News / Asia

Online Program Touts Reunification to South Korean Youth

Online Program Touts Reunification to South Korean Youth
Online Program Touts Reunification to South Korean Youth

This week negotiators from Washington, South Korea, China and Russia are trying to get the stalled North Korea nuclear talks back on track. The talks are aimed at dismantling North Korea’s nuclear program - something that South Korea has long insisted must occur before they could consider reunification. But for many young South Koreans, born decades after the Korean War, reunification is one of the last things on their minds. However a new government-sponsored online television channel hopes to change that.

South Korea’s Unification Ministry handles relations with North Korea.  It is also responsible for preparing the South Korean people for the day when reunification with the North eventually happens.

Lee Seung Shin of the ministry’s public relations department, says the government is trying new ways to get its message out to the people.

Lee says new media technologies are allowing the ministry to better promote its policies.   He says people do not read pamphlets anymore.  They are more accustomed to getting information from the Internet, SMS, television or smart phones,

Unification Channel

Starting this October, the Unification Ministry launched an online video on demand website called the Unification Channel.

The site is updated weekly and features news reports, interviews and media briefings from the ministry all about North Korea.

But the Unification Channel also aims to provide some laughs.

Viewers can watch a 20-episode comedy about a South Korean family that adopts a North Korean refugee.  The description of the show says the characters will confront various issues related to reunification.  

Reluctant youth

The Unification Ministry says the online channel, as well as new Facebook and Twitter accounts, are all attempts to get young South Koreans interested in North Korea.

But some observers say that reaching out to Koreans in their teens and early twenties will not be easy.  

Analyst Andrei Lankov at Seoul’s Kookmin University says after nearly 70 years of division, most youths just do not see the point anymore of reunification.  

"Pretty much nobody among the younger generation of Koreans is seriously interested in unification and North Korea," he said. "North Korea is increasingly seen as a distant country, an irrelevant place, a poor dictatorship whose population happens to speak the same language."  

Lankov says the irony is that this generation is more likely than any before to witness a time when the North Korean government ceases to exist.

Despite that, Lankov says he doubts the Unification Channel will be able to change the apathy of young Koreans.  

"Such efforts, efforts to promote unification, to remind South Koreans that North Korea does exist, are essentially good. However I am very skeptical about the results.  Frankly, I don’t think all these new kinds of channels and talks will make much difference," he said.

The Unification Ministry’s Lee Seung Shin says he understands that many young South Koreans have more immediate things to worry about, like studying for school or finding jobs.  

But Lee says what most concerns nearly all South Koreans is the potential cost of reunification.

Heavy price tag

Lee says the costs are going to be huge. When Germany reunited, the Western Germans had to suffer and were burdened because of costs.  He says people here know reunification will be tough on them too so this is another reason why they have lost interest in reunification.   

The Korea Institute for National Unification estimates that the price tag of reunifying the peninsula at up to $200 billion.

To offset that economic burden, the South Korean government has proposed setting up a so-called Unification Tax.  If enacted, the money will come out of the paychecks of mostly young workers.  

Twenty-four-year-old Hwa Seung Hyun, a student at Seoul Women’s University, says the unification channel should explain how that money would be used.     

"We have to know about North Korea before we unify and also government should teach us why we have to unify before they get our tax," said Hwa. But she adds she is not so sure she will actually log in to watch the Unification channel.

The same goes for her classmate, 21-year-old Ta-eun.  She says she cannot understand why the two nations should reunite, especially after attacks launched by North Korea in 2010, which killed 50 South Koreans.

"It seems like they do not want to cooperate with us or the world," she said. "I think that all the members of the world are trying to solve the bad relationship between the South and the North, but only the North is uncooperative."  

Although it is still too early to tell how many South Koreans will watch the new Unification Channel, there are signs that North Korea is paying attention.

Recently, the North’s own official media called the channel psychological warfare and declared it an act of aggression aimed at preventing reunification.

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