South Korean Youths. Image from Flickr, courtesy of Emmanuel Dyan.

South Korean Youths. Image from Flickr, courtesy of Emmanuel Dyan.

Young Koreans reject unification of North and South

15 April 2016

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Friday 15 April 2016

A new book on Korean nationalism has found young South Koreans are rejecting the future unification of North and South Korea.

Author Dr Emma Campbell of The Australian National University (ANU) said the coming generation of South Korean decision-makers has no commitment to the long held hope of older generations that the two Koreas will be reunited.

“My research finds twenty-something young South Koreans are preoccupied with surviving the country’s fiercely competitive education system and jobs market and have little appetite for the risks of unification,” said Dr Campbell from the Coral Bell School of Asia-Pacific Affairs.

Dr Campbell’s book, A New South Korean Nationalism: The end of one Korea?, is the result of more than five years of research and more than 150 face to face interviews with young South Koreans.

Dr Campbell said the traditional ethnic nationalism which has defined Korea no longer exists. This, she says, is demonstrated by the social marginalisation of many North Korean refugees and ethnic-Korean Chinese who move to South Korea.

“The sad reality is that refugees from the North too often find themselves at the very bottom of South Korea’s social ladder,” she said.

“Most South Korean youth feel closer in identity, culture and outlook to their Western contemporaries than they do to North Koreans.”

Dr Campbell said that should Korean unification occur, these strongly held attitudes means that unifying of the two Koreas – divided for more than 60 years – will be much more tumultuous than previously imagined.

“Korean unification will be nothing like the German experience because the two Koreas have become completely separate nations, with totally different identities,” she said.

“South Korea and the West need to realise that given current attitudes among South Korean youth, any unification may well lead to deep resentment, distrust and anger among both the North and South Koreans populations.”

The book also explores:

  • The effects of rapid globalisation on South Korea’s youth;
  • The daily stress that young Koreans experience in their education, work and personal life, meaning they give little thought to their Northern brethren;
  • And South Korea’s galloping globalisation which has entrenched divisions between North and South Korea.

Dr Campbell has previously worked in the field with an international medical humanitarian NGO and a South Korean human rights organisation.

A New South Korean Nationalism: The end of one Korea? Is available for purchase at the Lynne Rienner Publishers website.


Dr Emma Campbell Visiting Fellow, Coral Bell School of Asia-Pacific Affairs ANU College of Asia and the Pacific T: 0424 910 617 E:

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