Last month, it was announced that Kim Jong-Un and South Korea’s president Moon are planning to meet in a historic summit sometime in the near future. This will be only the third such summit and first to be held in the neutral DMZ. The first two, in 2000 and 2007, were both in Pyongyang. The timing is particularly interesting due to high tensions over the North’s nuclear program. Some analysts view this summit, initiated by the North, as a shift in policy, while others view it as ploy by the North to get the South to scale down their defenses.
Lets assume for the sake of argument that this is a sort of olive branch and that the North wants to mitigate the situation. How should the South precede? And if American military profiteers get their way, and the North is toppled, how would things turn out? It should go without saying that the North in its current state could never have on open borders situation with the South. For the first time in history, a majority of South Koreans are against reunification, especially people under 25. Younger people have no memory of the pain of division, in which families were torn apart. Here is an informative video of what normal South Koreans think. The most common argument against reunification is the economic burden the North would put on the South, while a logical argument is favor is that the North’s resources (human and natural) would open up to the South.
The South currently has about 25x the GDP per capita of the North. By comparison the GDP per capita of West Germany was only twice that of East Germany at the time of reunification. 27 years later, the East is still less developed and many people in the West view it as a drain on Germany’s economy. For this reason, I think reunification of Korea would be a disaster. To complicate matters even further, almost all the land in the north is state-owned. The transfer into the private marker would open it up to predatory capitalists from the South. Even if it were originally transferred into the hands of North Koreans, it would quickly be sold off to Southerners, as impoverished Northerners would have no option but to convert their assets into cash.
Northerners and Southerners are no longer the same people. Defectors encounter harsh discrimination when they reach the South. They speak with funny accents and are hopelessly uneducated. I think the best-case scenario in a rapidly-reunified Korea would be something like the neo-fuedalist system in the American South between Reconstruction and Jim Crow. The worst-case scenario would be a Tutsi verse Hutu type of Rwandan conflict (at least pre-genocide). Luckily for the Southerners, they would maintain a two-thirds majority, so we could never see a full-on reversal of authority like in Rwanda, Zimbabwe, or South Africa, but much like in Rwanda there would be a single ethnicity with two classes separated by a gaping chasm of inequality. Does this look like a unified country to you?
The correct course of action would be to a very gradual process. They could start off with allowing tourists over the border and letting Northers attend Southern universities. This could be followed by slow integration of Southern corporations in the Northern market. One of the most tricky obstacles would be what to do with the North’s lucrative mineral mines. I slow privatization of state-owned companies would be the best out of many poor options. But I think South Korean companies should be initially excluded from this market. Either way North Korea is going to have to survive on their own without the Kims for several decades before we can allow Seoul to take over.