MUNKYONG, South Korea, May 14 (Yonhap) -- South Korea's top official in charge of relations with North Korea donned an apron and helped combine two wet clay pieces previously thrown on a pottery wheel.
Unification Minister Yu Woo-ik later carefully painted Korean text on several other pieces of terracotta pottery that read "Peaceful Unification" as Kim Jung-ok, one of South Korea's craft masters, stood next to him in a small pottery studio.
One of the pieces will be named what Yu calls a "unification jar" in a symbolic gesture to raise money to help finance the massive costs of potential unification with North Korea.
"I made the unification jar with the hope that people will prepare for unification in good faith," Yu said Saturday after painting the medium-sized jar in the pottery studio in Munkyong, some 150 kilometers southeast of Seoul.
Kim, 72, who is designated as an important intangible cultural property, also hopes that South Koreans will join preparations for unification, calling the unification jar the most significant project in his 54-year pottery career.
Yu said the jar, which is 50 centimeters tall and 50 centimeters wide, is a symbol of a unification account South Korea hopes to create to receive public contributions and set aside money for unification with one of the poorest countries in the world.
A bill on the unification account, which has been gathering dust in the National Assembly, is likely to be automatically scrapped later this month when the current legislature's four-year term expires.
A state-run think tank has estimated that the initial costs for the integration of the two Koreas could range from 55 trillion won (US$47 billion) to 249 trillion won ($216 billion).
The estimate, which is projected to cover the first year of integration, was based on the assumption that the two neighbors could be unified two decades from now, according to the Korea Institute for National Unification.
"We need to share the costs of unification," Yu said, noting the public donation campaign will give an impression to neighboring countries that South Korea is really serious about unification, and will also give hope to North Koreans.
South Korea said unification would provide the Korean people with a springboard to prosperity by marrying South Korea's capital and technology with North Korea's rich natural resources.
The communist country has long suspected that Seoul could be plotting to absorb Pyongyang.
The move to prepare for unification has gained momentum since 2010 when South Korean President Lee Myung-bak floated the idea of using taxpayer money to help finance unification.
Lee and Yu have pledged to donate one month's worth of their own wages to the unification jar in a sign of their commitment to unification.
Yu said preparations for unification can make unification a "blessing, not chaos" should the two Koreas be unified.
Still, there are no signs that the two Koreas, divided for nearly six decades following the 1950-53 Korean War, could be reunited anytime soon, especially given lingering tensions following Pyongyang's two deadly attacks on the South in 2010.
The North's has also recently threatened to launch special military actions to reduce Seoul to ashes in minutes over South Korea's alleged insult to the North's dignity.
"Unification could not come as we plan. It may come more quickly," Yu said, without elaborating.
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