Seoul to set up special account for unification

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Seoul to set up special account for unification

BEIJING - South Korea will create an exclusive unification account as part of its efforts to prepare for a future merger with North Korea, Seoul’s point man on Pyongyang said yesterday.

The government plans to set up the unification account in an inter-Korean cooperation fund that is currently worth about 1 trillion won ($869 million).

The fund already has a separate account earmarked for inter-Korean projects, according to the Ministry of Unification in Seoul, which handles North Korean affairs.

Minister of Unification Yu Woo-ik made the announcement during a meeting with South Korean reporters on the last day of a three-day trip to Beijing.

The development underscored Seoul’s longstanding commitment to unifying with North Korea. The envisioned account, which needs legislative endorsement, is part of South Korea’s efforts to help cushion the cost of reunification with one of the poorest countries in the world.

A state-run think tank has estimated that the initial costs for the integration of the two Koreas could range from 55 trillion won to 249 trillion won.

The estimate, which is projected to cover the first year of integration, was based on the assumption that the two neighbors could be unified two decades from now, according to the Korea Institute for National Unification.

Yu said the government does not have an immediate plan to levy a tax on citizens to help finance a potential unification, though he left open the possibility.

South Korea has been working on details of a so-called unification tax since last year, when President Lee Myung-bak floated the idea of using taxpayer money to help finance unification.

Seven out of 10 South Koreans believed that the costs of unification would outweigh its benefits, according to a recent telephone survey, in the latest sign of public concern over re-unification’s economic burden.

The National Unification Advisory Council, a presidential advisory body on unification, released the results of last week’s poll of about 1,000 people.

Yu was to return home later Wednesday after a three-day trip to Beijing aimed at enhancing Chinese understanding of the situation on the Korean Peninsula and bolstering ties with the North’s key ally and the world’s No. 2 economy.

Yu sought Chinese cooperation in handling North Korean defectors during his meeting with former Foreign Minister Tang Jiaxuan on Wednesday, a day after he made a similar appeal to Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi.

Tens of thousands of North Korean defectors are believed to be hiding in China, hoping to travel to Thailand or other Southeast Asian countries before resettling in South Korea.

China does not recognize North Korean refugees and repatriates them back to their homeland.

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