[Viewpoint] The unification ‘cookie jar’

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[Viewpoint] The unification ‘cookie jar’

The first step in preparing for reunification has been taken. The Ministry of Unification plans to set aside 55 trillion won ($48 billion), the estimated minimum cost of the reunification process.

A special account will be created within an inter-Korean cooperation fund with the unused sum from the fund, and contributions from the private sector, government and other sources designated by related laws will be pulled together to finance the reunification. All of the contributions and budget allocation will go into this unification “cookie jar.”

The amount the ministry hopes to reserve has been determined by a research study jointly conducted by the Korea Institute for National Unification and other agencies. According to the study, the cost of reunification in its first year will be between 55 trillion won and 299 trillion won, assuming that the two Koreas will be reunited 20 years from now.

The estimates in the past varied drastically, as some are based on the cost of Germany’s reunification and others used the microeconomic model with a goal of improving the North’s economy to a certain level after unification.

However, the ministry’s estimate was calculated differently, by selecting key projects in each field - politics, military, economy, community and culture - and adding up the aggregated costs for each project. That way, the estimate can reflect specific economic circumstances at the time of unification and various financial resources can be worked out for each item.

The reserves in the reunification fund mean a step forward from the discussions about unification in the past, which were limited to policy planning, as it is a realistic execution plan in preparation for reunification. Moreover, the reserves declare the firm will of the Korean government for unification at home and abroad, asking for cooperation and support domestically and internationally. It emphasizes that unification is only attainable by thorough and substantial preparation, not slogans and promotions.

The problem is how to obtain support and agreement for the policy to set aside financial resources for reunification. Unification has to be attained in order to resolve various tangible and intangible costs both South and North Korea have to endure as a result of the division.

As time passes, the cost of division is accumulating and will be an obstacle for the Korean people. Moreover, reunification will provide great benefits, both tangible and intangible. In other words, unification is necessary to eliminate the cost of division and to provide a new growth engine for development of the country.

Unification may happen suddenly or can approach gradually. Regardless of how reunification arrives, we need to be thoroughly prepared to construct a unified nation. Rather than engaging in a political debate over the type or method of reunification, we need to focus time and energy on preparation.

For example, we need to have a detailed and specific blueprint for a reunified country. Also, we need careful planning for post-unification political stability, economic reconstruction in the North Korean regions and socio-psychological integration.

Moreover, we need to reinforce the overall capacity of Korean society to ready ourselves for reunification. In order to grow the capacity to absorb the shock of reunification, the operation of political and economic systems, social welfare, and education need comprehensive reinforcement.

The unification jar to cover the cost of reunification is only the beginning. We need to make more earnest efforts to attain unification.

While expanding cooperation to minimize the cost of unification, we need to urge North Korea to open up and pursue reform. At the same time, we should create the right domestic and international atmosphere for unification by expanding peacemaking and cooperation between South and North Korea.

*The writer is the director of the Unification Policy Research Center at the Korea Institute for National Unification.

By Park Jong-chul
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