The ICAS Lectures

No. 2003-0214-DxK

The Latest from Seoul

Don Kirk

ICAS Spring Symposium;
Humanity, Peace and Security
February 14, 2003 12:00 PM - 5:50 PM.
U.S. Senate Dirksen Office Building Room 106
Capitol Hill
Washington, D. C.

Institute for Corean-American Studies, Inc.

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Biographic Sketch & Links: Don Kirk

The Latest from Seoul

Don Kirk

DONALD KIRK: One of the exciting things about covering Korea is that there always is news there, no matter how difficult it may be to get the news and no matter how controversial some of the news may be, it's never really boring. People sometimes ask me, "Do you really like covering - do you really like living in Seoul?" The point is that there's just always something interesting happening, and often of a very unexpected nature.

I've been in and out of the Koreas for a number of years, but I really began working there most of the time in 1997 with the economic crisis. That was unexpected, and the quick recovery from the economic crisis was equally unexpected to some people. Now we have another sort of crisis. While we had a similar crisis in the early 1990s, this one is more serious and will take considerably more diplomatic efforts and international politicking and a number of greater twists and turns before somehow we extricate ourselves. But again, you can't really anticipate that there will be the same kind of extrication that there was in 1994 when the crisis wound up in the Geneva Framework Agreement in October 1994. A lot of people have suggested that there should be another revision of the Framework Agreement - that perhaps that's the solution, a much enlarged agreement which takes into account many more needs of North Korea, and in which North Korea makes many more promises which can be verified and so forth. But that certainly won't be easy. It may not even be possible.

One of the stories that was going on when I left Seoul a few days ago was the investigation into the secret funding that lay behind the June 2000 Summit. What did South Korea do for North Korea, notably for the North Korean leader, Kim Jong Il, to invite President Kim Dae Jung to Pyongyang for the Summit? The reason this was of special interest to me was a couple of years ago, January 31, of 2001, I did a story which turned out to be the most controversial story I've ever written, by far. Had I realized there would be so much attention paid to this, perhaps I would have made this the beginning of the story, but about halfway through the story I mentioned that there had been a mysterious trip to Singapore in which Park Jie Won and a gentleman from Korea's National Intelligence Service had gone to Singapore and met a North Korean official and possibly transferred a huge amount of money.

I didn't say how much money, and I didn't say it really happened. I said it had been believed to have happened or suspected to have happened, or may have happened. I tried to qualify it, but this part of the mythology of the coverage of the great payoff. I can't tell you how many calls I had in the last couple of weeks from Korean newspapers and from various other people. Some members of the conservative opposition asked me for copies of the story, saying this is the first story that was ever written about this when actually I wrote about it in a most speculative manner in the middle of a story in which I was trying to give some of the background of the June 2000 Summit. The story focused on the role of Lim Dong won, who's the architect of the sunshine policy. The sunshine policy, of course, is the hallmark of President Kim's five years in office, but the architect of that policy, the chief of staff sort of - although that wasn't his title -- for carrying out that policy was Lim. His background is extremely interesting and varied, particularly varied during President Kim's tenure in office. He served as director of the National Intelligence Service, and when people began to wonder why the director of the NIS was spending all his time courting North Korea, he moved over to what was a more appropriate position, unification minister. Then he got into tremendous trouble when the unification ministry authorized a lot of people to go to Pyongyang for the August 15 anniversary a couple of years ago. So then he went back to the Blue House where he'd been at the beginning of President Kim's presidency, as senior advisor to the President on dealing with North Korea where he exercises just as much influence now as he ever did while with the NIS.

