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South Korea to launch campaign promoting benefits of reuniting with North

By JON RABIROFF | STARS AND STRIPES Published: September 29, 2011

SEOUL — South Korea’s Unification Ministry plans to start an Internet, television and radio campaign Saturday promoting the benefits of a reunification of the two Koreas.

The broadcasts are the latest in a series of moves South Korea has made in hopeful anticipation of a reunified peninsula. There are elaborate plans for preserving large swaths of the Demilitarized Zone for parks and eco-tourism if the North and South come together, and South Korean leaders have for months discussed the possibility of levying a “unification tax” to help cover the costs involved in merging the two countries.

But some experts believe the South might be getting too aggressive in planning for something that is likely to be a long time in coming — if it happens at all.

“Especially when it comes to talking about charging a tax to pay for reunification, the government is going too far,” said Kim Yong-hyun, a professor of North Korean studies at Dongguk University in Seoul. “There is a possibility that the government doing things like this will become a negative factor in the relationship between North and South Korea.

“There is no reason to hurry,” he said.

There is tremendous interest and awareness among South Koreans about unification, and overwhelming positive sentiment toward it, said Brendan Howe, a South Korea-based professor of international relations for Troy University.

Instead of promoting the benefits to Koreans, Howe believes there needs to be more discussion about the possible downside.

“Part of the problem is that there has not been enough serious discussion about the potential pitfalls (of unification) and the degree of the challenge faced,” he said.

“It is hoped that while pandering to pro-unification public opinion, behind the scenes the Seoul government is giving serious thought and planning regarding the negative impacts of unification, especially if this is thrust upon them on a timeline not of their choosing,” Howe said.

North and South Korea have been divided since Korean War hostilities were ceased by armistice in 1953. For decades, speculation has grown that the North Korean government will collapse — due to the death of leader Kim Jong Il, the country’s poor economic conditions or perhaps a populist uprising — leading to some form of reunification.

World events have added to that speculation, with some pundits suggesting it is only a matter of time before the barbed wire and land mines of the DMZ are removed — from the 1989 fall of the Berlin Wall, to the revolutions of the past year that have toppled governments in the Middle East. But through it all, Kim and North Korea have defiantly staved off any possible collapse and continued acts of aggression and the threat of an eventual nuclear attack to get attention and concessions from other countries.

Despite that, the South’s Unification Ministry has for the past year been preparing Korean-language programming about reunification — including situation comedies, news reports and interviews with North Korean defectors — to air starting Saturday at  http://unitv.unikorea.go.kr/web/ and http://uniradio.inlive.co.kr/.

Ministry spokesmen denied that the broadcasts are any sort of propaganda campaign.

Instead, they said, the programs will educate the public on what to expect when reunification happens.

“We will broadcast why preparations for reunification are necessary by highlighting the benefits of reunification,” one spokesman said. “News and events which are related to reunification will be released on a weekly basis.”

Another spokesman said, “The ministry will not show any specific ways reunification might happen. The goal of these broadcasts is not only to raise people’s awareness about reunification, but also to form a consensus about it.”

Baek Seung Ju, chief of the Center for Security and Strategy for the Korea Institute for Defense Analyses in Seoul, said the broadcasts are a good idea because there are still significant numbers of young South Koreans “are skeptical about reunification, especially when compared to the older generation.

“There is a fear that the economic success Korean society has been enjoying will be damaged through the reunification process,” he said. “We need to try to overcome that fear.”

Kim Yong-hyun said he does not expect the broadcasts to have much impact, adding that there are better ways for the South Korean government to be spending its time and money.

“Not many are going to be watching … because they usually don’t pay much attention to government-run broadcasting,” he said. “The most important task at the moment is to calm military tensions on the Korean peninsula. Solving the North Korean nuclear problem is an important assignment, too.”

Howe said he fears the broadcasts will be used to service one particular political agenda, “but we will have to wait and see.”

The Koreas may ultimately reunite in some form, he said, if the government of the North collapses or evolves into “an entity with which the South can do business more easily. However, this is unlikely to happen in the short-, or even medium-term.”

There are some experts who believe the government of the North will never collapse because its closest ally, China, will do everything it can to keep the country alive as a way of maintaining a geographic buffer between itself and the 28,500 U.S. troops in South Korea.

If a government collapse forced reunification, Howe said, things would not go as smoothly as they did when Germany came back together, because North Korea is “an economic, social and political basket case.”

“A sudden collapse in the North could see unification forced upon the South,” he said. “Seoul might actually be grateful for the DMZ preventing … refugees and migrants (from) flooding over the border, although … there would still be major flows over other less-protected borders, and flotillas of boat people.

“This would not only be a human security tragedy, but could also turn into an interstate security crisis if Pyongyang’s neighbors rush to fill the vacuum,” he said.

rabiroffj@pstripes.osd.mil

chang.yookyong@pstripes.osd.mil

 

 

 

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