June 23, 2012

The impossible peace between South Korea and North Korea

The book Escape from Camp 14 tells the tale of Shin In Geun, a North Korean political prisoner, who managed to escape from his labor camp towards freedom in South Korea. The only crime he had committed was that he was the son to a father who had a brother who escaped to South Korea during the Korean war in the 1950s. If you commit a political crime in North Korea, you will be sent to a labor camp. But you are not the only one who will be punished for the crime, the two following generations of your family will also be punished.

Shin In Geun was born in the camp and did not know how it felt to have a better life. As the title of the book says, he managed to escape from Camp 14, after witnessing a couple of horrible events you might read about on you own in the book. The book has been written by an English-speaking journalist together with Shin In Geun, and it also gives you a broader view about what's currently going on in North Korea.

One interesting part of the book discusses the relationship between North Korea and South Korea. One might think that South Korea would like to be reunited with North Korea, just like West Germany was reunited with East Germany after the end of the Cold war. But that's not true.

A reunion is simply to costly. They want a reunion, but no-one wants to pay the price of it. The economy of South Korea is 38 times larger that the North's and the international trade volume is 224 times larger. The burden on South Korea would be 2.5 times greater than on West Germany after the reunion with East Germany. Studies have found that it could cost 2 trillion dollars over 30 years and that 10 percent of the GDP would have to be spent on North Korea in the case of a reunion.

South Korea also prefers peace before revenge. When North Korea sunk the navy ship Cheonan and killed 46 South Korean sailors, South Korea didn't want to retaliate the same way other countries might have had. The retaliations are more symbolic: a couple of rounds fired on no particular target:
"Our nation is richer and smarter than North Korea. We have to use reason over confrontation."

But everything is not dark in North Korea. When escaping from Camp 14, Shin In Geun noticed several positive sign that North Korea might improve from its dark history:
  • It was possible to travel through the country on your own without first having to ask for permission 
  • The border between North Korea and China was almost open. Give food and cigarettes to the border guards and you can walk into China 
  • The citizens of North Korea have begun to realize what kind country they are living in and that life might be better elsewhere. Radios from China where you can listen to the news from South Korea have begun to appear, as well as DVD-players with television shows from the US 
North Korea might become a better country a little bit at a time, and in the end we might see a reunion between North Korea and South Korea.