The great story was - what was necessary to bring about the 2000 Summit? And one of the points that I made was that this kind of gift-giving, if we may call it that, is almost a tradition. I wouldn't say "almost." It is a tradition. It's a way of life in conducting affairs at that level. We've had the great cases of former President Chun Doo Hwan and former President Roh Tae Woo, who were convicted of accepting huge amounts of money. So we may assume that Kim Jong Il who, if anything, is certainly a more venal character than they, and in my view, A considerably less honorable figure than they ever were, also would regard huge gifts as almost his right in order to grant the President of South Korea the privilege of paying homage to him. And so I think it's safe to believe that there was considerably more to this story than what has emerged in the last couple of months in the revelation that nearly $200 million was passed through the Hyundai Merchant Marine Company in order to bring about the Summit.

The very latest news is that yesterday President Kim acknowledged that there had been this passage of money and in an effort at transparency, he explained that, yes, it had gone from the Korea Development Bank. I don't know if he personally gave all these details, but anyway he certain acknowledged and apologized for some of the confusion. The money had gone from the Korea Development Bank, which is a state bank, to Hyundai Merchant Marine, and it had gone to North Korea, but it went in order to promote Hyundai projects. So I think he and Lim Dong Wan specified seven clear projects for which this money was supposed to facilitate contracts and so forth.

The opposition, the Grand National Party, has said that this can't be true, there must be much more to this. Some people think that this $200 million payment was really a down payment, and that these payoffs have been going on throughout the presidency of Kim Dae Jung, and that the figures could be quite astonishing when fully revealed, if they ever are fully revealed. So that's one of the great stories that's going on at this time. President-elect Roh Moo Hyun has adopted a very wise position of saying he wants all the truth to come out and it will come out in hearings and so forth. He's distanced himself from the issue, although he is obviously a member of President Kim's party and dedicated to carrying out President Kim's policies and enlarging upon them and expanding upon them. He also doesn't want to be in the position of supporting something that was very unpopular, if it's ever fully revealed. He doesn't want to appear to be a part of the corruption that was implicit in this kind of carrying on.

President Kim has defended himself for the last couple of weeks by saying that this kind of payoff was really for a good cause, for inter-Korean relations. People shouldn't be asking too many questions about it - that it was kind of for your own good. Although the details couldn't be revealed, it was for the good of the country. Which puts him in quite a different position from former President Chun Doo Hwan and former President Roh Tae Woo, who obviously thought this money was due to them simply because they were in the position of power and this was a very traditional way of paying off the ruler of the country. I think we'd have to credit President Kim Dae Jung with perhaps having considerably nobler motivation in being a party to this kind of payoff.

But I think that this story is going to evolve over a period of months and perhaps years, and it's one of the most intriguing elements of rapprochement, if there is rapprochement, between the two Koreas.

Now the interesting thing about this story is that it's really just one of several huge stories that are going on in Korea. One is obviously the North Korean nuclear crisis. Another is the emergence of anti-American attitudes. And the third, of course, is the transition of power and the great controversy between the conservative elements and the ruling elements which would regard themselves as certainly on the progressive side of the spectrum.

I've been following the evolution of these anti-American attitudes quite closely. I've covered the trials of the two American sergeants who were on an Army vehicle that ran over two Korean school girls in early June. And I also covered huge demonstrations in which tens of thousands of people were on the streets holding paper cups with candles in them, marching upon the American Embassy, filling the streets of downtown Seoul. And I've been very interested in how this anti-American movement has crested, how the various leaders of the leftist side of the spectrum have taken advantage and exploited the death of these two girls in order to bring up the much broader issue of the expulsion of U.S. forces from South Korea. I remember one demonstration they were stamping on signs of McDonald's and Coca Cola, shouting "Down with American influence. Down with Coca Cola. Down with McDonald's" and so forth. I got into a conversation with some people. I said, "Look, you're probably right in stamping on Coca Cola and McDonald's because they're not good for you - McDonald's hamburgers and Coca Cola. But what if longshoremen on the West Coast started stamping on Hyundai cars, and what if they refused to unload semiconductors from Samsung Electronics? Then what? My point is, look, we can all play this game of excluding each other's products and so forth, but is that what you really want?" And you get very ambivalent answers. People haven't thought of that sort of evolution of the problem. They say, no, that's not what they really meant to say and so forth as somebody up there on a platform was screaming, "Yankee, go home! Yankee, go home!" They were screaming that, too, right in front of the American Embassy. They did it in a series of demonstrations.

