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Sonn: No hope for a united Korea

BY BARRETT SONN | JANUARY 29, 2014 5:00 AM

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Former NBA star and notorious ne’er-do-well Dennis Rodman has made news recently for his friendly, quasi-diplomatic visits to North Korea. The controversy has focused on Rodman’s apparent ignorance on two key factors: North Korea’s egregious human-rights violations and the situation surrounding Korean-American Kenneth Bae, who is being held in North Korea after being convicted of basically being a spy.

Say what you will about Rodman’s questionable decision to visit such a sketchy nation on such startlingly friendly terms, but the most obvious observation to be made here is that none of this would have happened if there were one unified Korea.

There have been two Koreas for more than half a century, and, much to the chagrin of reunification activists, it will stay that way for the foreseeable future. Advocates for reunification argue that the best-case scenario for Korea would be North Korea’s absorption into the highly developed South Korea.

Sounds great, in theory.

Of course, there are some who believe reunification is not ideal, such as me. Even if there was a chance the two Koreas decided to reunite literally this second, it’s not as great of an idea as one might think.

For one thing, there’s a tremendous gap between North and South Korea in important factors such as education and the economy. There are cultural issues as well, such as language, and even appearance (no I’m not trying to appear prejudiced — it’s just a fact). Imagine the difficulty of successfully folding in a poor, poorly educated population stuck in a communist time warp into one of the most technologically advanced nations on earth. The average North Korean, having been raised in such a backward land, would likely have very little to offer in a unified Korea.

That being said, we know very little about the average North Korean citizen because the developed worlds simply has very little access to average North Koreans. It’s not impossible to leave North Korea, but it sure as hell isn’t as easy as the South Korean method, which doesn’t involve words like “stealth” or, you know, “illegal.” In any case, it’s important to be aware that incorporating an indoctrinated anti-Western population into a nation with deep ties to the West would be extraordinarily difficult and potentially dangerous.

I’ll be the first to say there is an element of selfishness as to why I personally oppose reunification. South Korea is one of the most advanced nations in the world but success can be a series of delicate processes. Introducing tens of millions of individuals who don’t have any education or training, and are sick and malnourished, would be a disaster to a country that’s barely bigger than Indiana (the two Koreas combined take up about the same area as Minnesota, but that’s including a lot of mountainous terrain that people don’t really inhabit; the capital of South Korea, Seoul, contains one-fifth of the nation’s population).

South Korea just isn’t ready to deal with that kind of transition, and it almost sickens me to have to say it. Without a great deal of help from the South, North Korea is unlikely to rise from the depths of communism. That fact puts the burden of long-term change on the South but for right now at least, the South just isn’t there yet.


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