Korean dreams of reunification

Korean dreams of reunification

Unification is on the agenda for both North and South Korea. South Korea is opting for a peaceful reunification which, as was the case in Germany, requires a change of regime in the north, writes Prince Michael of Liechtenstein.

A Ministry of Unification is in place in Seoul. Some South Korean businesses see this option in the nearer future and are preparing for the northern market to be opened.

North Korea has a different approach, at least in its official messages. North Korea declared 2015 as the year of unification, but it sees achieving this through military might not peace. This is unrealistic, but is part of the regime’s strategies of propaganda and threat.

Historically, Japan annexed Korea in 1910 and Korea became independent after Japan's defeat in the Second World War in 1945. The north was put under Soviet administration and the south under the US. The 38th parallel, chosen arbitrarily, became the divide.

No partition was intended, but following a proxy war between the West and the communist world in the1950s, this partition became permanent.

Two states have existed ever since, the Republic of Korea in the south and the Democratic People's Republic in the north.

South Korea is now a flourishing economy based on free market principles. It enjoys a working democracy and is a solid ally of the US.

North Korea is a backward Stalinist country with the fifth largest army in the world, and nuclear capabilities. It threatens South Korea, Japan and the US and has enjoyed Chinese support, although this is fading because China strongly disapproves of North Korea’s leader Kim Jong-Un.

Unification of the peninsula would require regime change in the north which appears quite stable. Most of the regime’s enemies have emigrated or been eliminated. The population is kept ‘loyal’ by a cocktail of propaganda, authoritarian paternalism and terror. Loyalty to the system is essential in a successful career.

Change can only happen by disrupting the leading elite and Kim Jong-Un is well aware of this danger. That probably explains why he used the brutal execution of his uncle in 2013 as a public example.

A divided Korea has been good news for many, especially China and Russia. A unified, democratic Korea with a market economy could develop into one of the world’s leading economies. It would also be an important military power, likely to remain a US ally, controlling access to the Yellow Sea.

This is strategically important to China and would stretch close to Russia’s main access to the Pacific, the port of Vladivostok. China’s interest in preserving the division explains its tolerance to the regime, despite its total disapproval of its leader.

The situation has many parallels to Germany's unification which needed regime change in the east with the consent of the Soviet Union.

Nobody expected reunification. West German Chancellor Helmut Kohl succeeded in grasping a short window of opportunity, helped by the implosion of the Soviet Union. Korea’s unification would change the balance of power in the region and China would have to get something out of this, in order to agree.

South Korea is wise to continue its peaceful path towards reunification and prepare its businesses to develop the opportunities and markets in the north. Unification is a priority for the south and its President Park Geun-Hye, despite the challenges and costs.

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