An Alliance? Appeasement U.S. & Korea

The Restoration

No one should take pleasure in seeing another person worry about  losing his job, but there  is much to celebrate about how Lee Myung-Bak’s new administration is shaping up.  Some doubt is now cast on earlier reports that  the UniFiction Ministry would be abolished, although it’s clear that  its size and influence will be reduced  dramatically.  Its days as a foreign policy player are over,  and the the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MOFAT) will regain its foreign policy monopoly, including over relations with North Korea.

Over at the UniFiction Mininstry,  officials are  variously groveling for their jobs (must-see picture) and trying to explain just what they do:

“In evaluating the past five years, the ministry admitted there had been no visible reforms in the North and that their policies had lacked effectiveness,” said Lee Dong-gwan, the transition team’s spokesman.  [Joongang Ilbo]

Remind you of anything?  Start at  6:45 of this clip.   

President Roh is upset, claiming  that the transition team has behaved in a  “coercive” manner.  That would be unfortunate if true, but Roh is hardly in a position to complain.  Just five years ago, Roh’s own “Taliban,” a/k/a “Red Guards,” swept into the Blue House and conducted what sounds very much like Maoist criticism sessions against alleged “pro-Americans,” followed by a bloodless purge of the MOFAT.   By the beginning of  2004, the second year of Roh’s term, the factional tension between the Red Guards and pro-American moderates had reached such a state that Roh’s moderate Foreign Minister was forced out:

President Roh Moo-hyun’s personnel secretary said Roh accepted the resignation of Yoon Young-kwan, a pro-US moderate who leaves at a pivotal moment in multinational efforts to resolve a crisis over North Korea’s suspected nuclear arms programmes.  Jeong Chan-yong said in a statement Mr Yoon had resigned to take responsibility for failing to guide foreign policy in line with directives from Mr Roh’s year-old administration. Foreign policy analysts said there was little doubt Roh had dumped Yoon. 

“Some Foreign Ministry staff were unable to shed the past foreign policy and failed to adequately understand the basic spirit of the new independent foreign policy advocated by the People’s Participatory Government,” Jeong told reporters.   [Reuters, 16 Jan 04]

So it comes around.  The UniFiction Ministry  is just  one of several  that might be eliminated, incidentally.

The Hankroyeh pleads for the preservation of UniFiction, a sentiment  that probably comes to the Hanky editorialists honestly, though they  might have mentioned that UniFiction has been one of the left-wing paper’s main sponsors and  filled its margins  with expensive-looking click-through ads for the Kaesong Industrial Complex.  Roh’s government had already been doing what it could to help the Hankyoreh double its readership.  For what it’s worth, it seems to have worked;  the Hanky’s  editing and content  have  improved.  It would be a shame — and I’m mostly sincere when I say this — if the Hanky couldn’t make it without the support of a like-minded government. 

Lee’s people are also reviewing aid to North Korea  and joint projects that are really  disguised  aid.  For now, don’t expect established projects like Kaesong and Kumgang to go away, although  they might if nuclear diplomacy with North  Korea continues to  deteriorate.  Humanitarian aid will go on as  before  (though there’s reason to hope for  better monitoring eventually), projects that are  profitable to South Korea will also go on, but large-scale projects, such as the construction of invasion routes infrastructure inside North Korea and a “peace zone” in the Yellow Sea  appear to be doomed.  For more details, see:

Another project  likely to get the axe is a proposed shipyard to be built in North Korea, about which a reader e-mailed several days ago.   Lee is also likely to put an  expansion of Kaesong on hold. 

Oddly enough, Lee is now saying he intends to drive on with a gulag archipelago of his own at Nadeul Island.  My default position is obviously skeptical, but there is one important  difference  between Nadeul and  Kaesong:  Nadeul would be on South Korean soil.  There are two ways that could pan out.  One is that the North Korean regime would be allowed to send minders to control the workers and collect their paychecks for them.  That would foreclose the possibility of meaningful openness, since Nadeul would become a functional North Korean enclave,  perhaps even complete  with loudspeakers and  piped-in propaganda on the loudspeakers, like Kaesong.  If we were reasonably certain that the workers’ pay would go to their personal use rather than Kim Jong Il’s missile projects, and if meaningful contact between northerners and southereners were possible,  it would be fair to describe  such an arrangement  as a legitimate experiment in reform.  There is such a thing as good engagement; I just doubt that North Korea would ever accept it. 