But an interesting thing happened in this anti-American movement and that is, at some point, it crested and then like a high tide, it began to fade. Not that it's by all means faded away, but the loudness of the movement began to tone down quite a lot. There were a couple of factors involved in this. One is that during the presidential campaign very interestingly distanced himself somewhat from it. He never went and joined these crowds. Lee Hoi Chang, the conservative candidate, in a desperate effort for votes, actually shook hands with these people and proclaimed his sympathies and so forth. Roh never went to that extent. He was very reluctant to demand that President Bush issue a personal apology for the death of these two girls. He was reluctant to make it appear as if he were personally exploiting this tragedy as the leftists certainly were exploiting it. He stopped significantly short of totally identifying himself with what they were doing, and in fact, at some point, he managed to get the word across that he wished they would mute the demonstrations and perhaps stop the demonstrations. So I think that that phase of the anti-American movement may have crested, and it's not nearly as strong now as it was a couple of months ago, or even a month ago. The election was on December 19, and I think it was really at its height at the end of November and early December.

That's not to say it can't resume again very quickly. Those of us who've spent any time at all in Korea, and I'm sure that many if not most of you have, have witnessed some tremendous riots over the years. I was in Seoul in the spring of 1980 when it didn't seem as though there was much going on, and very soon after I arrived in Seoul on a routine trip from Japan where I was then based, there were half a million people out in City Hall Plaza and a half a million people in front of Seoul Station. The Kwangju revolt was going full blast. Again, in 1987,we had the proclamation of a democracy constitution, the declaration by President Chun that he would have to step aside and that a new form of government was about to emerge. Again, before that happened, there were equal numbers of people on the streets, and there have been other times over the years when we've all seen huge riots. What we saw in November and December, incidentally, was not on that scale at all. Fifty thousand, maybe 60,000 was the most that ever showed up in downtown Seoul. But nevertheless, there are definite questions raised about the wisdom of this anti-American movement - definite reservations in many quarters about whether it's really a good idea and do we really mean to go this far? And the question is: do we really want American troops to leave when the North Korean nuclear crisis is going on?

Now, the Korean attitude as I perceive it in Seoul is very different toward the North Korean nuclear crisis than that of Americans, and I don't just mean American officials whose stance we all read about in the papers, but Americans in general. There's a sense, I think, in Seoul that it really can't be real. It's almost an abstraction. It's kind of an issue that the United States has raised. But it's not an issue that Korean leaders are raising, except to respond to the United States. And indeed, there's no real sense that anything is going to happen. I heard one of the speakers earlier talking about 90 scuds landing on Yongsan, as if anybody was really worried about that. Nobody thinks there's going to be an artillery barrage across the DMZ. There's no sense of tension of that sort. There are some extra troops, by the way, around U.S. bases as a result of the anti-American problem. But there aren't extra troops guarding against North Korea. There are a lot of buses full of policemen who are on guard against demonstrations against the government or against the American embassy or against other facilities. But they're not on guard against North Korea for sure. And so there's no sense of that kind of tension. In fact, there's almost a sense that this is the crisis that's being created by American diplomacy and by the United States, and why are they involving us in it?

One interesting thing is that - as we look a little bit ahead - President-elect Roh insisted there's going to be peace on the Korean peninsula. During the campaign he made the remark that he would like to mediate in fact between North Korea and the United States, and this evoked a strong reaction from Chung Mong Joon, who had withdrawn his candidacy and had said that he supported Roh. On the last night of the campaign, I was at a rally on Chung Ro, and Chung Moon Joon was up on a platform waving his hands and looking very much like a candidate himself as he urged everybody to vote for Roh. Much to my shock, about two hours later, Chung Mong Joon withdrew his support from Roh because of this comment that Roh had made about acting as a mediator between the United States and Korea. There was also a problem of Roh indicating that somebody else might have his support in the next presidential campaign. Apparently Chung Mong Joon took great offense at that. I think another explanation might be that Chung cracked under pressure - that he really wasn't up to that level of politicking and that he couldn't take the climactic stress of a presidential campaign. But that's another story.

