News ID: 231542
Published: 0234 GMT September 17, 2018

North Koreans envisage unification ahead of summit

North Koreans envisage unification ahead of summit
Participants form a map of Korean Peninsula at Mass Games in May Day stadium marking the 70th anniversary of North Korea's foundation in Pyongyang, North Korea, on September 9, 2018.
DANISH SIDDIQUI/REUTERS

Sixteen-year-old Ri Jin Ryong, a member of North Korea’s paramilitary Worker-Peasant Red Guards militia, said he has one message for South Koreans if the two countries ever reunite.

“I will spread the word about how wonderful it is to be in our dear Marshal Kim Jong-un’s arms,” he told Reuters at Pyongyang’s zoo, where he and other soldiers were given a day of recreation after participating in a grueling military parade before the North Korean leader on September 9, Reuters reported.

Ahead of this week’s summit between Kim and South Korean President Moon Jae-in in Pyongyang, North Korea is once again highlighting the idea of reuniting the two countries divided since the 1940s, through state media and major events.

In South Korea, however, the concept of unification has become increasingly convoluted and viewed as unrealistic amid an ever-widening gulf between the two nations.

“North Korea’s rhetoric gravitates around unification not because they really believe in an immediate unification but it’s a powerful slogan that gives justification for them to improve inter-Korean relations,” said Lim Eul-chul, professor of North Korean studies at Kyungnam University in Seoul.

“To South Koreans, the idea of unification is not as appealing because it immediately reminds them of the burden of unification costs.”

Days before hosting Moon for their third summit of the year, Kim Jong-un said, “We should tear down this wall of conflict to meet the Korean people’s constant ideals and demands to open a grand path for unification,” state newspaper Rodong Sinmun reported on Sunday.

 

‘One country, two systems’

 

International sanctions over North Korea’s nuclear weapons restrict many cooperative projects and trade, a major obstacle to warming ties between the two Koreas, let alone reunification.

But North Korean defectors are much more likely to support the idea than their Southern neighbors, according to past surveys.

More than 95 percent of North Korean defectors who responded said unification is needed, compared to about 53 percent for South Korean respondents, one 2017 survey by the Seoul National University Institute for Peace and Unification Studies showed.

For decades, North Koreans have pushed the concept of ‘one country, two systems’, under which the country would maintain different systems of government in the North and South, at least until the two could be peacefully reconciled.

“We understood that we should acknowledge differences between the North and the South on ideology, religion, and faith alike, and cooperate with each other,” one North Korean who defected to the South in 2013 spoke on condition of anonymity.

“I also remember learning that unification would also help resolve our economic difficulties.”

North Korea’s per capita Gross National Income of 1.46 million won ($1,283.52) is only about 4.4 percent of that of South Korea, according to estimates by the South’s Central Bank. While projections of the cost of reunification have ranged widely, running as high as $5 trillion, most believe the cost would fall almost entirely on South Korea.

After the first meeting between leaders of the two Koreas in 2000, both sides agreed to consider the idea of ‘one country, two systems,’ at least as an interim step to unification.

But on its website, the Institute for Unification Education, the education arm of South Korea’s Unification Ministry, said the North’s idea of a federation consisting of two regional governments with different ideologies and systems “has little possibility of becoming reality given no historical precedents.”

Sanctions banning almost all trade with the isolated country have hindered even basic bilateral exchanges between the neighbors. South and North Korea opened a liaison office on Friday after weeks of delay, as Seoul sought to address Washington’s concerns about a potential breach of sanctions.

 

 

   
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Resource: Reuters
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