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South Korea says it will prepare for unification with North

South Korea's statement that it intends this year to begin preparations to reunify the Koreas will likely irk China and the North, which could consider it a provocation.

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Lee said in Malaysia earlier this month that an unstoppable change was taking place among the North’s population and the South needed to get ready for reunification now, according to South Korean newspaper Joongang Daily. The government aims to complete plans in the first half of next year on how South Korea could fund reunification, Unification Minister Hyun In Taek said in an Oct. 20 interview.

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The announcement is likely to anger the North, which sees such statements as a move by the South to “absorb” the North. The Korea Times reports that Lee "ruled out the possibility of 'absorbing' North Korea, saying the reunification of the two Koreas should be achieved peacefully." Nonetheless, a Chinese state-run newspaper criticized the plan as provocative, saying it would raise tensions on the peninsula and accusing the South of acting like a “bull in a china shop.”

Peninsula reunification requires collaboration by both Koreas. This plan, which is proposed by the South while it carries out a military drill and includes a strategy which sets preparations in motion for the collapse of the North Korean regime, will hardly enhance ties between the two sides.

The Korean Peninsula is now plagued by the idea of a violent reunification. South Korea is adopting moves that go against its wider goals.

An article in China’s official news agency Xinhua noted that “both Lee and Hyun to reiterate their support for "peaceful reunification" in the long term.”

But an editorial in the South Korean newspaper The Chosun Ilbo argues South Korea must be cautious about a new reunification policy, and prepare for the reactions from the North, as well as China.

The biggest problem is China. Beijing in principle supports the reunification of the two Koreas, provided that they agree on it peacefully. But if the South starts announcing specific steps towards reunification starting next year, China could be tempted to reveal its real intentions. Given growing US – China competition in Northeast Asia and the current South Korea-China relationship, which is founded on business alone and lacks common diplomatic and strategic aims, the chances are that China will oppose the new doctrine and strengthen its support of the crumbling North Korean regime. A cool-headed judgment is needed whether this is a good time to call Beijing's bluff.

--- The original version mischaracterized the 1953 armistice.

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