What was interesting from the point of view of U.S.-Korean relations is what Roh said about acting as a mediator between the United States and North Korea. Roh, since his election, has tried to qualify what had appeared to some people as an anti-American position of his own dating back to his days as a labor activist and as a lawyer on behalf of workers, and as kind of identifying with what is sometimes called the "democracy movement" in South Korea, although why these people call it a "democracy movement" when what they stand for is anything but democratic is another issue. But, anyway, he had appeared to be identifying with them. He's pulled back considerably from what some observers had regarded as an extreme position. He's tried to moderate his outlook, and he's certainly not calling for the withdrawal of U.S. troops. In fact, he's saying they should stay where they are.

He's still indicating that he would like the SOFA - the Status of Forces Agreement - revised somewhat in order to give Korean authorities more power in cases involving U.S. troops, but how much revision he's going to insist on is by no means clear when he gets involved in actual negotiations on the subject. So it'll be interesting to see. I last saw Roh at a talk that he gave at Inchon Airport to people considering the possibilities of the Seoul-Inchon megalopolis emerging as a hub, a commercial and financial hub for Asia, for all of Northeast Asia, in which he said that there would be peace on this peninsula, don't worry about any obstruction to peace. He assured potential investors, both foreign and Koreans, that he would "guarantee peace on this peninsula." So it'll be very interesting to see how he's going to carry out that guarantee. He's certainly not going to be the anti-American president that some people had thought. He may well have some difficulties dealing with the United States on critical policy issues, and he may well go on expressing the hope that the United States engage in direct dialogue with North Korea rather than insist on a multi-lateral dialogue.

I think that we can look forward to perhaps the unexpected - as usual. We have to expect the unexpected in North Korean-U.S. relations and we can anticipate that there'll be probably continued friction between the United States and South Korea on just how to go about proceeding vis--vis North Korea. There'll be all kinds of double-talk statements from the American Embassy and American officials. One will find it not too difficult to read between the lines and see that the policies are different, that the United States is going to fall back on this desire for other countries to be involved, to have other countries at the table, however they express it. They may not use the word "multilateral," but we're going to see an expression of desire on the part of the incoming government for direct dialogue between the United States and North Korea. So how that plays out is going to be a very interesting story to watch.

At the same time, equally important, will be to see how Roh does in his declared intention of restructuring - going on with restructuring of the economy. That's quite dramatic because obviously there are very severe differences between him and the Grand National Party and the conservative opposition. I got into tremendous trouble as a result of a story I did two years ago that created a huge controversy. The government wrote a great long letter to the editor of the International Herald Tribune, most of which they published without a correction and without an apology. Recently, I got in trouble for a story I did for New York Times on January 10 in which I quoted an official with the Federation of Korean Industries as using the word "Socialist" to describe the outlook of some of the advisors of Roh. I got far more calls for that story than I did for the one two years ago. As a matter of fact, every paper was calling, asking, "Did he really say this? What was happening here?" The guy who made the remark called me, asked me to say that he hadn't said it. I said I couldn't do that, but I wasn't going to go on quoting him as having said it either. So I tried to tell these reporters that I didn't have any more comment, didn't want to continue the controversy. I said, "I'm only a reporter. I don't answer questions. I ask questions."

