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Unification dream slips away
Jim Middleton speaks to Jasper Kim.

Koreans have long had a desire to see the peninsular united again. But as relations worsen between Seoul and Pyongyang, more and more people want South Korea to remain independent. And now some are calling for nuclear weapons to ensure that remains the case. Jasper Kim is the CEO of the Asia Pacific Global Research Group and lecturer at Ewha University.
JIM MIDDLETON, PRESENTER: So does the appearance of normality in Seoul mask deeper fears?

Jasper Kim is CEO of the Asia-Pacific Global Research Group and a commentator on contemporary east-west issues.

Jasper Kim, very good to be talking to you.


JIM MIDDLETON: If threats of the kind we've seen here recently were made in any other country in the world, there would be great anxiety among the people, if not sheer panic. That does not seem to be the case in Seoul. Why not?

JASPER KIM: Imagine another country attacking the island territory of another sovereign state. That would be not only just emotional fear it would probably be an outright act of war, as it's interpreted. So that would be something that would not just stay still, it would be something that would morph into something greater.

But in South-North Korea these relations have been going on since the end of the Korean War in 1953. People are used to this, it's almost status quo. North Korea, it's calm, it's quiet and then all of a sudden there's bellicose rhetoric, followed by unexpected actions, military or paramilitary, and then you have some type of huge event.

But South Korea really doesn't have much choice. It has to stay calm and carry on simply because if it reacts then North Korea will react in kind and it will be tit for tat and it won't end very nicely if that happens.

JIM MIDDLETON: So would you say it's the general expectation of ordinary people in South Korea that however inflamed the rhetoric is, however high the state of brinkmanship is that they really do not expect whatever occurs will lead to actual military conflict that will endanger their lives?

JASPER KIM: Well I think in the past that was certainly the case. With 99 per cent confidence. I think no matter what North Korea did, short of sending its million man Army across the DMZ (De-Militarised Zone), South Korea had very little choice. It had its arms tied behind its back simply because economically there is so much to lose for the South Korea and also for Japan and the US, militarily as well.

There's so many people living here in Seoul, 10 million people, so close to the DMZ and Pyongyang. So there is too much at stake to actually react. And that's where South Korea was in the past.

But now things have been amped up a little bit. In terms of military, the secretary of defence here has given greater discretion for the military to respond in a proportional manner if and when North Korea acts provocatively.

JIM MIDDLETON: What does it say then about the reality of public emotion in the South that when ordinary South Koreans are polled, as they were recently, a significant majority does think that South Korea ought to have a nuclear device or devices of its own?

JASPER KIM: I think you see something that's a great shift. I think people used to think of North Korea as its brothers, sisters, long lost relatives. We can trust them, after we are from the same culture, the same shared history. The same language...

JIM MIDDLETON: The same people, still the same people?

JASPER KIM: Also the same people. But when you have this type of sentiment, it's really kind of a shift in the psyche of the average South Korean that there's a lack of trust between North and South Korea.

Because of this trust people wanted dialogue with the North and there are still some portions and pockets of the population that want it now. But a growing consensus is going for some defensive, deterrence against North Korea in the form here of nuclear capabilities.

JIM MIDDLETON: Does that mean, then, that given the public support and in fact the public will on this matter, that politicians will have to respond and that that of itself could make tension between North and South worse?

JASPER KIM: Well I think definitely so. I think the politicians here are very cognisant of what the public is thinking here, simply because the public is so vocal here; there's demonstrations, every day it seems. And so if the public feels strongly about it it will certainly voice its concern to the politicians either directly or through the form of mass rallies and social media here. All of which are used very extensively.

JIM MIDDLETON: A basic question, given all you've said, do you think that ordinary Koreans now actually believe their nation will be reunited?

JASPER KIM: I think that sentiment goes up and down. There's ebbs and flows. Right now we're kind of at a trough period. I think people are concerned about what North Korea is doing, especially with the young leader Kim Jong un.

He's so young, he is so untested and people don't really know what to make of him specifically. And the rhetoric and the language that's being used so far; each singular event is not something that is completely devastating but the totality of all these events, packaged in is short period of time streaming across from North to South is something that is very worrisome.

So had he been older, had he had more experience in the military to mature a little bit, I think people probably would have been a little bit less concerned. But now I think people are very concerned and it makes them question reunification. That's something that a lot of people want inherently emotionally but if they think about it rationally, I think people are starting to have some second thoughts.

JIM MIDDLETON: South Korean popular culture has spread Asia-wide very successfully. Is there any evidence to suggest it's having any impact at all on the people of North Korea for whom it would be something way outside the bounds of their normal lives and experiences?

JASPER KIM: I think what is going to make Korea crumble is not missiles so much or military might, it's going to be culture, it's going to be information. These things are basically a people, these underground DVDs, clips of Gangnam Style being shown in Pyongyang homes, although illegal people are watching them, and they trust that. They know or they expect that this is what it's like just south of the DMZ. They don't trust the politicians outside of North Korea but they do trust these videos and they like it. It's endearing and it's something they want.

And once a greater number of people want what's in South Korea then things will begin to change dramatically.

JIM MIDDLETON: Kim, it's been very interesting talking to you. Thank you very much.

JASPER KIM: Thank you very much.
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