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South Korea Vows Continued Ties with North Korea

October 19, 2006 at 5:05 PM EDT
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RAY SUAREZ: Amid handshakes and toasts, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice presented a strong message to her Asian allies: They must enforce U.N. sanctions against North Korea. Her visit to Seoul came three days after U.S. officials confirmed the nuclear test took place, sparking fears of a nuclear arms race in Asia.

CONDOLEEZZA RICE, U.S. Secretary of State: What we want is effective implementation of Resolution 1718 and its measures or its elements that declare an obligation of all states to keep North Korea from trafficking in nuclear weapons, nuclear weapons technologies, financing their programs, receiving support for those programs. We want scrutiny of North Korean cargo that might be involved in such programs.

RAY SUAREZ: U.N. Resolution 1718, passed unanimously last Saturday, was drafted by the U.S. It requests North Korea’s neighbors, including South Korea, Japan, and China, inspect cargo going in and out of North Korea to prevent the transfer of nuclear and conventional weapons components. It also bans import luxury goods and freezes some North Korean officials’ finances.

CONDOLEEZZA RICE: The best outcome is for North Korea to accept its obligations and to return unconditionally to the six-party talks and to rapidly implement the agreement of September 19th, which would lead to the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula.

RAY SUAREZ: The South Korean foreign minister, Ban Ki-moon, expected to become the next U.N. secretary general, welcomed Rice to Seoul. He warned the North against testing another nuclear weapon.

BAN KI-MOON, Foreign Minister, South Korea: It will further aggravate the situation. We share the understanding that, if such a test were to take place, more grave consequences will follow.

South Korea on sanctions

Sung-Yoon Lee
Harvard University's Korea Institute
Secretary of State Rice was acting herself, doing her job as a consummate diplomat. But there's great tension with respect to South Korea's transfer of cash to this opaque regime under Kim Jong Il.

RAY SUAREZ: The U.N. sanctions don't prevent economic relationships with the North.

A day after the sanctions were passed, South Korea announced it would still pursue business ties with North Korea, including a manufacturing zone in the North, called Kaesong Industrial Park, where goods sold in South Korea are made, and Kumgang Mountain, a resort destination popular with South Koreans.

Both ventures were created after then-South Korean President Kim Dae Jung created the so-called Sunshine Policy in 1998, aimed at restoring greater political and economic ties between the Koreas, separated since 1945.

The U.S. and South Korea have had historically close ties. The U.S. defended the South against the North's attack in 1950 and maintained thousands of troops there after the war to deter another attack. Since taking office in 2001, the Bush administration has favored a harder line toward North Korea, causing friction with the South Korean government.

Secretary Rice will continue her Asian tour tomorrow, with meetings in Beijing.

For more on this, we get two views. Wonhyuk Lim is a non-resident fellow at the Brookings Institution and a consultant to the World Bank. His father was an architect of the Sunshine Policy and served as South Korea's minister of unification.

Sung-Yoon Lee is an associate at Harvard University's Korea Institute. He's written widely about questions surrounding Korea.

And Wonhyuk Lim, today Secretary Rice urged South Korea to do its part in enforcing the new sanctions. Will it?

WONHYUK LIM, Brookings Institution: Yes. The U.N. Security Council Resolution 1718 is a balanced resolution. It seeks to prevent the transfer and import of weapons-related products to North Korea. But at the same time, it does not want to escalate tension around the region, and I'm sure South Korea is going to go along with that sanction.

RAY SUAREZ: But what would that mean South Korea has to do? Are there teeth in this sanction?

WONHYUK LIM: The sanction is balanced, as I mentioned. It rules out military actions, but South Korea's actions would be dictated by the limits placed by the resolution, as well.

RAY SUAREZ: Sung-Yoon Lee, is Secretary Rice likely to be pleased by South Korea's assurances on following the sanctions?

SUNG-YOON LEE, Harvard University's Korea Institute: I don't think so. I think there's great tension in the bilateral relationship. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said that, "I'm not here to dictate to the South Korean government or to the Chinese government, China which she'll visit this weekend, what to do. I'm here to make sure that we work towards living up to our obligations," she said.

That's very diplomatic language. Even I as an academic know that when I tell my students, instead of "turn in your homework by tomorrow or else," instead of saying that, I say, "May I strongly suggest that you turn in your paper by noon tomorrow?" I know there's mutual understanding achieved.

Secretary of State Rice was acting herself, doing her job as a consummate diplomat. But there's great tension with respect to South Korea's transfer of cash to this opaque regime under Kim Jong Il.

Economic relations

Wonhyuk Lim
The Brookings Institution
You know, it was actually the hardening of North Korea policy since 2001 that led to the present situation.

RAY SUAREZ: Well, Sung-Yoon Lee, earlier I mentioned the existing trade and tourism relations between the two states. Is South Korea able to pursue two tracks at once, keep those economic relations going while enforcing sanctions against North Korea?

SUNG-YOON LEE: Well, South Korea has insisted that its engagement policy, this lunge toward embracing North Korea, some might say propping up this brutal dictatorship for the sake of peace, investment in peace by giving North Korea all kinds of blandishments over the years, including cash, has been the only policy that we've had and we should continue it.

However, with this U.N. Security Council Resolution 1718, now South Korea has to prove to the world, not only to the United States but to the United Nations, that its cash transfer to North Korea does not go toward the building of weapons of mass destruction. The burden of proof now is on South Korea. While to this point South Korea has been maintaining, there's no proof that our money given to North Korea is diverted toward the building of nuclear weapons and weapons of mass destruction, so the situation has changed.

