On Unification: North Koreans’ Hope for the (Near) Future
A View Inside North Korea
- Beyond Parallel interviews of North Koreans found 34 of 36 North Korean respondents, or 94%, think unification is necessary, a figure that is consistent with previous studies of North Korean defectors now living in South Korea.
- The majority of respondents, 44.1%, cited the shared ethnicity between North and South Korean’s as the main reason unification should occur. 29.4% said an increase to economic growth was the main reason. These results contrast with other studies which find the majority of North Korean defectors pointing to increased standards of living and economic development as the main reason they think unification should occur.
- 21 of 36 North Korean respondents, or 58%, said unification will happen in their lifetime. 71% of those under 50 said unification would happen during their lifetime. Of those over 50 years of age, 47% said it would happen during their life while 32% said it would not.
- By comparison, a 2017 survey of South Koreans found 57.8% of respondents said unification was necessary, down from 62.1% in 2016 and 69.3% in 2014. In 2017, 41.6% of South Korean respondents said unification is necessary to avoid inter-Korean war.
A study commissioned by Beyond Parallel of North Koreans currently living inside the country found that 34 of 36 of respondents, or 94.4%, felt that unification is necessary, a figure that is consistent with previous studies of North Korean defectors in South Korea. In 2016, of the 138 North Koreans in South Korea surveyed by Seoul National University, 131 people, or 94.9% of respondents, said that, when they lived in North Korea, they had thought unification was “somewhat” to “very necessary.”1
We Belong Together
In the Beyond Parallel study, when asked why unification is necessary, 15 of 34 respondents, or 44.1%, said it is necessary because Koreans have a shared ethnicity, 10 (or 29.4%) said it would increase economic growth, and 5 (or 14.7%) said unification is important to resolve the issue of separated families.
While the majority of both men and women said the main reason unification should occur was shared ethnicity, a much greater percentage of male respondents selected this reason than female respondents; 45% of men compared with 18% of women. A much greater percentage of men than women also indicated they thought the main reason for unification was to increase economic growth; 40% of men compared with 6% of women said economic growth. However, a larger percentage of female respondents said the primary reason for unification was to resolve the issue of separated families; 12% of women compared with 5% of men.
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These Beyond Parallel results contrast with other studies of the defector community which find the majority of North Korean defectors pointing to increased standards of living and economic development as the main reason they think unification should occur. In 2016, Seoul National University found 46.4% of North Korean respondents in South Korea said increased standards of living and economic development were the main reasons they felt unification was necessary while 30.4% said shared ethnicity.
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The SNU surveys draw upon a pool of North Korean defectors who have arrived in South Korea during the previous year. Source: North Korean Public Perception on Unification 2016/2015/2014/2013/2012(북한주민 통일의식 2016/2015/2014/2013/2012), Institute for Peace and Unification Studies, Seoul National University.
Time Marches On
21 of 36 North Korean respondents, or 58%, said unification will happen in their lifetime. 8 of the 36 respondents said they did not think unification would happen in their lifetime while 7 of 36 said they didn’t know if it would or not.
71% of those under 50 said unification would happen during their lifetime. Of those over 50 years of age, 47% said it would happen during their life while 32% said it would not. The eldest respondent at the age of 80, said he believed unification would indeed take place in his lifetime.
Will unification happen in your lifetime?
|Response||Number of North Korean Respondents|
South Korean’s View of Unification
In December 2017, Korea Institute for National Unification (KINU) of South Koreans found just 138 of 1,000 respondents felt unification was “very necessary”. Of the 1,000 respondents interviewed by KINU, 440 said unification was “somewhat necessary” and 365 said thought it was “not very necessary.”2 A June 2017 KINU survey of South Koreans found 57.8% of respondents said unification was necessary, down from 62.1% in 2016 and 69.3% in 2014. In the 2017 survey, the reason most frequently cited by South Korean respondents (41.5%) for the necessity of Korean unification was “to avoid inter-Korean war.”3 An Asan Institute survey of South Koreans published in 2015 further explored their views for the main reason why unification was necessary. 33.2% said shared ethnicity, 23% said economic growth, 16.8% said to increase international influence, 14.7% said to decrease spending related to division, and 7.6% said to resolve separated families.4
Given the gravity of the consequences faced for expressing opinions in North Korea, the methodology of the interview project commissioned by Beyond Parallel was designed to account for the current conditions in the country and to protect all involved. In 2016, CSIS partnered with an organization that has a successful track record of conducting discrete and careful surveys in North Korea.
North Korea Survey: Sample Demographics
Beyond Parallel commissioned this organization to administer the questionnaire in eight provinces in North Korea. We talked with 36 men and women in walks of life ranging from laborers, doctors, homemakers, barbers, business presidents, to factory workers spanning in age from 28 to 80. The sampling method we used was non-probability, convenience sampling as accessibility was a prime consideration. There were no reported refusals to answer any of the questions posed by the administrators.
We began by asking North Koreans about the regime’s public distribution system, informal market and bartering activities, outside information, and unification. We inquired about events that drive their view of the government and foreign aid.
The fifth in our five-part series focused on respondents’ answers to the following three questions:
Will unification happen in your lifetime? / 평생 살아가는 동안 통일이 실현될 수 있다고 생각합니까?
Do you think unification is necessary? / 통일이 꼭 필요하다고 생각하십니까?
If yes, what is the main reason that unification should occur? / 질문에 ‘네’라고 답하셨으면 주된 이유가 무엇입니까?
- a. Shared ethnicity (North and South are “one race”) / 동일한 민족이기 때문에
- b. Increase economic growth / 경제 성장을 위해서
- c. Increase international influence / 국제적인 영향력 강화를 위해
- d. Reduce costs related to division of peninsula / 한반도 분단 상태로 인한 비용 절감을 위해
- e. To defend against outside threats / 외부의 위협을 막기 위해
- f. Resolve issue of separated families / 이산가족 문제를 해결하기 위해
The questionnaire was carried out as natural in-person conversations between those conducting the interviews and the respondents. The individuals administering the questions are carefully trained to avoid asking leading questions or eliciting specific answers so as to protect both the integrity of the interview project and as well as safety of the people involved in the conversation.
- The SNU surveys draw upon a pool of North Korean defectors who have arrived in South Korea during the previous year. Source: North Korean Public Perception on Unification 2016/2015/2014/2013/2012(북한주민 통일의식 2016/2015/2014/2013/2012), Institute for Peace and Unification Studies, Seoul National University. ↩
- Park, Juhwa et al. 2017 Survey of Inter-Korean Integration. Edited by Unification Policy Studies Division. Seoul: Korea Institute for National Unification (KINU), 2017. http://www.kinu.or.kr/www/jsp/prg/api/dlV.jsp?menuIdx=344&category=44&thisPage=2&searchField=title&searchText=&biblioId=1485301 ↩
- Park Joo-wha. Korea Institute for National Unification (KINU). “Peaceful Coexistence and Unification: South Koreans’ Perception of Unification 2017 (“평화적 분단과 통일: 2017 통일에 대한 국민 인식 조사 결과와 함의”). Online Series CO 17-18. June 23, 2017. http://lib.kinu.or.kr//wonmun/008/0001484788.pdf ↩
- Asan Institute for Policy Studies. “South Korean Attitudes toward North Korea and Reunification.” January 26, 2015. http://en.asaninst.org/contents/centers/public-opinion-studies-center/ ↩