While it’ll be ideal to have the two Koreas unified as soon as possible, it’ll be naive to assume that the unification process will be a bed of roses.
Earlier this year, The Economist released an article titled “What North and South Korea would gain if they were unified” on 5 May 2016.
Some days ago, I did a post on the comparison between South and North Korea. The article posted by the Economist coincides with my findings for certain indicators such as birth / fertility rate, food shortage / sustainability, natural resources et cetera.
No doubt, the costs of Korean Unification will be gargantuan. Conservatives estimate the cost to amount to about $1 trillion, which is roughly about three quarters of South Korea’s annual GDP. The social security system would need to provide for 25 million North Koreans, including tens of thousands of prisoners in the concentration camps.
To be fair however, there are much benefits to be enjoyed on both sides as well; South Korea will gain from North Korea’s large reserves of rare earths which is commonly utilized in electronics, and its iron-ore supply. And with some of South Korea’s main export commodity being steel, ships and automobile parts, it will definitely benefit from North Korea’s abundant iron-ore production.
Moreover, upon unification, South Korea would merge with a younger population, a demographic boon as South Korea’s working-age population is predicted to shrink from 2017 onwards. The disbandment of North Korea’s standing army, which is the fourth largest in the world, would also free up about 17 million workers to join the existing 36 million workers in South Korea’s labor force.
North Korea also has much to gain from this arrangement. The current problems that are plaguing North Korea are food shortages, its weak and ailing economy and a relatively low life expectancy.
Upon reunification, there is assurance that these needs will be addressed. South Korea’s current GNI figure is about forty times bigger than that of North Korea’s. In terms of financial resources, they are more than capable to provide.
Also, with South Korea’s advanced medical technology, it is likely that North Koreans will benefit from better healthcare services, thereby prolonging their life expectancy.
But then there is this question about sustainability that comes up. How long can South Korea continue acting as the caregiver / provider to North Korea? Won’t there come a time when its financial resources dwindle?
To answer this question, I would say that in the short run, South Korea is more than able to fulfill its role as providers. However, North Korea cannot continue to use South Korea as a crutch to solve all their problems. It needs to be proactive too in wanting to better its economy. For example, upon the disbandment of the army (since both Koreas will not be in a state of war anymore after unification), North Koreans who have been only used to the military drills need to learn new skills that will make them relevant to South Korea’s economy. Only by doing so can they fully benefit from the economic gains and relations made by South Korea, and not be a perpetual financial burden to the South Korean economy a a whole.
In short, although Korean unification incurs high costs, these costs are short-run, and the long-run benefits that come along with it are what makes these costs justifiable / worthwhile. Benefits not just in tangible, monetary terms, but in the intangible, such as the joy in seeing the faces of long-lost / separated family members and being able to visit old hometowns prior to the separation.