Chosun Ilbo had a very amusing cartoon of somebody on a tank representing the transition team threatening the Federation of Korean Industries, and a couple of bureaucrats in the Federal of Korean Industries saying, "Oh, we're dead." And it funny because I'd waited a long time in this business to have a cartoon appear in a paper directly resulting from any story I'd written. And there were also some nasty remarks about the story in the Korean press, too. So I learned what it was like actually to be the topic of a story as opposed to just the writer of stories. And the interesting thing was that it all happened because of one word - "Socialist." I think that this extreme reaction on the part of the transition team indicated they obviously don't want this "Socialist" label. They want to appear moderate. They want to show that they're not anti-chaebol, but they don't want the chaebol to be out of control, to go back to their old habits before the 1997 economic crisis. And I must say - if I may depart from a seeming appearance of objectivity - I'm very sympathetic with this on the part of the transition team. I covered the 1997-1998 economic crisis quite closely, as closely as any foreigner could get into it, and would have to say that they engaging in unbelievable excesses: debt-equity ratios of 4 and 5 to 1 were typical. But there were also debt-equity ratios of 20 to 1 and 40 to 1. The Kia group had a debt-equity ratio of 12 to 1, and they were a major motor vehicle manufacturer and into all kinds of other things as well.

For the conservatives to want to take away some of the restrictions on the chaebol, to roll back some of the regulations that had been imposed during the Kim Dae Jung presidency seems to me would really be a step in the wrong direction. I think that there have to be controls on the conglomerates because otherwise there'll be another set of problems all over again. We see these incipient problems now in the form of the problems that the banks are having with extreme - with excessive consumer credit. The banks - the Kookmin bank, by far the largest bank, I think lost money in the final quarter of last year because of excessive consumer credit. So there can be all kinds of economic issues that'll come up all over again if the clock is set back and if regulations are withdrawn. So I must say that in this area I personally feel very sympathetic with what some members of the transition team are saying and with what President-elect Roh is saying. But you wouldn't have known it from the reaction I got to this story. I think that the transition team thought that I was allied with the conservatives and that I was somehow making them look silly by quoting somebody from the FKI saying that they were "socialists." It got very complicated -the kind of psychology involved here.

I remember one article that appeared in a magazine - it was really a nasty article, but it wound up, after all the nastiness was said and done, saying, "But actually, the article was fairly well balanced and there was just one word, and why did the transition team make such a fuss about one word?"

I have tried to present some of the different threads that are coming together: the corruption thread, the payoff for the June 2000 Summit, the anti-American attitudes that became accentuated as a result of the tragedy of the death of the two schoolgirls, and then the revelation in October that North Korea had a nuclear weapons program, after which that crisis just went on and on and on, and still goes on and on and on; now in the United Nations Security Council. All these threads are coming together at once. We have a new president taking office in 10 days. He's made some very interesting remarks. He's declared a policy of restructuring of the chaebol. He said he wants to go full force ahead in the emergence of the Seoul-Inchon megapolis as the hub of not just of the Korean peninsula but of Northeast Asia, in between Shanghai on the one side and Tokyo and Osaka on the other, from Hong Kong to Vladivostok. He has this great vision for the future of South Korea as an economic hub, and we have his desire to pursue this vision while moderating and modulating concerns about North Korea.

I think that what's going to happen is very unclear and, as usual, we have to expect some dramatic moments. We have to expect the unexpected, and hope that we'll not see some real conflagration break out, and hope that somehow, Korea, as it has done, as it did in the early '90s and as it has done on other occasions, will be able to overcome the difficulties with some great negotiated solution. I say that with one big qualification. People say, "Oh, they overcame this crisis in the early 1990s, and South Korea was peaceful and prosperous." But what happened to North Korea? The regime was preserved, yes. The status quo was preserved, yes. How many people have died in North Korea since then? Starvation, disease, imprisonment, executions. Two million seems to be the conventional figure. That's considerably more than died in the whole Korean War. So we have to consider whether or not that solution is the one that we really want. I think on that note I'll conclude my remarks.

