In order to highlight the unique situation between the two Koreas, it has been the aim of my two previous articles to make a case for the historic and economic differences between German re-unification and the current status quo on the Korean peninsula. The last part of this series will therefore discuss possible alternatives.
The first alternative is found not too far away, namely when looking at the integration of Hong Kong into mainland China (the same applies to Macau). This possibility of a one-nation, two-systems unification was recently discussed in an article by the Korea Times1. Based on a report by the Bank of Korea, it has been argued that North Korea would be significantly “better off” under a Hong Kong-style integration. According to the report, it would benefit with respect to GDP growth, GDP per capita and unemployment. Especially the last component is very important because full integration implies that North Korean workers will have to compete with their Southern counterparts on a unified job market. This would result in an average estimated unemployment rate in the northern part of 36.4 percent over twenty years. A Hong Kong-style approach, on the contrary, will leave North Korean workers to compete among themselves, thereby drastically reducing the estimated unemployment rate over the same period of time to 1.6 percent.
If a German-style unification is the inevitable wish of the Korean people then, taking into account the economic differences outlined in the previous article, the only realistic option is to significantly stretch the involved time horizon for full integration. Given that economic support from former West Germany to former East Germany is officially expected to end in 2019, making a total of 30 years of support, South Korea would have to support North Korea for a significantly longer period of time. This can be done, but obviously requires careful planning and financing.
Lastly, it is also possible to unify the two Koreas in a presently unknown fashion. The uniqueness of the situation will, at least in my opinion, very likely lead to a unique solution. Given current parameters, it is not possible to say how such a concept would look like but NGOs, think-tanks, private businesses, etc. can certainly play their part in developing feasible ideas.
Concluding this series, I hope to have shown that just because “the Germans can do it, so we can do it too” is not always a relevant argument. The historic and economic differences are apparent and the uniqueness on the Korean peninsula requires a unique and fresh approach. I would like to finish by saying that however such an approach may look like and whatever the means and associated costs, we should never forget that Korean unification is a common goal that will have to be achieved in some way, shape or form.