Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Things Foreigners Need to Understand About Koreans (update #4)

Note:  This is just the update.  The complete list can be found here.

4.  Is this time any different than the others?  Unlikely
Of course, this is the topic of books, and countless newspaper articles.  Here are the bottom lines.
First, there is no way that China or the U.S. would approve.  South Korea is the U.S. 7th largest trade partner.  China relies on South Korean products and technology as it tries to lift the standard of living of its population.  It is a little-publicized fact that China is engaged in land stripping at below-market prices in North Korea as China tries to secure natural resources.
Second, the Korean people are Korean first, and not differences in political ideology.  Many, many families remain divided by the 38th parallel, and are willing to do almost anything to reunite  Yesterday (October 2010), a day after a few shots were exchanged at the DMZ, many people travelled from the South to the North for a reunion longed for in the souls of many. 
Third, the everyday lives of South Koreans is absolutely, positively unaffected.  The struggle of big city people is the most dominant factor in survival of everyday Koreans.  Daily routines changed as a result of potential North/South conflict?  Do not think for one moment that a single iota changes during "increased tensions."  Bomb shelter drills similar to ones that occur in Israel?  Nope. 
Fourth, would South Korea restart donating food, or consider a second tourist site in North Korea, if war was a realistic scenario?  Perhaps most importantly, South Korean President Lee has proposed a reunification tax in order to prepare for a potential North-South reunification because Korea has carefully watched the Gernman case, to estimate the costs of combining two financially different countries.

No doubt there are counter-arguments to each of the points listed.  There are two caveats. 
The first: a sudden collapse of the North Korean government, coupled with a rogue military leader who stages a coup, and erroneously triggers a conflict.  There are many variations on this same theme, i.e. the "Broken Arrow" scenario (remember that terrible John Travolta movie).  That scenario is scary, and in order to deter this, vast American and South Korean financial resources are spent every year.  One problem here is that the lines of communcation, to the public's knowledge, between the North and South may not be good as they could be.
The second: economic disaster in North Korea leads to critical nuclear technology sales to terrorist groups such as al-Queda.  That is a non-starter:  the US would not, and should not, tolerate this.  The buyer, as is well-known, is well-financed, and willing to buy.  The seller cannot be North Korea, simple as that.
While different opinions are continuously voiced on this matter, the four bottom lines listed above are true, and the smallest probability scenario cannot be assumed to be true.  That is why South Korean life is unchanged on a daily basis.  Pictures of demonstrations in Seoul demanding war against North Korea are sensationalism at its height.  US and western news services that are playing up the probability of sustained military conflict do not reveal the potential costs of such an outcome.  Costs that are so high to so many countries, and not just to the Korean peninsula.   While Koreans resent the notion of being a puppet to the world's superpowers (whoever it is at that time), it is a fact that, particularly for South Korea, the idea of instigating or inviting any of the two negative scenarios listed above is one that cannot be turned into overt action.


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