QUESTION: Thanks for those interesting remarks. It's nice to see you in person after reading your stories for year, and I congratulate you on the quality of all those. I have a question about the attitudes in South Korea toward nuclearization of North Korea. I have seen it said in the press that many South Koreans are ambivalent, almost proud of their North Korean counterparts for having developed a nuclear weapon. I do understand that the threat level is not perceived to be as great perhaps in South Korea maybe from, as you say, an artillery barrage coming across the DMZ, but could you comment on the attitudes in South Korea? Are they irate that the agreement on de-nuclearization of the peninsula has been violated? Is there any serious talk about, "Well, we're going to inherit these weapons ourselves in the unification scenario." What are you hearing in that regard?

KIRK: Well, I think that both those responses are heard, and certainly on the leftist side of things there is sometimes comment that this is all Koreans who've done this. There is a certain pride in the fact that Koreans, whether they're North Koreans or whatever, are able to develop nuclear weapons. So I think that you do hear that. I'm not saying that's a prevailing attitude or an overwhelming attitude, but it's an attitude that one sometimes hears. What was the other point that you raised? I'm so jet-lagged, I can't....

QUESTION: Is there a sense of benefit of unification?

KIRK: The unification question I think is somewhat easier to answer. There's an awful lot of lip service paid to unification, but when you come right down to it, aside from hearing people talk about unification in demonstrations and so forth, and wave this flag that shows just Korea without North or South Korea - it's a blue flag, it was at the Asian games in Pusan, it was carried there and so forth, aside from that, you don't hear many if any people say they really want unification. People compare unification of North and South Korea with East and West Germany. It would be far more complicated than that, and South Korea is far less prepared than West Germany was. And there'd be far more concerns about who is really running this country, and what power you give. It's really almost out of the question, in fact. It's not something that people seriously want, as far as I can tell, despite lip service. There's an awful lot of lip service. But it's not something that people really want. What they do want is good relations with North Korea so they can pursue commercial relations and certainly family visits and communications and all kinds of other very basic and rudimentary forms of contact which they haven't had.

The relationship between North and South Korea - on the level of visits and telephone communications, of which there are none, and mail of which there is none - is far less than there was between East and West Germany. I remember visiting Berlin in the '60s, and people were so concerned because if you made a call to East Berlin, "It'll be listened to, be careful what you say." You don't even think about making a phone call to North Korea. It's not possible. And it would be a revolutionary step. It would be a Page 1 story when telephone communication opens up between South and North Korea, which may happen some day. It's going to be a huge story. So it's all very different from East and West Germany. Also the suffering of North Korea has been far greater than the suffering of East Germany. East Germany was a leading industrial power of Eastern Europe. They made things there. They may not have made them well, but they made them. They made the Trabant car, this flimsy East German car. And they made railroad engines and things like that. They do none of that in North Korea, none of it at all.

So unification is not something that's wanted on a very popular level in the South. No matter what they say - and they say a lot about it in demonstrations, etc. - it's not wanted as far as anybody I've ever talked to is concerned. And the nuclear issue, as I indicated in my earlier remarks, is almost an abstraction. Of course, people are getting concerned about it because the headlines in the United States make such a big issue out of it. But they wish that it would go away. One of the now famous, or infamous, quotation in a recent newspaper article was that a South Korean professor said that people would rather have a nuclear North Korea than something-or-other. But although maybe he shouldn't have been quoted and so forth, maybe he was somewhat misquoted, certainly he reflected a widespread view that people aren't all that concerned about it. You know, "Let them have their nukes. We want peace. And we want to go on as a vibrant economy with a growing GNP, and if they want to play with a couple of nuclear warheads, that's somebody else's problem" - to put it in more extreme terms than he would have ever put it. Ben Limb's going to speak next and he'll correct me on some of these things!

QUESTION: If I may - could you be more analytical in terms of anti-Americanism. Are they directed at the U.S. military or the U.S. Bush Administration, or America in general? That's one question. A related question - in terms of economic recovery on the part of South Korea, would America be more helpful compared with the European nations or even East Asia like a China, other countries, Japan and so forth? If you can analyze a little bit in terms of the complications, I would appreciate it very much.

