EAI Special Seminar—Professor Moon Chung-In

S Aufrecht

Professor Moon Chung-In, Korea’s Ambassador for International Security Affairs, gives a seminar on the topic of the Korean summits. “I” refers to Prof. Moon unless otherwise noted. I confirmed with Professor Moon at the end of the seminar that all of his remarks were public.

Invited to talk to the East Asian Institute to “rekindle” interest in Korea in a China-focused department. Joel’s note: He’s on a first-name basis with Dean Kishore, of course (a former ambassador). I should have a blog category just for Kishore.

I’ve been to North Korea seven times recently. Went to the first and second summits (in 2000 and 2007). To get from South Korea to North Korea, we have to go to Beijing and take one of the twice-weekly flights to Pyongyang. But recently we drove with special permission and it was less than two hours.

The first summit was just for the two leaders. We 32 other delegates were behind a plane. But the second summit we all shook hands with Chairman Kim. No outside leader had received the same reception; it was like a Tiananmen square welcome.

Joel’s note: I hear lots of symbolic things but he’s not describing very many substantive changes. The first point of the 2007 declaration is to implement the first declaration. Some more contact for separated families.

At the first summit, the people invited were the vice-marshal, party secretary, member of national defense commission. All elders. At the second summit, there is an agreement to have meetings in Seoul. The North Korean defense minister sat next to the South Korean defense minister. Vice-minister-level South Koreans who are part of the six-party nuclear talks were invited to the head table (breaking hierarchy). President Roh asked why, and Chairman Kim said, you’re so interested in nuclear things, this way they can ask questions. Three men known to be “the most powerful military men in North Korea” were also invited. This is a sign that Chairman Kim is really committed to implement the summit resolution.

President Roh’s agenda: peace (including denuclearization, peace treaty), common prosperity, new horizon for unification. Reminded Kim that both parties signed an agreement to keep the entire Korean peninsula non-nuclear. Kim didn’t reply directly but invited Roh to listen to the report of the North Korean delegate just back from meetings in China. Some back and forth but Roh is optimistic that North Korea is serious so far. Agree to have a summit to end the Korean war. Roh conveyed Bush’s message from Sydney about declaring an end to the war—provided North Korea makes progress in denuclearization. Kim replied with interest, “but it’s very complicated”. Discussion about if it’s a three- or four-party discussion; the fourth party would be China. In 1953 the president of Korea didn’t sign the peace treaty because he wanted Truman to invade North Korea; refused to sign the peace treaty as a protest. The UN commander (US admiral, but not on behalf of US) and “Chinese Volunteer forces” signed the armistice agreement instead.

As you know North Koreans are linguistic nationalists and refuse to use Chinese characters. But at North Korean insistence some Chinese characters were included in the declaration. They mean (I think he said) “mutually beneficial, complimentary relationship”.

South Korean shipbuilders would like to cooperate with North Korea to better compete in low-end market.

Unification predicated on de facto, not de jure. Will have more meetings more frequently, prime minister talks. EU model.

So, some progress with the second summit, but some issues remain. Trust. North Koreans suspicious of economic zones and openness. North Koreans are willing to change without using the word of “change”. But Americans, and some conservatives in South Korea, cannot accept it.

Virtuous circle between economic cooperation and peace. But what if vicious cycle emerges? Too much polarization in South Korean politics - what if conservatives repudiate agreements that liberals reached. America matters. We admire Bush’s courage in changing policy—he has learned by trial and error. But if there are problems like 2002, things can go back to chaos.

Joel’s note: my question, if I get to ask it: ‘Observing from the perspective of US domestic politics, my understanding is that 1) Bush rejected Clinton’s policy in favor of tough talk; 2) North Korea used the time to make nuclear bombs; 3) Bush returned to Clinton’s policy and now we’re basically back where we started in 2000 but with more nukes. How accurate is that description? ’ Hrm, that’s a long-winded question. ‘How effective has Bush’s policy towards North Korea been?’

Q: Is Japan becoming marginal in six-party talks. A: … . Japan has asked the US not to remove North Korea from the terrorist list unless kidnapped citizens are returned. During the honeymoons with Bush/Koizumi and Bush/Abe, US and Japan were a two-party group blocking the six party negotiation. Now five want it to move forward but Japan is alone blocking it.

