Korean unification remains in limbo

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Korean unification remains in limbo

If reunification was to be decided through an opinion poll, would people overwhelmingly support it? It may sound absurd, but this has actually happened before.

On April 24, 2004, a referendum was held the Mediterranean island nation of Cyprus, which was divided into the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus and the Republic of Cyprus. Citizens were asked whether the two communities should be reunited and become a confederation. It was called the Annan Plan, as it was proposed by the United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan. The Ghanaian diplomat showed a special interest in reunifying Cyprus since he became the secretary general in 1997. From 1999, he began persuading the leaders of the Republic of Cyprus, Northern Cyprus and other countries in the region and initiated a referendum to determine the fate of the nation with a vote.

But the Annan Plan didn’t work: 64.91 percent of Northern Cyprus, where Turkish Cypriots are the majority, approved, while 75.83 percent of the Greek Cypriots in the South rejected the plan. And the turnout in the South was greater. The referendum for a unified federation of Cyprus was rejected with 33.3 percent saying yes and 66.7 percent saying no. This beetle-shaped island nation still remains divided.

Let’s go back to the original question. In August 2014, the Ministry of Unification disclosed a school unification education survey result. On a question about whether reunification was necessary, 71 percent of elementary school students responded “Yes.” However, the portion of students saying “Yes” decreased as they went up in grades, and 54.3 percent of middle school students and 47.8 percent of high school students thought unification was necessary. Their reasons were the financial burden, social confusion and repulsion towards the North Korean system. When high school students today grow up and the Annan Plan is applied in the Korean Peninsula, no one can be sure of the outcome. The referendum is confidential, and the support for reunification may be even lower.

Earlier last year, President Park Geun-hye’s “unification jackpot” was the biggest buzzword from her New Year’s address. But it feels like so long ago. In fact, the first anniversary of the Dresden Declaration passed by without garnering much attention. The fatigue between Seoul and Pyongyang only makes us drowsy like spring fever.

Unification minister Hong Yong-pyo said in his inaugural speech, “The Korean Peninsula issue is our own problem that we must take an initiative to solve.” He is right. But who is stepping forward and initiate resolution? Even the president’s unification jackpot remark is not taken seriously online.

*The author is the political news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo. JoongAng Ilbo, Mar. 30, Page 30

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