KIRK: As far as the anti-Americanism is concerned, it's directly specifically at the U.S. military presence. That rankles because it's been there for 50 years, and although people reluctantly acknowledge that perhaps Korea wouldn't have been the great success that it has been had it not been for U.S. military presence on the Korean peninsula, beginning with the Korean War, nevertheless, after 50 years, people wonder, "Do we really need this? Why are they here? Why don't they just go away?" And then you have these various episodes such as the June the tragedy of these two girls, which epitomized a whole lot of other stuff that had been going on. And when you have 37,000 foreign troops on your soil, and they do go out beyond their bases, on leave and passes around various districts around the bases and so forth, obviously there's going to be some jostling. There's going to be some friction. And people just wonder, do they really have to have these people here? So I think it's directed primarily at the troops.

Then it expands to the level of being directed against the Bush administration because of the issue that the Bush administration has been making about North Korea, about Kim Jong Il. Some of the remarks that he's made -the famous "axis of evil" remark and his expression of skepticism about whether you could verify an agreement with Kim Jong Il do not seem to me to have been a very unreasonable thing to say. People think that's really disrupting the process of reconciliation by these remarks as opposed to simply reflecting a view that could actually be supported by a lot of facts and figures. So I think it's directly and personally and immediately against U.S. bases, but in a more general sense against the Bush administration policies. It's not personally directed at most Americans in Seoul, but of course, U.S. business and foreign business in general often have difficulties in Korea - just certain attitudes of Korean business partners, attitudes of government regulations and so forth, difficulties in importing foreign products into Korea, problems in setting up joint ventures and so forth.

There are all kinds of problems that afflict foreign direct investment which incidentally has been going down in the last couple of years after having crested a two or three years ago. So in relations between Koreans and foreigners and Koreans and Americans in particular, there are all kinds of complications, but the most visible is the presence of U.S. troops, and whether or not they're needed there is the question that people ask. And then you have a confrontation with North Korea, and some people who might have thought they weren't needed reluctantly come around and think, "Well, maybe now is not the time for them to go either!" We can go on and on with this discussion, but you had a second question which, again, escapes me. I can't quite remember what your second question was.

QUESTION: Economic recovery, in terms of helping ... (inaudible)

KIRK: Or whether the United States would want to help the Republic of Korea as much as it has helped other countries? It's interesting that you use the term "recovery," because some people think South Korea has quite a viable economy which has long since recovered.

That's a good point because during what was called the IMF crisis in South Korea there wasn't a lot of appreciation for the IMF. It was as if it was being rammed down their throats. Here were a group of foreigners telling us what to do all over again - telling us to keep our interest rates way down or something or other, or way up, I should say. The IMF wanted interest rates to be way up so there wouldn't be borrowing so much borrowing, because borrowing was what had gotten them into so much trouble. That was one of the most outstanding facets of the IMF conditions, the conditions for the IMF agreement reached in December 1997 - the initial agreement was December 3 or 4. Things kept on going downhill after that, and they had to have another one later in December, a supplementary agreement. And all over the place, as we who were in Seoul then and as many of you know, there were all kinds of funny allusions to it, IMF menus in restaurants and all kinds of interesting cartoons in newspapers and so forth. So there was a sense that this was Washington and the international consortium in general, led by Washington, ramming this down their throats, and maybe not all that much appreciation of the fact that this U.S.-led organization, the IMF, had managed to put together a $58 billion rescue package, and actually had a lot to do with pulling the economy out of the morass into which it had sunk. I don't think you have a lot of people going around expressing great gratitude for the U.S. role in that.

