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  • Changzoo Song (bio)
Perspectives on Korean Unification and Economic Integration, edited by Young Back Choi, Yesook Merrill, Yung Y. Yang, and Semoon Chang. Cheltenham, U.K.: Edward Elgar, 2001. 193 pp. $85.00 cloth.

The collapse of the Communist bloc in Eastern Europe and the consequent unification of Germany in 1990 opened new prospects for Korea's reunification. Especially with the grim economic situation in North Korea, German-style "absorption" unification seemed a natural course for the two Koreas. Nonetheless, the difficulties experienced by Germany after the unification called for more practical assessments of the costs and benefits of Korea's unification. This was the background when unification discussions in Korea actively began to embrace economic, cultural, and social considerations in the 1990s. In the past, the discussions had been very much dominated by political discourse.

The book under review reflects such a change in unification discussion. Composed of twelve articles, the book can be roughly divided into three parts: the first three articles examine security issues of the Korean peninsula; the next six articles deal with economic integration and cooperation between North and South Korea; and the last three articles analyze the costs and benefits of unification.

While the book covers several different issues from different angles, the contributors have a relatively unified view. This is that an abrupt collapse of North Korea will result in huge costs. They therefore advocate gradual integration. In this respect, the book supports the "Sunshine Policy" of South Korea's former president Kim Dae-Jung. Such a view is well represented in Tony Hall's introduction, in which he observes that North Korean people's perception of foreigners (especially Americans) became much more favourable in the late 1990s after food aid programs. Such changes in "ordinary people's thinking can play an important role in its leaders' reaching out," he states (p. XV). In a similar vein, Young-Sun Lee argues that gradual unification would cost less (chapter 10), and Young-Back Choi suggests immediate unification would not bring any good either to North or South Korea (chapter 12).

One of the most controversial articles in the book is "Cost and Benefits of Unification" by Choi. This article argues that, contrary to the belief of Korean nationalists, South Korea would not benefit from unification in terms of natural resources, cheap labor, bargaining power, or defense budget reduction. Choi estimates that South Korea will have to assume all the costs to develop North Korea, to produce welfare provisions, and to solve social conflicts if the two countries are unified. Based on this assessment, Choi carefully, but confidently, contends "no unification" is a "superior alternative" for both Koreas (p. 175). While the idea that unification would be too chaotic and costly is not totally [End Page 140] new, it is rare to see such a daring view openly declared. As most Koreans believe that unification is an absolute necessity, Choi's argument is innovative and makes this book rather special.

A further important article is "Can Reindustrialization of North Korea Support a Sustainable Food Supply?" This article maintains that North Korea, in its comparative disadvantage in agricultural production, would be able to import grains if it hosted labor-intensive light industry such as textiles and footwear manufacturing from South Korea (p. 83). By so doing, this article directly supports the Sunshine Policy and South Korea's project to build industrial complexes in North Korea.

While the book poses good arguments for a functionalist approach to national integration, it suffers from some defects. Although the book focuses on economic cooperation between the two Koreas, including telecommunication cooperation, the possible benefit of the Trans-Korean Railway if connected to the Chinese and Russian railway systems is not covered. In addition, some of the articles in the book are too short to be able to offer a sustained argument. For example, chapters 3 and 2 are only four and six pages each. In chapter 12 some footnotes are numbered incorrectly.

A more serious problem, however, lies in the volume's heavily economic orientation. While this is understandable if we consider that most of the contributors to the book are economists, some readers may find this volume's orientation...


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