Originally Published in January 

Washington Must Engage Kim Jong Un’s North Korea

Han S. Park

The Korean peninsula is without doubt the most militarily fortified spot in the world, with over 2 million well trained uniformed forces on either side of the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ), coupled with some 75,000 U.S. ground forces stationed in South Korea and Japan. The level of hostility shown across the border was clearly evidenced by a number of incidents during the last two years in which North Korea tested nuclear bombs and launched numerous missiles despite international sanctions. Last year alone, there were two serious military incidents on the disputed waters on the west coast that could have easily escalated into major wars. Another war in Korea would mean a scale of unprecedented devastation.  The death of Kim Jong Il from natural causes at the age of 69 at this unsettling historical junction has left the world shrouded in uncertainty regarding his successor – the “Dear Leader’s” youngest son, Kim Jong Un, 28.  As the youthful, inexperienced, and untested man takes control, the world is anxiously awaits some indication of his direction for leadership.

The best predictor of his policy, especially in the foreign domain, is the fact that the leadership of Pyongyang formally announced Kim Jong Un as the “great successor.”  From this bold and decisive move by the North Korean leadership, we can infer two distinct facts. First, Kim Jong Un is expected primarily to succeed the legacies and policies of his father and grandfather. Second, somebody other than the leader himself is calling the shots.  That somebody is the collective entity of the political bureau of the Central Committee of the Worker’s Party of Korea. The membership of this entity consists of ideologues, military leaders, and bureaucrats; but the intriguing nature of this body is that each member is credited for more than one of these attributes. Indeed, there is no distinction between the military and civilian sectors. The one thing they both share is their steadfast loyalty to Kim Jong Un, regarded as the symbolic and physical embodiment of both Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il. Therefore, disloyalty to him is construed as a betrayal to Kim Jong Il and Kim Il Sung. These two late leaders were regarded as fathers of the people, leaving a distinct legacy and a body of principles which will be the authoritative source of North Korean policy. Contrary to the conventional wisdom in the West that North Korea has always been ruled by a single capricious leader, the truth is that North Korea’s vital political decisions are made through a tedious process of thorough deliberations by groups of people who comprise the political bureau of the party. Given the strong presence of Confucian ethics and the paternalist beliefs toward the leadership, mass uprising against the authority is not thinkable, nor will there be any possibility for a power struggle that challenges the center of the authority. I expect that the transition of government will continue to be stable, and policies of previous leadership will be closely adhered to.  Pyongyang’s policies will be simple and clear: it will pursue economic expansion aggressively through diversifying its economic foreign policy – but never at the expense of its national security. For Washington, the advent of the new leadership in North Korea opens up a new opportunity to set its policy agenda straight. The utmost national goal for the United States has to be stopping the newest nuclear state from proliferating its nuclear technology outside of its borders. Without global denuclearization, the future of humanity is bleak, indeed. For this supreme goal, we must be prepared to work with the new leadership in Pyongyang, despite the form of governance that may be inconsistent with our own ideals. We must not insist on policy reform or regime change in any alien cultural soil, let alone such an extremely unique system as North Korea.  As important as South Korea might be as a traditional ally, the United States should not be held hostage of Seoul’s policy toward its northern neighbor.


Han S. Park is Professor of International Affairs and Director of the Center for the Study of Global Issues at the University of Korea


Delegates to North-South Korea relations summit calls for adherence to past nuclear agreements

By Associated Press, Updated: Thursday, October 20, 10:03 AM

ATHENS, Ga. — An agreement reached Thursday between delegates to an informal U.S. conference on relations between North and South Korea recommended the three countries’ governments abide by past nuclear weapons commitments and cooperate on providing food aid, reuniting separated families and recovering troops missing in action.

The announcement at a peace summit at the University of Georgia came as the Obama administration plans to sit down next week with North Korea in Geneva for a fresh round of atomic weapons talks and appoint a full-time envoy with the task of persuading Pyongyang to abandon its nuclear program.

In an exclusive interview with The Associated Press after the summit, a North Korean ruling party official said his country has pursued nuclear weapons because of the threat it believes it faces from the U.S. Ri Jong Hyok, a member of the Supreme People’s National Assembly and vice chairman of a ruling Workers’ Party organization that deals with countries without diplomatic relations with the North, said North Korea is not looking to be recognized as a nuclear power.

“Let’s imagine that in the future there is the complete removal of economic sanctions and the threat isn’t there anymore, the situation would be different,” Ri said.

He said he believes the Geneva talks will produce results if conditions aren’t placed on future talks and if the mistrust North Korea has felt toward the U.S. in the past can be overcome.

The U.S. wants North Korea to adhere to a 2005 agreement it later reneged on, which required the North’s verifiable denuclearization in exchange for better relations with its Asian neighbors, energy assistance and a pledge from Washington that it wouldn’t attack the isolated country. That agreement is among the past commitments the delegates to the U.S. conference want the three countries to abide by, though Ri suggested in the AP interview that a condition of North Korea’s full compliance is his country no longer feeling threatened by the U.S.

