University News

Experts speculate on Korea’s future

Contributing Writer
Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Experts in North Korean affairs spoke about the Korean Peninsula’s future in the aftermath of Kim Jong-il’s death during a well-attended forum held in MacMillan 117 Sunday afternoon. Jin Sup Hong, president of the National Unification Advisory Council of the South Korean government in Boston, nicknamed the North Korean regime successor and Kim Jong-il’s son, Kim Jong-un, a “football” due to the unpredictability of the effects that the leadership change will have on global society.

Kim Jong-il was the dictator of North Korea from 1994 until his death in December 2011. 

“Kim Jong-un studied abroad and traveled around the world, unlike his father, who avoided travel,” said Sung-Yoon Lee, an adjunct assistant professor of international politics at Tufts University. This has led some academics to believe Kim Jong-un may be more open to increasing interaction with the global community, Lee said. 

But having more exposure to the international community does not guarantee that the North Korean leader will turn from totalitarian rule, said Lee, pointing out that Vladimir Lenin, the Soviet leader, also studied abroad. While some believe the death of Kim Jong-il could lead to the end of North Korean dictatorship, “no one knows” if this will actually be the case, Lee said.

Some believe Kim Jong-un may be unable to keep the strong dictatorship that his grandfather and father had, Lee said. “(The) typical lifespan of a dynasty is three generations,” he added.

When the North Korean dictator Kim Il-sung died in the 1990s, people also doubted that Kim Jong-il would last longer than five years because of North Korea’s high dependency on external aid and the possibility of rebellion, Lee said. 

But he ended up being a very successful dictator, Lee said, lending support to the perspective that North Korea could go on for 500 years.

Still, Lee predicted that the North Korean dictatorship will fall within next 20 years.

“North Korea is a failed case of nation-building,” he said, adding that thousands of its civilians have attempted to flee the country.

While Lee’s lecture focused on the possibilities of unification between North and South Korea, Jongsung Kim, a professor of economics at Bryant University, addressed economic pros and cons of unification.

Depending on when the unification happens, “the cost of unification is estimated to range between $347 billion to $3.15 trillion” for South Korea, Kim said.

He pointed to North Korea’s natural resources as a potential benefit South Korea could reap from unification. 

The Korean International Students Association, Korean American Students Association and Liberty in North Korea collaborated with the National Unification Advisory Council of the South Korean government to invite Lee and Kim to speak about their research and the possibilities of unification.