high levels of economic collaboration was allowed. It is the same with North and South Korea. If North Korea can only become democratized, these issues can be resolved even without unifying. What many believe to be the reasons behind unification are issues that can actually be solved without unification.

The statement that unification will decrease national security expenses is also one lacking ground. Although there is a chance that security expenses may decrease, it may easily increase as well. There are many students responding that once unified, the system of obligated service duty will come to an end and they will not need to join the military. This concept is not all groundless. In fact, once North Korea is democratized, the characteristics of its security crisis will change completely. If this was to happen, whether or not unification occurs, the newly established security situation must be analyzed and appropriate military measures must be taken. Currently there are excessive numbers of soldiers compared to the national population. Soldiers’ schedules and even the period of public service may be reduced; but it will not be easy replacing the obligatory system with one of recruiting and obtaining a societal condition in which allows the selection of top voluntary soldiers. In essence, these issues have no relevance to whether or not unification occurs.

Many are concerned with the possibility of affecting the relationship with China if the process of unification were to be pushed forward. The writer provided an explanation regarding this matter in an article titled “Will North Korea Be a Vassal State of China?” published in Shidaejungsin’s last issue. We must bear in our minds that such concerns are generally groundless apprehensions and excessive precautions that cause unnecessary burden on security.

With all this said, premature unification must be avoided. Instead, North Korea’s democratization efforts must be made to promote interaction between North and South Korea, and when matured conditions are met unification ought to be pursued. North Korean aide is certainly needed even if it is prior to unification. However, the aide must not be excessive or lack in sincerity, but rather, should require a bit of sacrifice and devotion as appropriate. The government should not go out of its way to invest, but it should allow investment to occur naturally and freely in the market.

If it does not feel right to unconditionally postpone unification, formation of federation in structure and union of two countries in governing could be considered. Such a direction may be chosen after taking a close look at the situation and consequences. However, political burdens which amount to the one that would result from unification needs to be expected.

Freeing the people from Kim Jong Il’s repression is what is urgent, not unification. The faster the North Korean democratization, the better it is; but unification requires much more time and observation. There are many traps when analyzing the relationship between North and South Korea. Thus it is important to remain focused and approach it in a calmer manner.

Related Article

“Premature Unification Is Dangerous ①”