The U.S. and North Korea are still formally at war, having only signed an armistice ending their 1950-1953 conflict. The conference delegates agreed that the current armistice should be replaced with a permanent, comprehensive and durable peace accord between the U.S., North Korea and South Korea.

Han S. Park, a University of Georgia professor who has ties with top officials in both Koreas and who organized the meeting, told delegates at Thursday’s closing meeting that when the conference opened he had a “a lot of anxiety, uncertainty and on my part some fear.” He said he now feels proud of the accomplishments reached during the four-day meeting.

The talks among academics, legislators and former government officials from the three countries were unofficial, and representatives from the U.S. State Department and the respective foreign ministers did not participate in the closed-door sessions. Ri was in attendance, however.

The talks allowed legislators from the rival Koreas to meet privately and share ideas — a rare occurrence in the tense atmosphere that persists on the Korean peninsula after violence last year that claimed 50 South Korean lives.

Animosity has run high between the Koreas since two deadly attacks blamed on North Korea last year. The North has denied involvement in the March 2010 sinking of a warship that killed 46 South Korean sailors and argued that a November artillery barrage that killed four was provoked by South Korean firing drills.

The U.S. wants to keep open channels of contact with the North but will not resume multinational disarmament-for-aid negotiations unless Pyongyang takes concrete action to show it is serious about meeting its previous commitments on denuclearization.


Follow Harry R. Weber at http://www.facebook.com/HarryRWeberAP

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


UGA hosts talks with North and South Korea leaders


US university to host informal Korean nuke talks

By FOSTER KLUG, Associated Press

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — A senior North Korean ruling party official will travel to the United States next week for talks with South Korean lawmakers and U.S. legislative aides meant to help resolve the North Korean nuclear standoff.

The informal three-day academic forum in the U.S. state of Georgia, which begins Monday, comes as diplomats struggle to restart long-stalled international negotiations aimed at persuading the North to abandon its nuclear weapons program.

The goal of the "Track II" talks in Georgia is to gather scholars, legislators, journalists and former senior officials from the Koreas and the United States and come up with policy recommendations and ideas on solving the standoff, according to Han S. Park, a University of Georgia professor who has ties with top officials in both Koreas and who organized the meeting. "Track I" talks are more formal, government-level meetings.

"The conundrum of Korean issues is complicated beyond the comprehension of typical observers," Park said in a copy of opening remarks emailed to The Associated Press. "There are no other regions in the world where more serious cases of mistrust and misunderstanding continue to plague peaceful coexistence."

No senior U.S. officials are expected to meet with the North Korean delegation led by Ri Jong Hyok, a member of the Supreme People's National Assembly and vice chairman of a ruling Workers' Party organization that deals with countries without diplomatic relations with the North.

But the talks will allow legislators from the rival Koreas to meet privately and share ideas and possible solutions — a rare occurrence in the tense atmosphere that lingers on the Korean peninsula following violence last year that claimed 50 South Korean lives.

Intense diplomatic wrangling is now going on to try to restart nuclear negotiations that have been stalled since the last round of six-nation talks in late 2008. North Korea walked away from the aid-for-disarmament talks in early 2009, but has since pushed for a resumption.

Despite recent separate meetings among nuclear envoys from Washington and the Koreas and the possibility of more direct talks, officials in the United States and South Korea have so far reacted coolly to the North's overtures. The allies say the North must first show sincerity by abiding by past nuclear commitments.

Animosity has run high between the Koreas since two deadly attacks blamed on North Korea last year. The North has denied involvement in the March 2010 sinking of a warship that killed 46 South Korean sailors and argued that a November artillery barrage that killed four was provoked by South Korean firing drills.

The participants in next week's talks also include South Korean ruling party and opposition lawmakers, journalists and academics, senior Republican and Democratic aides on the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee and former U.S. government officials.

For Immediate Release:

On February 14, 2011, The Center for the Study of Global Issues (Globis) at the University of Georgia in cooperation with CDRF, a global diplomacy through science consortium, hosted a delegation of North Korean scientists in the field of sustainable agriculture. The delegation, headed by Dr. Hong Ryun Gi, Director-General of the State Academy of Sciences in Pyongyang, showed keen interest in learning from and collaborating with University of Georgia researchers in the future. The delegation had the opportunity to meet counterparts at the University’s Biofuel Pilot Plant and Animal Biotechnology laboratories at the College of Agriculture and Environmental Sciences. The delegates were briefed by senior faculty members at Terry College of Business, Department of Management Information systems and its applicability to developmental programs within the DPRK.

Dr. Han S. Park, Director of Globis, regards this event to be significant as due to the U.S. State Department’s willingness to issue visas to the North Korean scientists after over one year of denying such visas to North Koreans. Dr. Park views this as a signal of a possible easing of the hostility between the United States and the DPRK.

The Center for the Study of Global Issues at The University of Georgia fosters educational and research activities focused on economic, political, and sociocultural change and development occurring at the global level.

For questions or comments please email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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