Unstable Korea

As socialist economies go, East Germany was one of the best. If you believe the ridiculous Communist figures, West Germans were more than twice as rich. In reality, West Germans were probably 3-4 times richer than their Eastern cousins. Nonetheless, East Germany was the most successful country in the Soviet Bloc, and not just in the sports arena.

German unification, therefore, was very expensive for the West. Helmut Kohl promised to convert the savings of East Germans at an absurd exchange rate of one to one – one useless Ostmark got you one valuable Deutschmark. East Germany was also fairly small. During the more than 40 years that the country existed, the population declined from 19 million to sixteen million. At unification, it was as though every three West Germans had to adopt a poorer relative. The German economy still struggles with this significant adjustment.

Think then, of the concerns of Korea. South Koreans only outnumber Northerners by two to one. Every two people would have to adopt a poorer neighbor. But it is the wealth gap which really dwarfs that of Germany. The average South Korean is more fourteen times as rich as the average North Korean. To put it another way, South Korea is the fifteenth largest economy in the world. North Korea is the 88th.

For the South, therefore, to unify with the North would be a phenomenal undertaking. Nothing comparable has ever been attempted before.

But when the North Korean government collapses – as it surely will – it is difficult to see how unification could be postponed. A reformed North Korea would take many decades to catch up with the South, and the political demands on both governments for political unification would be overwhelming.

Nor is it likely that the South will get any sort of notice that unification is coming. Most of the Communist countries in Eastern Europecollapsed in a matter of weeks. At some point, the same is going to happen in Korea. It could happen very suddenly indeed. The North Korean regime is completely dependent on the goodwill of China. That could be withdrawn at any time.

The current crisis – which the North seems to have deliberately provoked by sinking a Southern naval vessel – could cause China to lose patience. The same could be true of KimJong Il’s ridiculous nuclear program.

Here is just a thought experiment. What if Japan were to announce its own nuclear weapons program? China has an abiding fear of Japan. It is far from unprovoked. Japan has invaded China on more than one occasion, most recently in the lifetime of some people now living. Japan is also, of course, much richer than China. China would very much object to its near neighbor and longtime rival developing nuclear weapons.

But the Chinese have a very hierarchical mindset. They see Japan as an American ally. They would object to America. They would ask the US President to stop Japan building nuclear weapons. The President would say that he can’t do that and, in any case, since North Korea has nukes, he quite understands why Japan would want them. China would promptly pull the rug on North Korea, as long as it was understood that Japan would drop its nuclear ambitions.

Merely the threat of Japanese nukes would achieve this. It could happen in days.

Article provided by Quentin Langley
Lecturer in PR and Political Communications,
School of Journalism, Cardiff University

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