In a moment of humanitarianism, 89 families from North and South Korea reunited for a few hours on August 20th in a Red Cross organized event. 83 North Korean and 89 South Koreans were selected by lottery to meet their family at Mount KumGang resort in North Korea.
Though hundreds on both sides had been selected, many had chosen not to attend after hearing news that their family members had passed away. According to data provided by South Korea’s unification ministry, 132,603 South Koreans have applied for family reunions since 1988. Of those who applied, 75,741 have passed away as 85% of applicants are seniors above the age of 70.
Many attending the reunion met extended relatives like cousins or nieces rather than siblings or parents. This includes Ahn Seung-Chun, one of the South Koreans selected to attend the event. “I applied to see my older brother,” she said. “But he passed so I’ll never see him now. I’m going to see my nephew and my brother’s wife. On one hand, I’m sad that I won’t see my brother. But on the other hand, I’m happy to meet the nephew. At least I will be meeting a fruit of my father.”
Reunification between the Koreas has always been a goal by both sides, but geopolitical conflict and decades of entrenched ideologies have made it difficult for necessary steps to proceed. This is not to mention the difficulty caused by other parties involved, like China and the United States, who, with their own national interests, exert pressures to sway the nations into their own image.
President Moon Jae-in has expressed desires of reunification, both on the campaign trail and in office. Next month, he is scheduled to visit Pyongyang for a third summit with the North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. Furthermore, in an August 15 speech, President Moon commented hopes of greater economic engagement between the Koreas, leading to an easier path to reunification. He posits based on state-run research that the impact from inter-Korean economic cooperation is estimated to reach 170 trillion won at a minimum over the next 30 years from reconnected inter-Korean railroads, natural resource extraction, Geumgangsan tours and greater development in the Gaesong Industrial complex.
What gets lost in periodic hypothetical talks of military action are the very real consequences in the people involved. These reunions serve as reminders about the consequences of artificially dividing people with borders; what may seem like necessary military intervention divides people into artificial state boundaries. It is tempting for nations to meddle in geopolitics, especially if it is a nation has a large military capacity, but the consequences of doing so creates generations of strife and fundamentally contradicts the ideals of self-determination.
The process of reunification is a difficult and unstable one, but such reunions remind us of what is at stake. One can only hope that the process of reunification is not hampered down once more by national and economic interests, and this is the first steps to a peaceful reunification process.
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