ICAS Special Contribution


Address to the ICAS Delegation

Mi Ae Choo

Institute for Corean-American Studies, Inc.
965 Clover Court, Blue Bell, PA 19422
Email: icas@icasinc.org

Links and Biographical notes for Mi Ae Choo

[Editor's note: We gratefully acknowledge the special contribution of this paper with written permission to ICAS of Mi Ae Choo.

Address to the ICAS Delegation

Mi Ae Choo

Member of the National Assembly
The New Politics Alliance for Democracy
Republic of Korea
July 9, 2014

I would like to extend a sincere welcome to you all.
I would also like to express my appreciation for the love and interest you have for your home country.

The issue of North Korea shouldn't simply be considered a problem standing in the way of South Korea’s further development.

North Korea’s nuclear and human rights issues are humiliating and serious enough to be condemned by the entire international community.

But our dilemma is that we can't simply accuse North Korea of focusing its full attention and resources on continuously developing weapons of mass destruction while its citizens ceaselessly suffer from poverty and disease.

There are two ways from which we can choose to deal with North Korea.

One, we can make a distinction between good and evil and label North Korea as an axis of evil. We can be hostile to North Korea and contain and isolate it until it withers away.

Or, we can pursue talks and engage North Korea to open up so that it has no justification for nuclear proliferation and focus on socioeconomic development to raise the standard living of the North Korean people.

The first approach was used by the neo-conservatives under former US President George W. Bush.

The second option is in line with the Sunshine Policy of the late president of South Korea, Kim Dae Jung and the engagement policy towards North Korea adopted by the former president of America, Bill Clinton.

North Korea has pursued its nuclear program because it has deemed the nuclear power be the easiest way to maintain the Kims’ regime. With the disintegration of the Cold War and the demise of the Communist countries in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union, North Korea held even more firmly to the belief that nuclearization is the only way to guarantee the regime's survival.

While the US employed its first hard-line strategy towards North Korea, North Korea has vigorously moved from plutonium to uranium enrichment for nuclear weapons and has continuously worked on its missile capability, currently in the middle of developing inter-continental ballistic missiles. The more it was isolated from the international community, the more it focused on developing nuclear weapons and carriers.

If futher confrontational policy towards North Korea is adopted and followed, It would compel its own people more strongly to sacrifice for the sake of the regime's survival. North Korea will delude and coerce its people into believing that the nation is under threat of war, thereby suppressing any resistance and opposition from the people. North Korea is likely to try to convince its people that nuclearization defends the country, and it will never give up the ambition for nuclearization even if it drives half of the population to starve to death. Since hostile policy towards North Korea only prompts the country to be more obsessed with nuclearization rather than to give it up, thus compromising the sacrifices of its citizens, adopting engagement policy towards North Korea is inevitable.

Unfortunately, South Korea and the US were not able to follow the engagement policy long enough to build mutual trust. It was near the end of the Clinton administration that it accepted the Sunshine Policy of President Kim Dae Jung and created specific principles of the engagement policy. The Perry Report submitted to the US Congress in September 1999, recommended South Korea, the US, and Japan to improve the relations with North Korea by reducing threats for peaceful coexistence of the two Koreas on the peninsula. However, the US administration was replaced before enough time had passed to execute the policy.

The neo-conservatives of the Bush administration, which took office in January 2001, completely abandoned the previous administration's engagement policy. The new policy was such a complete departure that it was even described as "ABC," Anything But Clinton.

The Kim Dae Jung administration, which was launched in 1998 while the 2nd-term Clinton administration was reaching a turning point, had its historical first inter-Korean Summit on June 15, 2000. And according to the US-DPRK Basic Agreement which was signed in Geneva in October 1994, the first agreement between the US and North Korea, a light water reactor construction was started in North Korea in 2001 in return for the disintegration of the existing nuclear facilities there.

However, the Sunshine policy of the Kim Dae Jung administration couldn't exert its full force as the US administration was changed and the new Bush administration adopted a hostile policy towards North Korea.

The construction of the light water reactor didn't progress well and mistrust accumulated. The Geneva Agreement was virtually finished as the US raised suspicions of North Korea engaging in Uranium nuclear program in October 2002. North Korea strongly opposed the suspicions and learned that promises made with South Korea or the US administration are not guaranteed if the administration is replaced.

The second agreement between North Korea and the US, signed on September 19, 2005, promised economic assistance in exchange for North Korea's denuclearization, but it ended up with the two parties blaming each other.

During the following period of mutual distrust, North Korea increased its level of threats. It went ahead with the 1st nuclear testing in July 2006, followed by the2nd in May 2009 and the3rd in February 2013.

Some believe that any engagement policies towards North Korea will fail to stop its nuclear proliferation. the engagement policy towards North Korea is not popular even in the current Obama administration.

However, the problem was not inherent in the engagement policy itself, but in the failure to build confidence in the agreements between the nations, which is necessary for successfully achieving the objectives of the policy.

The current Park Geun Hye administration proposed a process for trust-building. Former President Kim Dae Jung once said, "Mutual trust comes from appropriate give-and- take."

It is imperative to prevent North Korea from engaging in another nuclear test and freeze its nuclear capability.

Nuclearization will be the biggest stumbling block towards reunification.

I am convinced that South and North Korea and the US should stop accusing each other over the loss of trust and boycotting dialogues. Instead, they must come back to the table, clarify an appropriate give-and-take, and work on making promises one by one to prevent a major catastrophe.

Arguing that North Korea should change first and denuclearize on its own initiative, as some in South Korea do, only buys North Korea more time instead of providing leadership appropriate for a time of crisis. President Park Geun Hye should be reminded of the value of repeating the simple and clear principles of give-and-take as advocated by former President Kim Dae Jung.

It is leadership that will induce North Korea to accept change.

The US also lacks an effective strategy to deal with North Korea. It has already been admitted that the Obama administration's approach of "strategic patience" is a failure. The Obama administration's policy towards North Korea, while it is considered to intentionally avoid the North, has made it difficult to even identify the status of North Korea’s nuclear capability. The South Korean government should come forward to facilitate a more aggressive execution of US policy towards North Korea.

During my visit to Washington this March, a US representative told me rather disturbedly that South Korea will have to choose between the US and China. At the time, I advised Daniel Russel, the U.S. Assistant Secretary of State to leverage Korea in the pursuit of its strategy toward China rather than demand that Korea choose either the US or China.

I also pointed out that South Korea is in negotiation with China on a Free Trade Agreement, which covers intellectual property protection to prevent illegal copyright infringement, one of the biggest annoyances for the US, and told him that successful FTA negotiations will be beneficial to the US as well.

I also maintained that it would be in the interest of the US and its strategy to take advantage of the democracy in South Korea to help instill democracy in China.

Later in the year, in June, I met again with Mr. Russel at the Woodrow Wilson center, and he said that it was important to maintain a good relationship with China for the stability of the region, and he welcomed the visit of Chinese President Xi Jinping to South Korea.

This illustrates the importance of continuous diplomatic efforts to show that the US and South Korea share a common interest.

It would be greatly appreciated if you could also help serve as a bridge between the two nations.

Thank you for your time and attention.

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