Global Education

Reunification faces political and economic adversity

By Hye-Jung Yang
Published: November 2009

Fifty years after their separation in World War II, North and South Korea met to discuss reunification in June 2000, in which the nations’ leaders agreed to work together to achieve reunification in the North-South Joint Declaration. The issue, however, was dropped until it was picked up again in 2007 in a summit discussion held in Pyongyang from October 2 to 4, causing doubts as to whether North and South Korea could ever really reunite in the near future.

After the end of World War II, the United States and the Soviet Union partitioned the Korean territory into two halves; the Soviet Union acquired the northern half, while the United States acquired the southern.

This led to two different governments, which proceeded to bring forth the two distinct, modern Korean nations.

While North and South Korea did meet during the Cold War and years after in efforts to end resentment, these attempts failed due to the differences between the two nations.

Most Koreans wish for the reunification of the two Koreas, a desire that is based on a strong feeling of national unity and traditionally strong ties to history and culture.

As of now, however, Koreans and people from other nations involved are generally divided in their opinions on whether reunification is a possibility for the near future.

While confidence in predicting reunification has diminished since the 1990s, some believe that it is bound to occur soon. Others believe that the great differences between North and South Korea prevent them from even beginning the process.

As the two halves of Korea grew apart, for example, cultural differences began to arise, and the distinct lifestyles of North and South Koreans currently pose problems for the prospect of reunification. North Korea’s policies and restrictions on its citizens force it to be isolated from the rest of the world, making reunification more difficult.

Economic differences are also a major hurdle that the two nations must overcome in order to merge. The income-per-capita ratio for North Korea to South Korea currently stands at 1:15, with an approximate $30,000 average for South Korea and $2,000 for North Korea.

However, the greatest obstacle that the countries must overcome seems to be the political differences between the two Koreas. North Korea follows the Juche ideology, which focuses on self-reliance and self-defense, and has produced the fifth largest military in the world, as well as possibly the third largest supply of chemical weapons in the world.
Monetary issues, while independent of the individual characteristics of each nation, could further delay or prevent reunification. Estimates of the cost of reunification, based on the current situation of North Korea and changes that must be made after merging, range from $25 billion to $3.5 trillion.

Even with South Korea’s prosperous economy, North and South Korea would be hard-pressed to come up with enough money to cover the costs.

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