Monday, November 09, 2009

Any lessons from German reunification for North Korea?

Twenty years ago, the Berlin Wall came down. The people of West and East Germany became one, and both countries reunified the following year. It is also an occasion for people of both Koreas to reflect on the stark reality of their national division.

The wealth gap between the former East Germany and West Germany is rapidly narrowing but in 1991, per capita income in the former East Germany was a third of West Germany’s. Though 1.3 trillion euro was spent to rebuild East Germany, the investment ultimately benefited the whole country.

In Korea, the Roh Tae-woo and Kim Young-sam administrations sought to learn from German unification by drawing up their own integration plans. The Kim Dae-jung and Roh Tae-woo administrations, the two left-leaning governments that succeeded them, prioritized devising a policy toward North Korea while putting the reunification question on the backburner.

In the early 1990s, South Korea’s gross national income was six to eight times that of the North, but that gap is now 38 times. South Korea’s trade volume is 384 times more. Worse, the disparity is worsening with time. This has raised fears over the South’s potential financial burden in case of Korean reunification.

Like in Germany, the Korean Peninsula could also see an unexpected reunification. East Germany’s last Prime Minister Lothar de Maiziere told reporters, “South Korea will be in big trouble if North Korea sees an abrupt collapse. Ironically, South Korea could feel the need to erect a wall to stem an influx of North Korean refugees.”

Dong-a Ilbo

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