Division on unificationPresident Lee Myung-bak’s proposal to introduce a unification tax is creating quite a stir. The opposition camp is strongly opposed to Lee’s idea, saying that it is an absurd move, considering the administration is using a meager 3 percent of the fund created to promote exchange and cooperation between South and North Korea.
Opposition parties also claim that the tax will anger the North, as the concept is basically based on the thinking that the South will absorb the North.
Expressing their disappointment over the proposal, some politicians in the ruling party also said that an introduction of such a tax without putting it to immediate use is unrealistic and that it is more important to reduce the budget deficit. They also say the government must first revitalize the economy if the country is going to bear such a huge financial burden down the road.
As the controversy escalated, President Lee has come out and said he is not planning on initiating the tax immediately.
We are not going to find fault with the president’s idea of preparing the nation for unification. Regardless, it’s a serious problem if the administration approaches the issue without giving strategic - and practical - considerations to its policies toward the North.
Policies involving Pyongyang are always a major source of conflict in our society, and it’s always difficult to receive full support from the people.
For example, the two previous administrations suffered from the conservative camp’s denunciations of hefty aid to North Korea, while the current administration has been attacked by liberals for its lack of vision when it comes to unification. All of this friction and controversy only hurts the effectiveness of our North Korea policies and gives Pyongyang plenty of room to exploit the situation.
Furthermore, the administration should endeavor to establish more balanced policies, let alone approach the issue in a much more prudent manner. It’s time to sincerely review the direction of our North Korea policies. We must be wary of unconditional aid to the North but also stay away from an excessive hard-line approach, as our government is also not free of responsibility for deepening the confrontation.
An annual survey on South Korean attitudes toward unification by the Seoul National University’s Institute for Peace and Unification Studies shows that the public’s trust in the administration’s North Korea policies stands at a low level. If their perception does not improve soon, it will be difficult for the administration to gain public support for its North Korea policies.