Q: what is the difference between the two parts once they are unified? I’m not as optimistic as you are about unification because the two parts are so different. Unification may be symbolic only unless North pursues market reforms. So, will Korea change their whole system as China did? A: North Korea cannot pursue reformation like China, because North Korea is the center of the universe and Kim Jong-Il is a star in the sky. He cannot learn from others, others should learn from him. It’s a serious problem—we have to understand how they think. Unification like Germany, by absorption, is impossible. I visited seven factories in Pyongyang in May and I see clear changes. Officially, Kim doesn’t want to follow the Chinese model but internally, please come and pursue the Chinese model. The problem with American policy makers is they don’t give a shit about this duality of Korean thinking; they just take what they say at face value. You know why they are having a hard time? Because they virtually killed Asian studies everywhere.
You can tell how long North Koreans have been in the Kaesong economic zone; one week, still North Korean, six months, dress and makeup like South Korean. We have to handle North Korea with care or there will be very negative consequences for the peninsula and north-east China.

Q: I’ve studied German integration and I’m more optimistic about Korean integration. Your efforts are more realistic than Bush/Samuel Huntington who are killing themselves with their actions.

Q: What about the stability of North Korea? A: I reconfirmed the power of the Defense Commission. North Korea is ruled by the National Defense Commission, not the Party. Even if one of his sons succeeds him, the military will rule North Korea. The North Korea specialists in China believe in stability; US-trained analysts are more panicked. Amateurs like Mark Showl (?) and Nick Eberstadt worry about succession.

Q: Do you think Kim really decided to give up nuclear weapons? How will vicious cycle be avoided in six-party talks? A: It’s better for us to assume that Kim has made the strategic decision to give up nuclear weapons. “curvilinear problem in regression” (J: ?) North Koreans do not have endogeneous intelligence production function. They rely on South Korea, China, etc. Kim Jong-Il reads reports from analysts that repeat outside opinions (literally: opinion columns are plagiarised for North Korean internal intelligence reports) about how North Korea will be changed after unification. Better to keep things moving and open and active, take what you can get as you go (my sloppy paraphrase). If you follow the rational choice argument, there is no end, no solution. The point is, we should go in two ways. We want verifiable and irreversible dismantling. We make progress; it could take ten years, but meanwhile we engage. North Korea wants elimination of hostile intent by US, US recognition of North Korean sovereignty, US non-interference, some US economic assistance. If those are met, North Korea will give up nuclear weapons. For vicious circle: we are bound by six-party system.

Q: What advice on China’s antagonism to Taiwan? A: In Korea, the first and second summit talks changed lots. After the first talk, the North Korean people were no longer hostile, so the South Korean people are not hostile. Until mid-1960s their living standard was higher; until mid-1970s North Korea was more industrialized. There used to be hostility between us when we met outside of Korea.

Q: Does South Korea have the leadership to unify with North Korea? A: Even conservative party has a very generous deal for North Korea in their platform.

Q: What do North Koreans think about China? A: Dualistic. North Koreans don’t trust China, especially since China normalized relations with South Korea. Both playing double-game.

Q: I’m very curious about Kim Jong-Il. His retention of power is beyond our expectation. Can you give us more details or inside information? A: He’s been in power since 1994 but he’s been preparing since 1971. Longest training period of any leader. (Joel’s note: I guess Prince Charles won’t lead anything.) Cultivated allies in the military, cabinet. Versatile. I introduced the president of the (public) Korean Broadcasting System (which at the time was banned from NK because of a negative series about NK) to Kim; something about competition with two other, private SK broadcasters; Kim said, “I prefer to watch state-owned television.” He knows what’s going on outside. One of the most knowledgeable leaders of all the leaders we met. He’s a victim of structural rigidity created by his father. He’s rarely in Pyongyang, touring the countryside. I learned (re the academic debate between structure and agent) that structure matters. He believes the “openness” is promoted by the US to undermine his regime but if American recognition and normalization is offered he’ll take it.