The death of North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il has revived debate in the capitalist South about the prospects for reunification with its communist neighbour after decades of growing ever further apart.
Dreams of a peaceful and gradual reintegration of the two Koreas, split up at the end of World War II, have faded over the past 18 months following two deadly border attacks blamed on Pyongyang.
Surveys taken before Kim’s death showed waning enthusiasm among South Koreans for reunification, which according to some estimates could cost their country trillions of dollars and bring massive social upheaval.
But the dictator’s sudden demise on December 17 — which briefly sent shudders through financial markets — provided a stark reminder that an unpredictable hermit state is on their doorstep.
Experts think the most likely trigger for reunification would be a collapse of the Kim dynasty, but so far the succession process appears to be proceeding smoothly with son Jong-Un being hailed as the new leader.
If the 20-something four-star general manages to cement his hold on power, prospects of a reunited Korea will hinge on his desire for reconciliation.
While his father’s regime supported reunification under a federal system, it accused the South of plotting to absorb the North by stealth.