[Viewpoint] Stop fearing unification cost

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[Viewpoint] Stop fearing unification cost

In your heart, you don’t want to see unification in your lifetime because you’re afraid of what it may cost you. If unification does take place, you hope it comes as slowly as possible. So let me ask you a related question: What would happen if your wife fell critically ill? Her life is at stake if she doesn’t get operated on soon.

But the surgery is risky and costly. You would obviously worry. You don’t have much savings or many assets to sell. But you nonetheless would send your wife to the operating room because you would do anything to save her.

The expense of unification should be understood in a similar light. You are wrong to hope that unification can be avoided or deferred in fear of its cost.

Unification must take place when the opportunity arrives regardless of the expense, in the same way that money should not be a factor if your wife’s life was at stake.

It’s also wrong to think unification will only be an expense. The returns will be, in fact, bigger. Let’s consider the example of your spouse again. When your wife gets better, every penny you spent on her medical care will be worth it. Without your wife, you would have to take over household affairs, the care of the children and all the related chores. It would cost you a lot of time and effort.

The return on that investment is immeasurable. Your wife epitomizes the security, peace and happiness of your family. Her existence is indispensable for your children’s personality formation, physical growth and education.

Moreover, the love and devotion your wife brings to your household is handed down to the next generation when your children start a family of their own. Money comes and goes, but those returns last forever.

Unification can be the same. With defense spending reduced, the extra budget can be put to more productive use. The local consumers’ market will grow and jobs will increase.

The rich natural resources in the North will be ours. Shipping costs to China will be sharply reduced when we can access the North Korean route.

The invisible benefits from a unification would be far bigger than any of those factors and immeasurable in terms of value. Relatives and families separated by the war will be reunited. And we will be completely free from the fear of another war.

This cannot be tapped into a calculator. The international status of a unified Korea will also generate immense returns. We will have more room to grow in cultural and academic fields, and tourism and leisure industries will widen.

The ripple effects will be staggering. And the benefits will only mount as long as this land exists on the planet. When considering the limitless returns of unification, it is silly and immature to hide from unification opportunities. It is foolish to worry about an immediate cost when vast gains are in the waiting.

Of course, your concerns are understandable. Although infinite benefits wait beyond the horizon, the immediate sufferings and cost from unification will affect your life. It is as if you would have to borrow a vast sum of money and work like hell to pay it back for your wife’s operation.

But if you duck your duties and responsibilities just because of money, it makes you a bad parent and person.

You are postponing a better life and future for your children and younger generation because you don’t want your present comforts disturbed.

It is unethical, ghastly, even inhuman to intentionally perpetuate a legacy of fear in a divided country for your children and descendants because of your selfishness.

Unification can come rushing in without any warning. You cannot run away from it even if you don’t want it. Illness doesn’t escape you because you cannot afford it.

But the unification cost is not as big as estimates from the media and some experts. Expenditures should take into account estimated returns, but the estimates that go around are overhead alone.

In reality, however, the cost will likely be much smaller than the estimated figure of billions of dollars. We can always adjust spending according to our capacity.

For instance, Germany may have constructed 10 expressways to connect its east with the west after unification. But we can be content with fewer and make the most of what resources already exist if we cannot immediately afford new ones.

Just because your friend’s wife got the most expensive medical care and recovered in a private room doesn’t mean you have to do the same for your wife. So let’s stop whining over money. It just makes us look silly.

*Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.
The writer is a professor of North Korean studies at Ewha Womans University.

By Cho Dong-ho
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