[VIEWPOINT]Lead the march to unificationIn 1990, the sound of the Berlin Wall falling was heard perhaps no more resoundingly in the world than in the small peninsula halfway around the globe, where the only country still divided by the Cold War remained. And so it is today. "When and how will Korea be unified?" Koreans asked themselves. The answer that most people gave was "Not now." Unification costs too much money and South Korea does not have the economic strength to support its poor cousins in the North, they said. Wait a few more years and we will see what happens.
Twelve years have passed and perhaps it's time to start talking about unification again. The last 12 years have seen an enormous widening of the gap between the economies of South and North Koreas. In 1990, South Korea's economy was 10 times bigger than that of the North. This year, it is estimated to be 30 times bigger. About one-quarter of North Korea's meager gross domestic product is used for military and defense purposes. Only 2 percent of South Korea's gross domestic product is spent for the same purposes and that is still twice the money. You don't even need to compare trade statistics or any other numbers to realize that the two Koreas' economies are, well, incomparable. The brighter side of the change that the last 12 years have brought: South Korea now has three times the ability to support the North Korean economy.
The difference in quality, not only in quantity, is also what makes the South and North Korean economies so unbalanced. North Korea has the most secluded and outdated economy in the world, and it still does everything the Stalinist way in the worst sense. The economic system, efficiency, quality of technology, level of life, transparency and any other references that point to the level of a country's economy place North Korea at the very bottom of the world's 200 or so countries －－ if not totally out of this world. International reports estimate that at least 2 million North Koreans have starved to death in the last 10 years.
North Korea is a failed country and the North Korean government is one of the worst in the world in taking care of its people. South Koreans cannot let North Koreans remain in this pitiful state. North Koreans, remember, are Koreans, too.
The flood of North Korean refugees swarming into China over its long and increasingly porous border with the North seems evidence enough of the weakening of the internal control of the regime in Pyeongyang. The North Koreans' rising awareness of a better life outside their failed country is starting to try their patience. Whether people like it or not, this might be the time to start thinking about unification again. The thought of 23 million North Koreans starving adds to the urgency of Korea's unification. Thinking of the millions of children whose physical and psychological growth are being stunted from malnutrition and then thinking of the burden it will take for us to support them, we should work for early unification.
People talk about the price it would take to unify the Koreas, but think of the price it takes to stand divided in contention with North Korea. We must realize that the longer it takes for us to unify, the higher the price we will pay in the end. We only need to pay once to unify, but we will be paying forever if we remain separated.
If a quicker unification is better for humanitarian, economic and strategic reasons, public consensus must be drawn and a consistent policy must be maintained in pursuit of this. Unification inevitably will have a high price economically and it will inevitably be up to South Koreans to pay it. Therefore, we should start a fund now. The fund will help us support North Koreans after unification. Start by setting aside 1 billion dollars or even 1 percent of the national budget per year, and then increase the amount to 5 billion dollars a year in 10 years. Use this fund to give humanitarian aid, build social infrastructure and enhance productivity for North Korea. The money should also be used to convince our neighboring countries to help our cause in ways such as setting up refugee camps in Russia and Mongolia.
Much has changed in the Korean Peninsula since the time of Germany's unification. While South Korea has managed to stay on the fast track of economic growth despite a few bumps on the way, North Korea has become a miserably poor and destitute country. If we leave North Koreans in the situation they are now in, the cost of welfare for them after unification will be enormous.
The sooner unification comes, the better it will be for us. However, unification will cost a lot economically. We should fully prepare ourselves to pay the price. Remember: North Korea is Korea, too.
The writer is a professor of business administration at Yonsei University.
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