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(Yonhap Interview) World Bank vice president says immigration an option for S. Korea

Interviews 18:00 November 12, 2019

By Kim Kwang-tae

SEJONG, Nov. 12 (Yonhap) -- A World Bank vice president has called immigration an option that could be on the table as South Korea faces the challenge of a rapidly aging population due to its chronically low birthrate.

Victoria Kwakwa, regional vice president for East Asia and the Pacific at the World Bank, said each country has to make a choice on immigration, noting that some countries in Europe have elected to allow more immigration.

"It is an option that could be considered, and the pros and cons within Korean society of having more immigration can be carefully studied to come to a decision on what it makes sense to do for Korea," Kwakwa said in a joint interview with South Korean media in Seoul last week.

Kwakwa said South Korea is not the only country that faces the challenge of population decline but that it is facing it in a more severe way because it's aging rapidly.

Victoria Kwakwa, regional vice president for East Asia and the Pacific at the World Bank, speaks in an interview with South Korean media at a hotel on Nov. 7, 2019, in this photo provided by a finance ministry official. (PHOTO NOT FOR SALE) (Yonhap)

Statistics Korea forecast that the country's population is likely to reach 39 million in 2067, sharply down from an estimated 51.7 million in 2019. The agency said people aged 65 years or older could account for 46.5 percent of South Korea's population, which would mark a sharp rise from 14.9 percent over the cited period.

A country is defined as a super-aged society when more than 21 percent of its people are 65 or older.

The looming demographic transition comes as some young South Koreans are opting to distance themselves from life's three major milestones -- dating, marriage and having children -- because they cannot find decent jobs amid a prolonged economic slowdown.

Last year, South Korea's total fertility rate -- the average number of children a woman bears in her lifetime -- hit a record low of 0.98, much lower than the replacement level of 2.1 that would keep South Korea's population stable at 51 million.

In comparison, the total fertility rate of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), a group of 36 mostly rich nations, stood at 1.65 on average.

Kwakwa said South Korea needs policies that will stimulate productivity of the labor force, noting its productivity is around the OECD average but lower than the U.S.

"It has the challenges of still some catch-up that it could do on the productivity front," she said.

She also said North Korea should eventually join the World Bank, stating that the Washington-based lending institution, when the time is right, does stand ready to support countries to come into the fold and benefit from the global organization.

"I wouldn't just limit it to the World Bank. I think North Korea could benefit from support from the larger global community, (but) as we know, there are major political issues that need to be addressed," Kwakwa said.

Mahmoud Mohieldin, the World Bank Group's senior vice president, said in October 2018 that Pyongyang will have to go through necessary procedures to get support from its member states and that this would become possible only if it fulfills its denuclearization pledge.

Joining the bank membership would provide the cash-strapped regime access to financial and technical assistance, which is essential for developing its outdated infrastructure.

entropy@yna.co.kr
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