President Bush’s Visit to South Korea
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SIMON MARKS: In the South Korean capital, Seoul, the police want potential terrorists to know the country is ready for any attack.
Soccer’s World Cup will be hosted by the South Koreans in May, and at the purpose-built stadium in the center of the capital, hostage rescue teams take part in training exercises aimed at sending a message to any would-be attackers.
The show of force is also an illustration that in the war on terror, South Korea remains on the Bush administration’s side, despite the fact that in this country there is rapidly growing concern about where U.S. foreign policy in the region is heading.
Chung-in Moon of Yonsei University is one of the country’s leading political analysts.
CHUNG-IN MOON, Yonsei University: Immediately after the Sept. 11 attack, South Koreans were behind the United States. We were rallying behind the American police; we were supporting American war against terrorism.
But as time passes, and particularly since the decisive victory in Afghanistan, the South Korean people’s attitude on the America’s war against terrorism has been waning.
SIMON MARKS: Waning in part because analysts say many South Koreans have been alarmed by what they argue is the Bush administration’s bellicose rhetoric toward their communist neighbor to the North, and confused by precisely where the U.S. stands today on the divide between North and South Korea.
Following the historic first meetings between South Korean President Kim Dae Jung and North Korean leader Kim Chong-il, the Clinton administration pursued a policy of engagement with North Korea.
Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright even visited P’yongyang for talks with the country’s reclusive leader.
The North agreed to allow family visits to occur between Koreans who had been kept apart by restrictions on movement between the two countries.
Those visits came to a halt last year in protest North Korea said of the Bush administration’s increasing hostility toward P’yongyang.
U.S. dialogue with the North was then halted pending a review by the Bush team. Last June, the State Department offered to restart talks without preconditions, but the North Koreans insisted there must be concessions over Washington’s claims that the country sponsors terrorism.
And then in the president’s State of the Union Address, a single mention of North Korea was enough to become headline news in the South.
PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: North Korea is a regime of arming with missiles and weapons of mass destruction, while starving its citizens. States like these and their terrorist allies constitute an axis of evil, arming to threaten the peace of the world.
SIMON MARKS: That’s not how either Korea sees things.
In the South, editorial writers called the president’s speech “erratic” and “contradictory.”
In the North, the government of Kim Chong-il said the State of the Union Address was tantamount to a declaration of war.
Many South Koreans are expressing not only concern over the policy statements from Washington, but genuine bewilderment.
After all, they say, it wasn’t that long ago when former President Bill Clinton was publicly flirting with the idea of visiting North Korea and meeting with Kim Chong-il.
Today in the country’s parliament leading lawmakers are accusing the Bush administration of dangerously undermining Seoul’s attempts to prod the North Koreans toward modernity. And some analysts say there is a gulf between what Seoul hears from the State Department and the message it receives from the White House.
CHUNG-IN MOON: The South Korean government has been hearing positive news from the State Department. They keep saying we will be talking with North Korea. We are willing to talk with North Korea. We will be in full cooperation with South Korea in dealing with North Korea.
Therefore, on the one hand, the South Korean government has been getting good news from Washington, D.C.
On the other hand, when President George Bush makes a rhetorical speech, we get the very, very negative and bad news. We don’t know which one is the correct one.
SIMON MARKS: The South Korean government in this television advertisement airing on a number of international news channels portrays itself as proud partners with the North in the process of bringing stability to process of bringing stability to the region.
President Kim Dae Jung, who visited the White House last March, wants meaningful U.S. support for his so-called “sunshine” policy, aimed at drawing North Korea into the light.
He’s under pressure from opposition parties who support the Bush administration’s hard- line tone toward P’yongyang and accused him of producing few concrete achievements in his negotiations with the North.
D.B. Lee is a former member of the Korean parliament.
D.B. LEE, Former Member, South Korean Parliament: You know, President Kim has been speaking about a plurality of agreements that he had attracted extracted from Kim Chong-il of North Korea.
Aside from the separate families, which remained more as a token effort, all the rest of the agreements have failed to materialize. On top of them, Kim Chong-il’s promise to return President Kim’s visit to P’yongyang with his own return visit, that has yet to materialize.
SIMON MARKS: The White House maintains it continues to support the sunshine policy, but many South Korean lawmakers aren’t convinced.
Former dissident Kim Geun Tae, who was jailed for many years during the military dictatorship, is today a presidential candidate in the country’s upcoming election. An influential member of the ruling party, he questions the U.S. claim that North Korea is making significant strides developing weapons of mass destruction.
KIM GEUN TAE, presidential candidate (translated): North Korea has been keeping its promises not to test missiles until 2003. Up until now, we haven’t seen any sign that North Korea has violated the Geneva protocols it signed in 1994.
I don’t understand very clearly why President Bush said that he’s ready to have talks with North Korea without any pre-conditions, but then changed his mind.
D.B. LEE: It is fundamentally a game of whether we see North Korea in the context of a bad guy or a good guy. And the entire duration of past history, since the end of Second World War, attests to the fact that this is a bad guy, not a good guy.
SIMON MARKS: Some South Koreans argue that even the famine in North Korea has eased in recent months, and you can see signs of the slow thawing in Cold War relations between the two Koreas on the streets of Seoul.
Shoppers looking for a way to ring in the Lunar New Year could, for the first time, choose to do so with potent liquor imported from north of the border.
With more than 37,000 U.S. troops stationed in South Korea, officials in Seoul acknowledge Washington has an important role to play in helping to determine the peninsula’s future.
They say what they want to hear from President Bush during his visit is clarity about U.S policy in the region.