RAY SUAREZ: How do you respond to your countryman's skepticism?

WONHYUK LIM: I don't know whether he's read the resolution itself, but it doesn't say it's a general economic embargo on North Korea, but rather it aims at materials associated with weapons of mass destruction programs.

Besides, unless you make cash payments zero, whether, you know, North Korea sells fish or tourist pay entrance fees and Kumgang and so on, unless you make cash payments zero -- money's fungible, Ray, so there's no way around this.

And traditionally the best way to go around in dealing with the problematic regime is to work both ways: contain the threat through deterrence and also serious arms control negotiations on the one hand; and on the other, broaden economic and social engagement to promote internal changes in North Korea. And, in fact, that was the division of labor and synergy South Korea and the United States had in 1999-2000.

RAY SUAREZ: But Sung-Yoon Lee was also suggesting that there was a kind of appeasement involved. Strengthen the cash payments and cross your fingers, hope that North Korea will do the right thing in response.

WONHYUK LIM: That's the way the opponents of engagement policy usually -- that's how opponents of the engagement policy characterize the policy, you know, flowers and chocolate diplomacy and what not. But I would point out that, during the period when there was this synergy and division of labor between South Korea and the United States in dealing with North Korea, no further fissile material was created. You know, it was actually the hardening of North Korea policy since 2001 that led to the present situation.

South Korea's role

Wonhyuk Lim
The Brookings Institution
North Korea's motive in developing its nuclear program is threefold, in my view: as a deterrent against the United States; and as a possible bargaining chip in negotiations; and also as part of its indigenous energy development program.

RAY SUAREZ: Well, you heard Wonhyuk Lim suggest that engagement worked after a fashion. What's your response?

SUNG-YOON LEE: Well, if I just may make a small comment, I don't -- obviously, I cannot remember every line of the U.N. Security Council Resolution 1718. But I do distinctly remember Chapter 8 Article D of the resolution, which demands -- and I'm quoting -- "demands on the member states to prevent the transfer of funds, financial assets, and economic resources that can go into the making of weapons of mass destruction and nuclear weapons."

I think it's important to look at the Korean situation as it is and not as we wish it to be, and that is to recognize the unique situation on the Korean Peninsula. We have two antithetical regimes, North Korea and South Korea, one which is one of the most closed and repressive and failed states in the world, perpetually dependent on foreign aid. And south of the 38th Parallel, we have South Korea, which is one of the most prosperous open democracies in the world today.

Whether South Korea wills it or not, the sheer existence of South Korea presents enormous challenges for the long-term survival of the Kim Jong Il regime. And I think there's an unhealthy sense of solipsism when we talk about North Korea, presuming that North Korea simply reacts to the hostility coming out of the Bush White House or the generosity bursting forth out of the Blue House, the South Korean president's habitat.

The North Korean leadership has a mind of its own, long-term plans for itself, and they view the acquisition of a credible nuclear arsenal as the one panacea that can overturn all conventional indices of perpetual gloomy inferiority vis-a-vis South Korea. How in the world will North Korea compete with the South over the long term, economically and even in the purchasing and making of conventional weapons? It's not something that North Korea can easily bargain away, their nuclear weapons program.

RAY SUAREZ: Your response?

WONHYUK LIM: It's sort of a novel argument that North Korea has developed nuclear weapons as a countermeasure against South Korea. North Korea's motive in developing its nuclear program is threefold, in my view: as a deterrent against the United States; and as a possible bargaining chip in negotiations; and also as part of its indigenous energy development program. And I don't see the consideration of South Korea playing a major role in North Korea's nuclear program.

U.S. relations with North Korea

Sung-Yoon Lee
Harvard University Korea Institute
What will it do afterwards, after carrots are -- you know, the carrots are perishable. What will they do 10 years, 50 years from now on, depend on the good will of its neighbors?

RAY SUAREZ: So this isn't about South Korea? It's in response in part to the United States. Did the United States paint North Korea into a corner, Sung-Yoon Lee?

SUNG-YOON LEE: Well, you know, to use a proverbial analogy of sticks and carrots, etymologically speaking, you know, this is a carrot dangling before the donkey. It's an unattainable phantom carrot.

I think in the case of the North Korean nuclear issue, it's really North Korea that has been dangling before the international community this carrot, the possibility of dismantling its program and reaping rewards over the years.

Empirically speaking, we are at this point, not because of the Bush administration or the Clinton administration, but because of North Korea's relentless pursuit of weapons of mass destruction and nuclear weapons over the years. This did not happen overnight.

A state like North Korea does not embark on or disembark from the nuclear path on a whim or give up its nuclear weapons for short-term rewards. What will it do afterwards, after carrots are -- you know, the carrots are perishable. What will they do 10 years, 50 years from now on, depend on the good will of its neighbors? That would be poor national policy.

RAY SUAREZ: Well, how would you respond? What can South Korea do now, given the situation as it exists today?

WONHYUK LIM: South Korea should try and persuade United States to negotiate directly with North Korea within the six-party framework, if you want, but South Korea or China cannot normalize relations between the United States and North Korea for them, and South Korea or China cannot denuclearize North Korea for the United States, unless the United States talks and negotiates with North Korea.

RAY SUAREZ: Wonhyuk Lim, Sung-Yoon Lee, thank you both.

WONHYUK LIM: Thanks.

SUNG-YOON LEE: My pleasure.