QUESTION: My question is - I'd like to know the South Korean view toward the Iraq issue. Okay - Japan is a very close ally of the United States, therefore Japan is probably going to support U.S. issue. But I want to know the South Korean's. First question. Second question: the abduction issue is very big issue in Japan, but the number of Japanese kidnapped by North Koreans is only 10 or 100. Kim Dae Jung himself was kidnapped. And the number of South Koreans kidnapped by North Koreans is much much higher than that of Japan. I want to know the South Korean view toward the Japanese - I mean, the kidnapping issue.

KIRK: As far as Iraq is concerned, I don't think that there's a lot of enthusiasm for war in Iraq in Korea, in South Korea. I think that it's very distant, so it's not as if it's all that controversial an issue, but insofar as it is an issue, I don't think there's overwhelming support for it. In fact, I don't think there's a lot of support for it at all. I think that there's some concern that once the United States is through with Iraq, maybe then they'll turn on North Korea and have a second Korean War. You know, Bush attacking the other end of the axis of evil. First he takes care of one end, then he goes to the other end. So there's some concern about the implication of war in Iraq in terms of what might happen in terms of how U.S. policy might evolve toward North Korea. And I haven't seen any serious endorsement of moving to an expression of support for a war at all. Maybe I've missed something, probably somebody supports it. But I haven't heard any support being expressed for it. I haven't read everything I should have read - maybe in some newspaper editorial, but that's my general view about that.

Now, as to the abduction issue, that's a point that's much closer to home. President Kim -- one of the weaknesses of his policy has been that he hasn't pursued such issues as that when he really should have. I think that he could have made much more of an issue out of those abductions. You remember shortly after the June 2000 Summit, a number of aging men who's been held for many years in South Korean prisons were permitted to go back to Pyongyang, shortly after the Summit. He could very easily have said at that time, "We insist upon some reciprocity - someone coming back." He didn't. This was one of the main points the Grand National Party kept on raising. Candidate Lee Hoi Chang mentioned this point a number of times, and this has been a real weakness in his policy and it exposes, perhaps, the length to which he's wanted to go in compromising the North.

President Kim hasn't made an issue of human rights abuses in the North. I asked him once about this in an interview, and he said that first he wanted to get a relationship - to achieve some reconciliation with the North so that they could get on terms with the North and overcome a whole lot of other problems before turning to the human rights issue. But the human rights issue in North Korea is so acute, so severe, and the stories that refugees tell you - each more horrendous than the one before - every refugee has a story of unbelievable horror. Part of it is just being maybe not horror against the person himself, but an incident that he had to go through in school - everybody saying, "Okay, kids, let's go out and watch an execution today. There's a very bad man - he did very bad things. We're going to watch him get shot." They've all got stories like that. And there's been no noises about these things from the South Korean government. One might say, well, those were distant stories about North Koreans. Well, what about the South Koreans who were held in the North? Again, there's no real pressure from South Korea about them. So I think that's a real weakness in the policy. It'll be interesting to see what Mr. Roh does about this. He's not a weak person, and he does have a record of concern for human rights, as of course did Kim. Hopefully, his concern will transfer from his concern about the rights of workers in the South to the rights of people in the North.

BEN LIMB: Just one comment. I used to work very closely with Don during the campaign in my capacity as the special adviser to foreign media for the then presidential candidate. Through this process I learned a very good lesson, that I should not trust everything which is written in the paper. Mr. Roh is perhaps one of the most misunderstood presidential candidates or presidents-elect. After the election he was described as the "winner of the presidential election of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea." And he raised hell, and he said, "We have to protest about this very strongly," and I said, "No, let me see. Leave it alone. I think I know with one shot we have achieved the unification of the South and North because we have one president who represents two countries." You know the Wall St. Journal put Roh in the caption and put the photo of former president Roh Tae Woo. But having said it, Don is the exception, a very good exception. And he is the expert, the specialist on Korean affairs and I have enormous respect and confidence in what he's doing in Korea.


This page last updated 6/8/2003 jdb

ICAS Fellow
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Winter 2003