Third Party & Independents Archives

​Is the Korean Peninsula like Germany or Vietnam?

So much attention is being focused on the here and now as regards the Singapore Summit between President Trump and Kim jong un that longer-term questions are being left aside. That’s understandable given the volatile nature of Trump’s approach (the madman tactics which one hopes are underpinned by a more pragmatic strategic plan) and the fact that Kim Jong un is a dangerous tyrant who has committed atrocities against not just North Korean citizens but members of his own family. He is like a Mafia boss who happens to own a small Stalinist state with nuclear weapons - a family business passed down from grandfather to father to son.

Who knows what will happen in Singapore?

But while it is important to keep expectations low for this particular summit, if the meeting in Singapore does indeed kickstart a process that eventually leads to denuclearization and the signing of a peace treaty finally ending the Korean War some 65 years later, there remains the problem of re-unification.

It's not just whether reunification can be achieved, it's the enormous difficulties of actually integrating 25 million North Koreans into the South Korean economy and society. The Cipher Brief (a newsletter straight from the intel community with a strongly critical perspective on Trump, to not say a subtly subversive one) has a piece on precisely those challenges. It revolves around the experiences of the roughly 35,000 North Korean defectors who currently reside in South Korea. They quote Lee Sang Man, a political science professor at Chungang University who, referring to the problems of defectors adapting to life in South Korea, states:

This is a dress rehearsal for reunification. This shows that we can't just tear down a wall like in Germany and let our Northern brethren come streaming across the border. We are not prepared to receive them, and they are not prepared for what they will find on the other side.
Yes, more than a few South Koreans may be terrified of hungry, brainwashed North Koreans stumbling south with no idea how to use Google or how to work a cellphone. And the costs of integrating North Korea with South Korea on a per capita basis would be orders of magnitude greater than the billions and billions that West Germany had to spend during the 90's.

Should they be so lucky.

If the Korean peninsula in a few years is beset by the complexities of helping North Koreans to adapt to life in a capitalist, modern, and democratic country, a veritable miracle will have been achieved. We're a long, long ways from that complexity, to put it mildly. Because Germany is the wrong example.

The Korean peninsula is in fact closer to the obvious example further south, Vietnam. A Guardian article by Nick Davies (from 2015, the 40th anniversary of the fall of Saigon) laments evil American and French interference in Vietnam as it planned it's post-colonial existence, but Davies emphasizes the 50's not the 60's and 70's. In the mid-fifties, a year or two after the cease fire in Korea, the Western allies divided Vietnam rather than let the population vote on who they wished to rule them. According to Davies (in what is surely anecdotal evidence) his interviewees claim that Ho Chi minh would have overwhelmingly won such an election back in 1956, and Vietnam could have proceeded to claim it's spot among the various workers' paradises on earth. Instead it had to fight those damn capitalists until 1975.

Nowadays in Vietnam we have a still-communist country but undermined by the evils of capitalism and it's attendant corruption according to Davies. And Vietnam is apparently a rather corrupt country by all measures. This is capitalism's fault? If only they hadn't had a decades-long war to fight! If North Vietnam had won a short war, they could have had their paradise 20 years earlier. Like North Korea.

So, looked at through the prism of Vietnam - in whose war South Korean soldiers fought on the American/South Vietnamese side - a reunified Korean peninsula does bring back memories of the fall of Saigon. But with a huge difference. This time, it would be the South that won with it's democratic structures and it's successful and innovative economy, and the communist North the loser. How to create a relatively transparent society and economy in a land brainwashed and terrified into submission would be a herculean task, yes. And corruption as a way of doing business seems inevitable. Even in any post-Kim North that might come to be in the decades ahead.

But the world is a very different place than it was in 1975. Or even 1990. So if we should all be so lucky to have to fret about how well the integration of the Korean peninsula is going, the two Koreas will have come a long way from where they are now. Whether a dangerous tyrant like Kim will help or pervert a true solution to this still-divided land is a loaded question. Let's hope Korea can get there, for the sake of both the North and the South.

Posted by AllardK at June 11, 2018 5:21 PM
Comment #427897

Should Kim agree, I believe North Korea could be rehabilitated somewhat along the lines of Germany after WWII. Some former Nazi’s, with critical experience, were allowed to remain in positions critical to the country.

The most pressing question, in my opinion, is what to do with Kim. I have jokingly remarked in previous posts, that Kim could be given a world visa allowing him to travel at will. He could be provided protection similar to other world leaders. He could be allowed to keep some of his wealth.

With a celebrity status, wealth, and security; I believe Kim could enjoy life and no longer desire to be a tryant in a shit-hole country.

He could become a sought after celebrity in the Hollywood clique.

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