Since 1965, military service has been compulsory in South Korea.
To secure our borders. To train our men to fight. To protect ourselves from our own people.
“Our own people?” you may question. Calling North Koreans our own people may appear strange, confusing, or even outrageous to many. However, as hard as it may be to believe, the division between North and South Korea did not exist just six decades ago. We shared the same borders, the same nationality, and the same sense of pride in being a Korean. And as a united people—or minjok, as Koreans call it—we have overcome countless obstacles throughout our 1,300 year history.
Unfortunately, this minjok mentality is quite rare in South Korea today. A recent survey conducted by Yonsei University revealed that 60 percent of South Korean citizens are against reunification. And even more disappointing was that many of the reasons behind the opposition were either flawed, overgeneralized, or unsubstantiated.
For instance, the most popular reason to oppose reunification was that it would put a financial strain on South Korea, as the nation would have to make huge financial sacrifices to equalize the level of industrialization between the North and the South. On the surface, this argument seems to make sense; Korea’s Ministry of Strategy and Finance predicts that South Korea will have to spend around 4,600 trillion won in the post-reunification efforts. However, statistics show that the financial benefits of reunification actually outweigh the costs. The Ministry of Strategy and Finance predicts that the economic gains will amount to approximately 10 quadrillion 4400 trillion won, which would leave the nation with a net profit of approximately 9.98 quadrillion won, equivalent 8.3 trillion dollars.
There are several key factors that allow South Korea to see such huge financial rewards from reunification. First, North Korea has a tremendous amount of untapped natural resources, approximately 23.9 times more than South Korea, according to People for Successful Korean Reunification. Marrying South Korea’s advanced technologies with North Korea’s overflowing supply of natural resources would undoubtedly lead to huge benefits for Korea as a whole.
Reunification would also expand the domestic market tremendously. If reunified, the total population of Korea will be 80 million and its land mass will be 220,000 km2, most similar to current day Great Britain, which leads the world in the degree of economic activity. With this enlarged domestic pool, Korean businesses no longer have to constantly look abroad to expand, but can rather fully explore the endless possibilities of the reunified nation.
Secondly, opponents of reunification claim that South Korea is currently doing fine in various aspects of the economy, foreign affairs, and environment, so a huge sociopolitical change would be highly undesirable. That line of argument does make sense, if only it were true.
In reality, South Korea is not doing so well. Among the many problems the nation faces today, South Korea is in deep trouble demographically. These days, fewer and fewer South Korean women are willing to bear children, so the population of South Korea is declining at a faster rate than that of any other country in the world. In fact, according to Wall Street Journal, if our population continues to decline at this rate, our population of 50 million will be halved by the end of the century, and our entire nation will be extinct by 2750. Reunifying with North Korea will not only give us a population boost, but also help reverse the downward trend in population, as the aforementioned economic benefits will alleviate the financial concerns that often discourage families from having children.
The degree of practicality, the question of how exactly we would negotiate with the unpredictable and stubborn North Korean dictator, may discourage many from considering the prospect of reunification. But before we worry about factors that are out of our control, let’s take a moment to recognize that there is a larger, more fundamental obstacle that is within our control: that an astonishing 60 percent of South Koreans are opposed to reunification, many of whom have been swayed by false information and misconceptions.
So, future leaders of South Korea. No, let me rephrase that: future leaders of united Korea. The time is now. Voice your opinions in support of reunification, and together let’s make sure that Korea has not left her best days behind.