Park Geun-hye may be the next president of South Korea. Sixty years old this year, she has devoted her life to serving her country, and has never married. She sees herself as a conscious imitator of Queen Elizabeth of England, the famous Virgin Queen. Given that Korea is currently divided into northern and southern nation-states, another historical analogy jumps to mind.
When Elizabeth was Queen of England, Scotland, of north Britain if you will, was an independent nation. When she died in 1603 James VI was King of Scots. His mother, Mary Queen of Scots, had hoped to displace Elizabeth as Queen of England, and instead lost her head. James was distantly related to Elizabeth, and she was his godmother. She left James the English monarchy in her will, and so he became James I of England. Later Scotland and England were officially united as Great Britain.
South Korea was divided from North Korea after the defeat of Japan in World War II. A united Korean nation has been difficult to achieve over the ages. Korea is blessed and cursed by its position between China and Japan. This has helped Korea be one of the leading nations in technology and culture for most of its history. It has also made it a prize highly desired by both the Chinese (including their non-Han Chinese ruling groups, the Mongols and the Manchu) and the Japanese. In addition, it is mountainous, so it has always been easy to break up the country into rival regimes.
At least twice in history the Chinese tried to invade Japan from Korea. In 1905 the Japanese cut a deal with the U.S.: they would not meddle in our colony the Philippines, and we would assent to their incorporating Korea into imperial Japan.
While Koreans during the Japanese colonial period differed on what kind of government they would like to have, and who would head it, they all agreed that Korea should be independent. They knew that after World War I U.S. President Woodrow Wilson had called for the self-governance (national self-determination) of white (race) countries (hence Poland was created out of parts of Germany and Russia), but he did not push for decolonization, or even grant independence to the Philippines or Puerto Rico.
Nevertheless, as the Japanese started to lose World War II, plans were made for a united Korea (other European colonies in Asia had pretty much the same idea). American rhetoric seemed to favor those plans. But Harry Truman and his advisors did not trust the Japanese enemy, our Russian ally, or the Korean people. Rather than allowing the Japanese soldiers in Korea to ship back to Japan and let the Koreans set up a government, the U.S. decided to encourage the Russians to occupy northern Korea, to make sure the Japanese there were disarmed, while the U.S. did its best to occupy southern Korea and disarm the Japanese who had surrendered there. Frankly, the commonly told U.S. Fairy Tale is not believable. Clearly the Japanese troops in Korea intended to obey their Emperor and abandon Korea; neither U.S. nor Soviet troops were necessary.
Although Koreans almost managed to unite themselves in 1950, through a civil war which the U.S. backed South Korean regime lost, by the end of the Korean War the world again had to recognize two governments in the peninsula.
U.S. troops still occupy South Korea. North Korea is somewhat allied with China. Normally that would encourage an alliance between South Korea and Japan, but the U.S. alliance has replaced.
Park Geun-hye will need to find a James I to reunite the Koreas. Outside forces will pressure her against this. While officially China, Japan, Russia and the United States favor Korean reunification, in reality none of the these nations wants a strong, united Korea for a rival. While the population of a united Korea would only be about 73 million, with 48 million currently in the south and 25 million in the north. That is a tiny number of people compared to China, Japan, Russia, or the U.S., but considerably more than the 60 million of Britain. And Britain used to rule the world, not long ago.
Strangely, to the modern political viewpoint, an arranged marriage might be the best solution for reuniting Korea. Someone from the Park family would marry someone from the Kim family, and the offspring would represent the new united Korea. South Korea has had the benefit of at least a semblance of democratic elections, and the north Korean elite would have to learn the old trick of granting the appearance of self-government without surrendering real power.
I look to a united Korea as splendid member of the family of nations. Both North and South have excellent science establishments. They have the usual human issues to attend to, but they have proven they can contribute to the world. Getting U.S. troops out would help cut the U.S. federal budget deficit, provided they are decommissioned rather than redeployed. While Korea would probably want some sort of self-defense force, the only real defense would be good relations with neighbors.
See also Park Geun-hye at Wikipedia