The new administration is also resetting South Korea’s foreign policy priorities, including rebuilding good relations with both political parties in America, and  perhaps even  reforming Roh’s see-no-evil policies on human rights up north:

“There is a need for the Foreign Ministry to recast itself,” Lee Dong-gwan said. “The Foreign Ministry itself reflected [today] upon the past five years. The ministry admitted that there has been a lack of consultation between South Korea and the United States. The spokesman also said that the transition team pointed out inconsistencies regarding the North Korean human rights situation.

The Foreign Ministry also suggested strategic goals for the new administration. They included strengthening traditional alliances, such as those between Seoul and Washington, while looking to increase Korean diplomacy in the Asian region and striving to secure energy resources.  [Joongang Ilbo]

To that end, Lee,  Park Jin, and  other Lee advisors met with current and former U.S. officials, including:

Alexander Vershbow, the U.S. ambassador to Korea; former Defense Secretary William Perry; ex-Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz; former U.S. Congressman Steven Sola[r]z; Robert Gallucci, who was the chief U.S. negotiator during the first North Korean nuclear crisis in 1994 and former U.S. Ambassador to Croatia Peter Galbraith were among the Americans at the meeting.  [Joongang Ilbo]

Solarz, by the way,  is a long-time liberal Democratic congressman from New York and a  member of the Board of Directors  for the U.S. Committee for Human Rights in North Korea (Solarz is also an  electrifying speaker who speaks contemporanously, yet with remarkable  erudition,  and with  almost no notes.)   More at  The Hankyoreh.  Topics of discussion, aside from bilateral relations and North  Korean nukes,  included plenty that had dropped off the Bush Administration’s radar recently:  human rights, refugees, and even the future of Kaesong.

If you  sense a more optimistic tone in this post than I’d expressed before, here’s why:  Park Jin clearly looks like he’s going to be Lee Myung-Bak’s next Foreign Minister.  I’m lukewarm about the President-Elect, but  I’m enthusiastic about Park, whom I profiled in this post in  2005.  Park is a serious thinker, highly intelligent, fluent in English, and well acquainted with Americans who make our  Korea policy.  If anyone can rebuild relations between the United States and Korea — at least as much as popular opinion would still support — it’s Park.  Park’s previous statements on North Korea, refugees, and human rights also give us great encouragement.  It’s probably the best news of the entire election.


  1. This is definitely all good news but why the transition team is meeting with William Perry is beyond me. If Perry had his way he would have provoked a war on the Korean peninsula after the Nork’s missile and nuclear tests in 2006. It seems that someone advocating such actions would not be one of the first people you would want to talk to in regards to US-ROK relations.


  2. Perry’s suggestion that we should bomb the T-Dong 2 on the pad would have been madness if he’d meant it (which doesn’t speak well of Newt Gingrich, who probably did). That said, Perry was one of the people who had a last chance to bomb Yongbyon and keep North Korea from going nuclear, and passed on it. So it’s fair to conclude that Perry was full of shit. I suspect he was mostly trying to grab a headline and point it at the Republicans. Newt was trying to grab a headline and point it at Newt.

    (A much smarter show of strength and skill would have been to intercept the missile after it was launched. It would have had the comparative advantage of not being an attack on North Korean soil. For that matter, given the fact that the missile blew up shortly after launch, I don’t completely rule out the possibility that that’s what actually happened.)

    Having said that there’s good reason not to take Perry’s views that seriously, Lee and Park are prudent enough to realize that plenty of other people still do. If it was stupid of Roh to alienate most Americans — at least the ones paying attention — not belonging to the far left fringe, it would be equally stupid of LMB to reach out only to the Republicans, especially in light of what’s happenning ten months from now.



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