Recently North Korea (N. K.) has been acting very belligerently. I personally believe that Korean unification must happen as soon as possible, and that reunification would ultimately be extremely beneficial to South Korea, North Korea, and the preservation of Korean culture.
Many South Koreans, and other economically minded persons, believe that reunification should be a slow, drawn out process that ultimately ends in a federally united Korea. I believe that this is a dangerous mindset, one that could potentially cost the Korean people a united homeland, full rapprochement between the North and the South, and the most possible economic benefits that could come with reunification.
There are a couple of logical conclusions that need to be pointed out.
First, a long term federal solution is not advantageous to the more populous part, South Korea. In this way South Korea will continue footing the bill well into the future whenever N. K. slips behind (and you can be sure they will take a long time to reach S. K. standards, this has much to do with the cultural and social mentality of North Koreans, especially their lack of individual initiative that has been forced on them by the authorities). This in turn will keep N. K’ans and S. K.’ans into distinctly separate entities even after ‘reunification’, which would hinder the development of a single national identity, and the re- development of social and cultural ties. The federal solution is a non-solution, it actually reduces South Korea’s influence over North Korea, and keeps the two nations distinct, while not actually easing the burden on South Korea.
Second, by forcing N. K. to live separately (after fall of dictatorship), S. K. gives off the impression that it does not want to be fully unified, which might have the unintended consequence of spurning N. K. and inadvertently causing them to set up a separate (albeit capitalist) state (post dictatorship). This would also be in China’s favor, keeping the two Korea’s separate, since it would be better able to control them then.
For S. K. to avoid this fate it must immediately show N.K. the path to full union with the South. Not even a European style integration would work, since N. K. will not be able to just reform, it would have to recreate its political process from the ground up to become a modern capitalist state. For North Korea to develop its own successful political system will take years, if not decades. To let them take part in the Southern political system will be much faster and more politically expedient for Southern political parties looking for new voters. But in the spirit of European integration, S. K. would assist with funds the developing statelet, while reminding constantly itself, N. K., and the world, that N. K. is a vital part and incontrovertible part of a fully unified Korea. One could even argue that the fiscal cost of keeping the two Korea’s separate is too high to justify the initial comfort of a federal solution.
Third, the mass exodus of N. K.’ans into S. K. might not happen. S. K. is very crowded, especially around Seoul. The first N. K.’an defector has publicly stated how hard it was for him, how unused to the big city he was, how now, he would rather be living in N. K. still. That has to do with the fact that N. K. simply isn’t as crowded. One might also hope that N. K.’ans simply would prefer to let development come to their cities, and help build N. K.’s success. The question becomes, if free trade between the two halves of the Korean peninsula becomes reality, how much will South Korean firms pay North Korean firms for their goods and services? Will it be enough for North Korean firms to pay their employees more than they would receive in manpower-rich Seoul where competition keeps labor prices down?
Fourth, there is a language ‘barrier’ which would also prevent N. K.’ans from understanding S. K.’ans comfortably, and also prevent mass immigration to the south. Though N. K.’ans and S. K.’ans can understand each other, for any N. K.’an living in the South there would be discrimination (“You came here to take our jobs!”, etc.), which would definitely stop many people from immigrating. North Koreans would be treated as second class citizens. The pride of the North Koreans is immense – many simply would not want to move somewhere where they would be treated second class when they know that economic prosperity will also come to their hometown. Also, North Koreans might wish for better economic conditions; however, they remain very attached to their identity, culture, and homeland.
I do think it is absolutely necessary that the free traffic of people between the two Korea’s be accomplished as soon as possible. The cultural, social, and language barriers need to smoothed out, if North Koreans and South Koreans are to remain ethnically akin. Free flow of people will ultimately benefit both Korea’s as well, through larger manpower, remittances to the North, etc.
There is a danger with the free flow of people, and that of course comes from the fact that the N. K. intelligence will probably find a way to exist after the fall of the dictatorship and will participate in illegal activities, as can be evidenced by communist Eastern European intelligence services.