What would a united democratic Korea be like?

Reverse situation of this thread: Assume unification is, somehow, achieved peacefully and involves bringing NK under SK’s government in Seoul, more or less as with the unification of Germany.

  1. What are the economic costs of unification? What are the costs just of bringing general nutrition north of the ex-DMZ up to SK levels?

  2. What are the social effects? Will North Koreans flood south and become a cheap servant class?

  3. What are the political effects? Now North and South Koreans will be voting for the same parliament and government. One would expect the Northers, as heavily indoctrinated as they are, to vote for their familiar leaders for some cycles to come. The Worker’s Party of Korea would have to be disestablished, but not necessarily disbanded – it or some successor party would be represented. How would its presence – not as a majority, but certainly a major party – affect the economic policy, foreign policy, etc., of united Korea? And how long would it take for other parties to emerge, in what was NK?

Inconceivably huge. We’re talking orders of magnitude greater (per person) than absorbing East Germany into West Germany. Essentially, North Korea has no assets whatsoever compared to any modern or even semi-modern nation.

They’d probably have to be stopped by physical force. That’s not facetious - South Korea simply can’t handle that many people at once. Not many would stay in a crumbling, improverished North Korean economy by choice, and he rest would rapidly be drawn southward. The only alternative would be for North Korea farmers to rapidly receive help in ramping up their productivity and access to global markets, and that takes time.

I think the South Korean parties know that might happen. Their answer would be for it not to happen.

You’re positing unification on somewhat equal terms. That is never going to happen. The South Korean people aren’t going to commit economic and political suicide.

Any unified Korea would be composed of two very different parts. Think Hong Kong and China, but more so.

Is that how SK’s Ministry of Unification (yes, they have a government department just for this hypothetical subject) looks at it?

No doubt it is difficult to quantify, but how much worse would the situation in North Korea be than Japan post WWII?

I am trying to think of a reasonable-but-best-case scenario where there was no nuclear aftermath to deal with, but the reigning hierarchy was still thoroughly discredited and/or dead.

So, NK declares war on SK after a period of heightening tension, and invades. The US and South Korea have had a chance to prepare, and somehow manage to take out the nuclear facilities such that Kim and his cronies never get a chance to nuke Tokyo or Seoul. The North Korean military is smashed flat in a matter of days, much like Iraq during Desert Storm. Kim and his cronies flee to China, are handed back and given a short shrift and a long rope.

Now what? Appoint some reincarnation of MacArthur, and appeal to the UN for food aid in the short term, and rebuild agriculture in the long term?

South Korea can’t just leave North Korea as a rotting sinkhole to its north.


With a Korean name, necessarily.

I think reunification would be very, very difficult. NK is just a total mess economically, and its population has been indoctrinated with worship of the Kim family for several generations now. SK might have to maintain border controls for awhile, and some kind of de-Kimization (as with post-WWII de-Nazification in Germany, or post-Gulf War II de-Baathification in Iraq; hopefully handled much better) process might have to be set up to keep Kim cronies from hanging onto power through electoral means, and to punish the worst of the worst. On the other hand, SK would be able to massively reduce its defense spending (unless they’d then be worried about invasion from China?) and that should free up some capital to handle unification expenses.

I think that a united Korea would cause an economic boomtime in not just Korea, but generally in that part of the world.

Stability is always good for business, and with a huge amount of real estate to play with and a willing workforce available to train up they’d be quids in, to say the least.

I shouldn’t worry too much about the supposed adoration of the Kims by the N.K.s , I would not be stunned with amazement if its more apparent then real.

As to the populace of N.K. flooding south, you restict that until you have equalised the economies.

The N.K.s will be cooperative as they’ve been basically brainwashed into following authorities demands, and this time they’ll see that their conditions will actually be improving by following S.K.s instructions.

(Being adequately fed will be encouragement enough)

Yes it would cost a lot of money; but they’d get that back and more in time.

Korea would almost certainly take a good chunk of business away from China, and the other Asian Tigers and encourage new growth.

That said while N.Korea would like a united K. with them (or should it be him ?) in charge, they would not be so happy with a non Kim united K.

I think the main difference would be that post-war Japan’s infrastructure was probably in even worse shape then N. Koreas, they still had a lot of human capital and functioning institutions. N. Korea’s citizens are suffering from poor average IQ and health due to childhood malnourishment, not well educated and there aren’t any institutions outside the gov’t that would survive and add stability in a unification scenario.

And it takes a lot longer to build human capital up then it does to rebuild infrastructure. So it will take N. Korea a lot longer to rebound then it did Japan.

Why are we assuming South Korea would absorb the North? Why not let China annex it?

China wants nothing to do with it. Also, Korea hasn’t exactly been real pleased with Chinese overlords historically. Finally, the North Koreans themselves would probably prefer reunification over being subjects of a distant and alien Chinese power.

I’m not sure how relevant “historical” things are in this situation, though. The North Korean people have been subjected to 50+ years of relentless propaganda. Who knows what their expectations are and what they’ll be pleased with, at this point?

I suspect no matter what, the attitude of the average North Korean peasant will be a combination of “meet the new boss, same as the old boss” tempered with “how much worse could it be?”


And let the Chinese resume their vassalage over the Korean people? I’d rather have the Yalu turn crimson red with blood then an inch of Korean soil in Chinese hands. :mad:

Many people here seem to think that Koreans are being driven only by cynical calculations of finance rather than the natural forces of emotional and spiritual unity among a people who have a 5000 year history and have been politically united for 1500 years with minor exceptions.

My statements were based on my conversations with a number of South Koreans, who frankly did take a very pragmatic “Yes, we want unification eventually but…” attitude towards the whole thing. There are definite limits as to what they’re willing to sacrifice to make it happen. Looking over the rather unfortunate treatment North Korean refugees receive in the South should make anyone question how much “emotional and spiritual unity” really exists.

And 5000 years? Did Dangun’s father really descend from the Heavens as well?

I’m not saying pragmatism doesn’t have a place. Obviously unification will not be immediate but unification should always be the eventual goal.

Why “should”? The younger generation certainly doesn’t see it as a particularly desirable goal, though they recognize it is probably eventually inevitable.

There’s not that much “spiritual and emotional unity” left. Compared to my cousins, I, as an American, think reunification more important than they do. I’d like to see any proof large numbers of the under-50 set on the peninsula thinks of it in emotional terms at all.

Also, some of those “minor exceptions” in political unification were fairly major over the last 1300 years.

Would you include your blood in that? If it came to pass, would you travel to Korea and enlist in their army? What if it was the North Korean regime vs. China, still? Would you die to keep Sinuiju Korean? I’ve looked at Sinuiju through a telescope; it’s a crappy place and not worth fighting for. How about Dokdo?

All fooling aside, it’s easy to make these kinds of claims when the stakes are far away; I think the people who actually live in the shadow of war have the best understanding of what’s best for them and what they’re willing to pay for.

Besides, Korea spent a thousand years as a Chinese vassal, and I think it turned out alright for them. The Zhuang are doing great these days and they don’t even have their own AR.

Actually, they have the Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region.

Jilin has a Korean autonomous prefecture bordering the DPRK. Overall, ethnic Koreans in China are doing quite well and most can speak both Mandarin and Korean.