Last Wednesday, the Consul General for the Republic of Korea, Song Young Wan, gave a lecture to Bellevue College students about the rise of Asia as an economic powerhouse that focused primarily on the dangers posed to neighboring nations by the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea).
“Within a couple of decades, most of you will travel Asia regularly. Why? Because Asia is rising,” opened Wan.
The lecture showed slides from International Monetary Fund data indicating that within a few decades, Chinese citizens will have more spending power than American citizens, given continuing economic trends.
The story of South East Asia’s future doesn’t appear all bright though. Among the problems facing the region are border disputes, particularly with China regarding Dokdo Island, the Senkaku Islands, Taiwan and the ongoing dispute over Tibet’s independence.
Economic issues in many of the countries pose problems for the global community as well, but the core of Wan’s talk focused in on the problems faced by and posed from North Korea.
At the end of the Korean War in 1953, North Korea had an economic advantage over South Korea, an advantage they maintained up through the early 1970’s. As their economy sat stagnant though, the South Korean economy surged past their northern neighbor’s to where it sits today, at approximately twenty times the size of North Korea’s economy.
In fact, South Korea is more progressive and advanced in nearly every aspect of national well-being, with the notable and important exception of military power.
While North Korean citizens suffer “the worst of the worst” of human rights violations, their government spends extraordinary amounts of money on yachts, birthday celebrations for dead leaders and their military, including their very advanced nuclear program.
In raw numbers, the North Korean military is twice the size of South Korea’s armed forces, despite South Korea having twice the population to draw from for military service.
The national and military programs run under the late Kim Jong-Il have been continued under his 28-year-old son, Kim Jong-Un, whose leadership Wan described as “not stable.”
The biggest single concern with North Korea lies in its nuclear program. While North Korean authorities claim that their centrifuge cascade that they have built to enrich uranium for nuclear weapons only took them a year and a half to build, Wan said that they are almost certainly lying since other nations around the world took between 12 and 20 years to achieve similar accomplishments.
Aside from violating the International Non-Proliferation Treaty, the North Korean government violated a more recent agreement to cease their work on nuclear weapons by conducting a missile test less than two months later.
“I do not believe that North Korea will give up its nuclear program,” concluded Wan. “There is one very important, meaningful way to denuclearize North Korea, that is reunification.”