North Korea and the coming crisisBy Asia Sentinel Jul 18, 2011 3:32PM UTC
If the North collapses, South Korea’s job is going to be bigger than anybody thought, reports Asia Sentinel
If the hopes of South Korean hawks were to come true and that the government of the North were to collapse, the South could be inheriting a nightmare of unimaginable dimensions, according to a report titled Strangers at Home, which was issued on July 14 by the International Crisis Group.
The 66 years since Korea was partitioned into two nations in 1945 have created two disparate nations that bear virtually no resemblance to the other, according to the 44-page report, making potential reunification a nearly overwhelming task, both on a personal and governmental level.
It is not possible to predict how, when or if such an event could happen although the United Nations World Food Program said in May that the north’s food supply is about to run out and that perhaps a quarter of the country’s people would be at risk of starvation. But if the north does collapse, it is likely to make the reunification problems between East and Western Germany look like a picnic. “What would be likely if that time arrives, however, is a massive outflow of refugees because of the brutal living conditions in the North. South Korea’s struggle to integrate quite small numbers shows what an immense challenge this would be for the region and international actors.”
North Korean defectors, the report says, “are sicker and poorer than their Southern brethren, with significantly worse histories of nutrition and medical care. They have distinctive accents, use different words and have little experience in the daily demands of life in a developed and open society. In the North, their education, employment, marriage, diet, and leisure were determined by the government, which assigned them to a class of people based on family history and political reliability. In the South, the array of choices presents them with endless difficult decisions that can be overwhelming.”
Although prior to 2000 very few North Koreans had defected from their starving country, an erosion of border controls that opened escape routes into China has begun to push the numbers considerably higher. There were only 86 defectors – about 20 a year – between 1990 and 1994. But the numbers began to climb dramatically, to the point where by December 2010 more than 20,000 had arrived in the South.
Both sides use the defector issue as a political tool against the other. Although a handful of spies have slipped into the South disguised as defectors, they appear to have been few and far between. However, one was spectacularly successful. A woman named Wŏn Jŏng-hwa entered the South in October 2001 immediately after marrying a South Korean businessman she had met in China, where she had assisted in the kidnapping of seven South Korean businessmen and about 100 North Korean defectors for repatriation to the DPRK. In South Korea, she was eventually hired to give lectures about the north to military personnel.