Preparing for unification

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Preparing for unification

The population of South Korea will top 50 million this month, making it the 26th-largest country in the world. When you throw in the other 24 million Koreans living across the northern border, the population soars to 74 million people

A unified Korea would have the 18th-largest population on the planet. The United States, Japan and Germany are currently the only highly advanced nations with populations topping 74 million.

Korean unification would go far beyond merely bringing together the populations of the North and South - it would add a significant chapter to the world’s history. Today’s generation must therefore prepare for the possibility of this monumental event and get ready to chart a new course.

In the weeks since President Lee Myung-bak proposed creating a new tax to finance the cost of unification in his Aug. 15 Liberation Day address, the idea of reuniting the two countries has become a hot topic once again.

Some people might choose to ignore the conversation given that relations between North and South Korea are seriously frayed. But few can oppose the argument that we must prepare for the eventuality of unification. The Presidential Council for Future and Vision is reportedly mapping out a 10-year action plan for unification.

The JoongAng Ilbo has proposed that the country set aside 1 percent of its fiscal budget every year to fund unification-related activities. The government should indeed take steps to plan for unification. But we must ensure that political interests don’t taint such an important task. The plan must be objective, thorough, far-reaching and visionary.

Unification is indeed possible, provided three conditions are met.

First, a majority of the population in South Korea must support the move. That’s certainly not a guarantee given the deeply rooted rift in society on the issue. The government must attempt to narrow the differences among the population and win broad support. Second, the government needs to secure the support of North Koreans as well. If North Korean residents resist moves to reunite with their southern counterparts, unification will never take place. South Korea must pursue a two-track policy of embracing North Korean residents while at the same time pressuring the country’s regime. Third, unification must have the blessing and support of the international community. China’s cooperation and backing are therefore essential.

The chance to reunite may come out of the blue. Whether we can seize the opportunity depends on how well we prepare.

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