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Analysts: Hasty unification could spell 'disaster' for both Koreas

By Elizabeth Shim
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John Everard, who was the top British envoy to the North from 2006 to 2008, said North Koreans do dream of unification but that dream consists of "one strong Korea under the Kim dynasty." Photo by Moon Jae Won/UPI News Korea
John Everard, who was the top British envoy to the North from 2006 to 2008, said North Koreans do dream of unification but that dream consists of "one strong Korea under the Kim dynasty." Photo by Moon Jae Won/UPI News Korea

SEOUL, Feb. 27 (UPI) -- South Korean government claims of an economic boom that could come with unification are overblown and could dash expectations when the situation on the peninsula changes dramatically, analysts said Wednesday.

Andrei Lankov, a Seoul-based Russian analyst and professor at Kookmin University, said at the International Forum on One Korea in Seoul that South Korean visions of unification are being formed without accounting for the "political disaster" that could come with such changes.

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"In a unified country, the current North Korean elite will be unable to stay in power," Lankov said, referring to the rarely addressed issue of North Korea's political establishment and its uneasiness with the instability that accompanies reform.

"From the South Korean point of view, unification currently is likely to be a messy economic disaster," the analyst said, adding any talk of unification as an earnings bonanza for Korea Inc. is "ridiculous propaganda."

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"Most likely unification will mean huge taxes and economic problems" for the South, he said.

"The international community and South Korea will have to pay, pay, pay, but it's better than instability and crisis."

Future shock

Lankov also said those outside North Korea must understand any dramatic change in the North is likely to be "grossly destabilizing."

The analyst, who has lived in Pyongyang, told UPI a potential collapse of the North Korean regime, if it happens, could become a "very bloody and violent affair."

"It will be a bit like Syria or Libya...not what people want," he said.

RELATED Young South Koreans remain wary of 'dangerous' North

The issue of unification of the two Koreas is being discussed as U.S. President Donald Trump meets with Kim Jong Un in Vietnam, and less than a year after South Korean President Moon Jae-in promised reunification between the two Koreas.

In Pyongyang last September, Moon said he wanted to "hasten a future of common prosperity and reunification on our own [North and South] terms."

The South Korean leader was met with applause from North Koreans at May Day Stadium, but according to a former British ambassador to Pyongyang, Moon's vision may differ from those of the North Korean elite.

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John Everard, who was the top British envoy to the North from 2006 to 2008, said North Koreans do dream of unification but that dream consists of "one strong Korea under the Kim dynasty."

North Koreans Everard met during his time in Pyongyang were partial to a unified Korea where there would be "no democracy, no criticism," a problem for South Korea, where "no one endorses the North Korean vision."

Optimism on diplomacy

But even amid political uncertainty and ongoing diplomacy, dialogue is an improvement over the nuclear tensions of 2017, Lankov said.

The United States and North Korea want to generate good will while giving up as little as possible, but "dishonest talk is better than an honest fight," he said, referring to the warlike atmosphere before the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics.

For some analysts who have experienced direct negotiations with the North Korean leadership, the historic diplomacy between Washington and Pyongyang marks a turning point.

Tong Kim, who served as former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright's interpreter during her meeting with Kim Jong Il in 2000, told UPI the summits are a welcome change after decades of tensions that began with the "very damaging" labeling of North Korea as a member of the "Axis of Evil" by former President George W. Bush. The comment took the North Koreans by surprise and shattered what trust was built during the Clinton years, Kim said.

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By contrast, the rebuilding of trust with Trump, who called Kim Jong Un his "friend" on Twitter on Wednesday, is good.

"Whatever is happening today is better than threats," Tong Kim said.

The International Forum on One Korea of the Global Peace Foundation is affiliated with the ultimate holding company that owns United Press International.

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