중앙데일리

No land rush in the making

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Oct 21,2004
Who will own the property in the North after the two Koreas are unified, and what is the best way to allow for private ownership? This is seen as an important issue in the unification process, in part because many Koreans view real estate as a way to increase wealth. Analysts say the ability or desire to acquire property in the North is likely to vary, depending on whether individuals are residents of the North, South Koreans, defectors, or North Koreans who moved to the South after liberation from the Japanese occupation or during the Korean War. In any case, many experts believe the government of the unified peninsula should adopt a go-slow approach to privatizing property in the North. Kim Young-yun, a researcher at the Korea Institute for National Unification, said all land in the North should remain in the government’s hands for at least 10 years in order to prevent real estate speculation and social chaos in both the North and South, although housing could be privatized earlier. “The government could lease the land to companies or individuals,” Mr. Kim said. “It is also one way to sell the land bit by bit to provide funds needed for reunification.” Seo Jae-jin, another researcher at the institute, agreed that the land should be state-run for a while. “The unified government should allow North Koreans to live where they are living and occupy the land they are making money from. But it should promise to give them ownership of their houses if they live in them for a certain period of time.” The majority of North Koreans would not have the means to buy property right after unification. If the government permits the sale of real estate in the North immediately after unification, North Koreans might rapidly sell their property to South Koreans and the government would not be able to maintain a land management plan, Mr. Seo said. “If the government privatizes the real estate in the North soon after reunification, enormous chaos would occur,” he warned. To avoid severe social dislocation, Mr. Seo advocates that population movement between the North and the South should be controlled by the government for at least 10 years, perhaps through a visa system. If North Koreans want to live in the South after unification, they should be required to forfeit any claims to their current property, he said. The issue also affects defectors, and those who came to the South after liberation from the Japanese occupation or during the Korean War. Mr. Kim said they would have to give up claims as well, since providing proof of ownership would be extremely difficult. “It is almost impossible to prove land ownership because the North Korean government conducted a land reform in 1946 and it is known that the government burned the former land book,” he said. “There is also the possibility that people would forge land documents.” Mr. Kim added that even if it is possible to confirm the authenticity of a document, the government should not financially compensate the owners of the property, since that would cost a great deal and might hinder economic development. Defectors and others who came to the South previously have already had an opportunity to enjoy their lives, he added, indicating that the greater political, economic and social benefits of living in the South have been a form of compensation. Yoon Deok-ryong, director of the Korea Institute for International Economic Policy, said the only proof of property ownership is the land book in Japan that the Japanese government created during the colonial period. But since the North Korean government conducted its land reform, it is not easy to recognize the old properties. “I visited North Korea with a South Korean whose hometown is in the North. But he was not even sure where his house used to be,” Mr. Yoon said. “He just assumed that it was there somewhere.” But a number of those who came to the South years ago do not seem eager to try to regain ownership of their old property in the North. “For me, it would be enough to visit the house that I was born in and where I lived,” said Baek Min-won, 76, who came to the South in 1947. Mr. Baek said he owned a building in North Hamgyeong province in the North, which he would be able to recognize if he visited the area. But, he continued, “The North Korean government conducted a land reform, and I don’t have a land document. It would be difficult to get the building back. “I have lived in the South for half a century. Where I am living now is my home. My children are living here too,” Mr. Baek said. “I would not bother to file a lawsuit to get my building back.” Jeon Gi-wan, 70, who came to the South when he was 17, said he would also give up any ownership claims. “I know that my parents owned land in the North, but I don’t have the land document and I don’t think I could get it back,” he said. While analysts have focused on specific measures the government should take, the South Korean government acknowledges it does not have a concrete plan for managing the land in the North after unification. “We are promoting the reunification of both Koreas and the details should be worked out after unification,” said Kim Eun-han, an official in charge of unification policy planning at the Ministry of Unification. He said the South Korean government cannot develop a post-unification policy now because it would be a unilateral one. “The government has a basic concept ― the policy should work for cooperation and reconciliation between the two parties and seek a peaceful system,” Mr. Kim said. Kang Dong-suk, the Minister of Construction and Transportation, echoed the unification ministry official’s comments at a meeting with the International Management Institute last month. “We do not have a plan for unification, but we have emergency plans just in case the North collapses suddenly,” Mr. Kang said. Lee Hae-yeong, head official manager of the Association of the North Korean Defectors, and a defector himself, said resolution of the land ownership issue would depend on how reunification took place. If it were based on agreement between the Koreas, he said there could be controversy over ownership because the North Korean government would also have a say in the matter. If unification occurred through the North’s sudden collapse, those who acquired a property first would become the owner. “I was in the Soviet Union when it collapsed. Even large companies did not have an owner, and people who took something first became the owner or user of the property,” he said. by Park Sung-ha


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