[OUTLOOK]Prepare for end of North Korea

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[OUTLOOK]Prepare for end of North Korea

I recently attended a seminar, titled “Today’s North Korea” at the National Assembly. From North Korea’s power structure to the country’s serious economic hardships, I heard and learned much during the session. It was impressive to see new views about North Korea. But I was thinking of something else throughout the debates.
I am not sure what today’s North Korea is like or who among the participants was more accurate during the debates.
The most important subject in my mind was not today’s North Korea, but today’s South Korea. When the time came for me to speak, I frankly stated my position that it would have been better if the seminar were titled “Today’s South Korea in relation to North Korean issues.”
I have never been to North Korea, nor do I have expertise about the country. I am not an expert about the nuclear crisis or the six-nation talks. I just believe that North Korea’s fall is approaching and that the collapse will happen abruptly someday.
The North will eventually fall, but it is problematic if the collapse occurs suddenly. Let’s assume the two Koreas are unified. What will happen next? The military and the government are drawing up their own scenarios, but that’s not enough. Enormous shock and confusion will ensue, but are we ready to cope? I wonder if anyone is actually paying attention to such a matter.
Germany is still suffering from the aftermath of its unification. Vietnam, 30 years after unification, is still suffering from the economic effects of unification. These are not irrelevant stories to us.
I have heard so many scenarios about the collapse of North Korea, but I have never seen a scenario that tackles how to rebuild the North.
What will we gain from studying the possibility of collapse? It is more important that we cope with the aftermath of North Korea’s fall, but we hardly see studies on such issues.
Let’s say that the Korean Peninsula is unified after North Korea falls. The peninsula will be in turmoil. No one ― not even the Central Intelligence Agency of the United States ― will be able to predict what will happen. Superpowers in the region will do everything in pursuit of their national interests.
China will likely try to make North Korea part of its territory. With an assumption that the North will eventually fall someday, why shouldn’t China think about securing its stakes in North Korea by showing some effort in resolving the nuclear crisis?
Japan will likely see a unified Korea as a serious threat, rather than welcoming it as a neighbor. We will never know what kinds of strategies Japan will employ to counter a unified Korea.
The United States will do everything to stop nuclear materials from freely coming out of North Korea after its fall.
In the end, South Korea will alone have to bear all of the burdens of unification and the problems that will arise afterward.
Believing that unification will end the tragedy of separation and promise us blessings and a bright future is simply a delusion. The Korean Peninsula may fall into chaos as serious as enormous earthquakes or tsunami. Unification, desired by Koreans even in their dreams, may become a new disaster if we fail to cope with the subsequent problems.
And yet, optimists gain power today. Those speaking about the problems that would come after unification are treated as anti-unification forces in today’s South Korea.
At the National Assembly seminar, I asked how labor policy and the labor market would be shaped after unification, while there are already so many studies about North Korean laborers. An expert among the panel replied with an unbelievable answer.
“I once studied possible labor issues expected after unification, but people have treated me as an ultra-conservative,” he said. “Therefore, I changed the direction of my research to labor issues in North Korea and stopped studying issues expected after unification.”
It is absurd that research on the ill effects of unification have become taboo among scholars.
It may be too much of a hope that the government would have the capabilities to cope with various political, economic, social and welfare issues destined to arise after unification, since it is not even capable of handling domestic issues such as problems associated with North Korean defectors and irregular workers.
I hope it is not too much of a hope that South Korea opens a research institute that would plan for Korea after unification.

* The writer is the CEO of the JoongAng Ilbo News Magazine. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.


by Lee Chang-kyu
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