In a recent Brookings Cafeteria podcast, Senior Fellow Kathy Moon, the SK-Korea Foundation Chair in Korea Studies, talked about a variety of issues related to North Korea and the Korean peninsula. In her response to a question about the challenges of reunification between North Korea and South Korea, she discussed the many challenges, including cultural divisions, economic concerns, and the impact reunification would have on South Korea’s political system.
Listen starting at 45:30:
My biggest worry about unification is political, not economic, because very few people are thinking about the political ramifications and manifestations of unification or even reconciliation and increased engagement between the two Koreas. And my worry is this: what will be the impact of unification on democracy in South Korea, [and also] democracy on the peninsula? South Korea’s democracy is very young. It has only been one generation where people have been living in a democratic system. And South Korea’s democracy is still fragile and vulnerable in many, many ways.
So when I think about adding 25 million people from the North and the 50 million people from the South together and mixing them up politically, I begin to wonder what kind of a political system can manage this kind of “integration.”
And if democracy can successfully integrate North Koreans, how are we to do that? What are the institutional, normative, cultural, educational factors and facilities, and ideas that are going to be needed in order for the political integration of North Koreans to take place?
— Kathy Moon
For more on this topic, see:
– History, Politics, and Policy in the U.S.-Korea Alliance (event, esp. panel four)
– North Korea’s Incheon Landing, by Kathy Moon
– Surprising Excitement about Unification, by Richard Bush
[Kim Jong Un's succession and establishing Ri Sol Ju as the mother of the next North Korean leader] In the past his father and grandfather had multiple wives and there was intense jockeying about who was the heir. He knows the regime focuses on bloodlines, and he has Kim Il Sung’s blood in his veins...[Kim Jong Un] is the third Kim. Is he going to be the one that gives up nuclear weapons and makes North Korea beholden to outside powers? I doubt it.
Now that [Kim Jong Un has] finished the nuclear weapons program, Kim is focusing on the economic development aspect of a dual-track policy. Now he can engage from a position of strength as an equal, an international statesman...People are mistaking his summit diplomacy as a sign that he’s willing to let the weapons go. That’s a misguided assumption. He can chew gum and talk and have summits at the same time...Kim wants economic development on his own terms. He wants to be able to control who gets it and he wants to be able to make sure the regime stays intact without outside information about democracy or economic reform infecting the populace. There is only so much he can do while sanctions are in place.