South Korea sends mixed message with war games, unification tax
South Korea President Lee on Sunday emphasized coexistence and proposed a unification tax to prepare for any future collapse of North Korea. Monday, he expressed strong support for this week's war games with the United States.
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North Korea has so far been silent on Lee’s unification plan but promised to respond with a “merciless counterblow” to the exercises.” It was the kind of rhetorical blast that has become routine since a multinational investigation held the North responsible for the sinking of the Cheonan, but nonetheless is definitely raising anxiety levels.Skip to next paragraph
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Most people here do not think Lee’s unification plan will really improve matters.
“In these days, when there is a tension, I think such an offer would only instigate the North Koreans,” says Kim Sang-hyeop a graduate student. And he is skeptical of any proposal for levying special taxes to defray the costs of unification.
“I oppose an additional tax to help North Korea at this point,” he says, suggesting instead that the government dip into other resources. “I heard there is an unused inter-Korean cooperation fund,” he says. It’s “designed to help North Korea’s economy.”
Lee said he would ask experts to work out how to levy the funds “to carry out comprehensive inter-Korean exchanges and cooperation” for “developing the North’s economy dramatically” and creating “an economic community in which the two will work for economic integration.”
One study figures the cost at more than $1 trillion, which is less than half that of reunifying former East and West Germany. Others have said the cost will be much higher, considering North Korea’s ongoing hostility and the record of the Korean War. Koreans are observing the 60th anniversary of bloody firefights as US and South Korean forces staved off the North Korean invasion of June 25, 1950.
Reunification not right around the corner
With North Korea denouncing Lee’s policies at every juncture, though, the prospects for reunification in the near future appear dim. China calls for “stability” on the Korean Peninsula while firmly supporting North Korea, its Korean War ally, both economically and militarily.
“North Korea will surely not like it,” says Kim Bum-soo, editor of a conservative journal here, suggesting the North will view any notion of the South intruding in its affairs as anathema. ”That will be an obstruction.” Moreover, he adds, “not many people here will like that.”
That’s an understatement as far as office worker Oh Sung-guk is concerned. “It’s just another gimmick. He can say anything. I don’t know how sincere he is.”
One question, Mr. Oh asks, is what will really happen to the money. “Who knows what they’ll do with it,” he says.