Younger generation talk of the economic pains of the process

It may be one of the most debated issues and one that is looked forward to by some world leaders in the hope of bringing to a close one of the last frontiers of the Cold War.

But broach the topic of a possible unification of North and South Koreas to the common man in Seoul, you will get frosty looks — much like the state of ties between the two countries.

The younger generation, especially, question the need for it, fearing the costs (read taxes) that such a process would entail. “What is the need … why should I support unification?” says Ji-Yun Seo, who works as an interpreter and translator.

Conversations with a cross-section of people interviewed by The Hindu revealed a split opinion on this issue with perhaps more of nays than ayes.

The younger generation which has not experienced the agony of families separated due to the Korean War, talk of the economic pains of the process, citing the instance of the German unification.

Says web designer Mike Min: “Yes it sounds good ... but I think that the gains will not be adequate to offset our pains.”

Some students at the Hankuk University of Foreign Studies feel that although it may entail some costs in the short-term, unification with the natural resource-endowed North will bring long-term gains.

But what really are the prospects of reunification of a country that was virtually sliced up its middle after the Second World War?

Septuagenarian journalist Young Hie Kim, Editor-at-Large of JoongAng IIbo, among Korea’s largest English dailies, felt that the issue will be examined afresh, once a new leadership takes charge after the December 19th presidential election. “But we have to remember that unification never comes by policy. It would come either surreptitiously or by an implosion in North Korea.”

Role for India

He also wanted India to play to a more proactive role in the region’s security architecture. However, he noted that China did not seem to be too inclined towardsunification of the Koreas. “We are seen as a buffer zone to tackle the U.S.A,” he said.

He felt that although India, despite having major economic engagements with South Korea, now looks aloof, it may change her mind in the event of China’s continued rise. Then China would be a threat to countries like India, Australia and New Zealand.

Park Hae-Yun, Director-General, South Asian & Pacific Affairs Bureau of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, said that it was a widely-held belief in his country that North Korea, isolated due to its nuclear programme, gets its economic sustenance from China.

On urging China to ask North Korea to halt its nuclear armament plans, he said: “We have repeatedly told China to ask them to desist, but so far without success. “

To a question, he said it was important that India, Japan and Korea came together.

(This visit was at the invitation of The Korea Press Foundation)

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