Wednesday, November 2, 2011

$50 billion fund for reunification

The role of Unification Minister Yu Woo-ik
will be played by Tim Conway.

This idea has been bandied about for the past few months: the ROK government wants people to start getting serious about the prospect of reunification, so they're getting serious by putting together some serious sums of money. Unlike previous proposals, this one won't be a tax.

From Bloomberg:
South Korea will set up a fund as early as this year to begin raising up to 55 trillion won ($50 billion) to pay for its eventual reunification with North Korea.

Individual Koreans at home and abroad will be able to make donations to the fund and the government in Seoul may earmark money including budget surpluses, Unification Minister Yu Woo Ik said in his first interview since being sworn in on Sept. 19. While foreigners will also be allowed to donate, there is no plan to ask overseas governments to contribute, he said.

Yu, 61, is asking South Koreans to put aside more than 60 years of animosity on the divided peninsula and prepare for the fiscal shock of incorporating their impoverished northern neighbors. Fifty South Koreans died last year in attacks blamed on Kim Jong Il’s regime and negotiations to resume six-nation talks aimed at shutting down North Korea’s nuclear-weapons program have made little progress.

“Government agencies are near an agreement over the unification account and I hope lawmakers will pass legislation within this year,” Yu said in his office in Seoul yesterday.

“This will unite people and foster their desire for unification.”
I guess this is better than a tax if you want people to start warming to the idea of unification again. It wasn't that long ago that it was a given — a historic imperative — that the two sides would and must reunify. But then Germany happened, and a lot of people became wary of the cost and the ensuing social disruption.

While that didn't really translate into opposition to unification — most Koreans are still rather adamant that it is the country's destiny — it did make them pessimistic about the future of Korea.

So this voluntary fund is a good way to start drumming up support for the cause, a way to change the narrative. Of course, $50 billion is only a drop in the bucket, with estimates of the overall cost of reunification starting with $2 trillion (some forty times the amount in this fund), but it's a start.

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