Korea Colloquium: Diplomat, economist debate future of two Koreas
North and South Korea will probably be a single, united
country by 2020 or earlier, said a panel of Korea watchers who spoke to
a crowded Kresge Auditorium on Monday.
The colloquium on Korea brought together a World Bank economist,
Bradley Babson; the person in charge of Unification Issues for the South
Korean Embassy in the U.S., Lee Duk-haeng; a Korean Economic Institute
of America director, Peter Beck; and Bowdoin assistant professor of government
and Asian studies Henry Laurence.
Sponsored by the Korean Economic Institute (KEIA) for the
second time in three years, the colloquium is meant to educate students
about current Korean economic and political issues. Two years ago, the
focus of the conference was the economic crisis then shaking Korea's businesses.
This time, the potential reunification of North and South Korea was a
hot topic for the 120 attendees.
Lee, visiting from Embassy Row in the nation's capital,
discussed the avenues the South Korean goverment is pursuing toward a
goal for eventual reunification with North Korea. The two countries were
split by the Allied powers after World War II in a manner analagous to
the division of Berlin; this 'temporary' division has been a Cold War
hot zone ever since.
Beck spoke next on the U.S. stance toward reunification,
reminding the audience that 38,000 American troops remain stationed near
the demilitarized zone between North and South. Beck commented that President
Bush has been less inclined to participate in reunification talks than
Laurence followed, discussing two political issues that
have become bones of contention between South Korea and Japan: the publication
of school textbooks that some say avoid discussion of Japanese war crimes,
and the lingering anger about Korean 'comfort women' who had been captured
by Japanese soldiers during World War II and forced into prostitution.
Babson concluded the colloquium by reviewing his recent
visits to North Korea on behalf of the World Bank. He argued that North
Korean officials have a long economic education ahead of them before their
country can be successfully integrated into the world economy.
At a dinner in Cram Alumni House after the colloquium, someone asked the Korean experts to predict, loosely, when the two nations would merge politically. Beck suggested 50 years; the other panelists converged near the 20-year mark.