Original draft for Chung Dong-young interivew

[note note_color=”#e6e6e6″]…of which I wrote for NK News.[/note]

As a chairman of the National Security Council and the Minister of Unification, Chung Dong-young headed Roh Moo-hyun government’s North Korea policy. As a chairman of the National Security Council, he persuaded Donald Rumsfeld, then U.S. Secretary of Defense to cooperate on building Kaesong Industrial Zone in 2004. In June 2005, the Minister of Unification Chung met Kim Jong Il in Pyongyang, ushering in the Joint Statement of September 19 2005. A three-terms elected congressman and a prominent opposition presidential candidate of 2007, Chung is currently a senior adviser of Democratic Party. The interview was conducted on September 4.


The Park Geun-hye administration’s North Korea policy is quite popular among the South Korean public. In fact, according to some surveys, the North Korea policy is the most popular one among the administration’s numerous policies. The public supported the government’s stern approach towards the Kaesong crisis. Chung criticized that the administration’s approach was largely motivated by domestic politics. “There was no actual threats to ROK employees in Kaesong. Alleged food shortage wasn’t really happening. These are exaggerated to be exploited as a tool for an inter-Korean chicken game,” he said.

Referring to the reemergence of Abe, the current Prime Minister of Japan and the case of German reunification, Chung warned that reunification issue should not be abused by domestic politics. “After losing ground, Abe was able to revive as a symbolic figure of the Japanese right by doing something like beating up on the North. (…) Why has Germany reunified 23 years ago and yet we are still divided for 68 years? (…) The most prominent reason is that our political leaders have been exploiting the North-South issue to maintain and regain their power.”

Domestic politics’ abusing of inter-Korean relation has a long history, Chung added. He described how the 1991’s monumental Agreement on Reconciliation, Non-Aggression, and Exchanges and Cooperation, also known as the Basic Agreement, broke apart in mere 10 months since the signing. During the 7th Prime Ministerial talks in Pyongyang, Semptember 1992, despite an order given by the then President Roh Tae-woo to reach an agreement to the Northern counterparts, Agency for National Security Planning, predecessor to National Intelligence Service, intervened by fabricating the Presidential order and break down the talks. “A month later in October 1992, the government announced resuming Team Spirit joint ROK-U.S. military exercise, which used to be announced in December. The reason is self-evident. Inter-Korean relation froze out and they [conservatives] succeeded in regaining power in the December’s Presidential election. A spy agency was at the center of it all,” Chung argued.


Chung agreed with some critics that the Ministry of Unification hasn’t played its proper role and that the Presidential aides on national security being comprised largely of former military officials has resulted in the government’s inflexible response to the North. “The military has its own missions. However, North Korea policy can be hardly executed by military thinking.”

“The point is, however, the President’s vision and philosophy on the peace in the peninsula,” Chung argued. He cited President Park’s 2007 autobiography, which was written while she was a member of the National Assembly. In the autobiography, Park argues that North Korea’s nuclear issue has to be dealt with comprehensive solution rather than phased solution. “The Joint Statement of September 19 is the very comprehesive solution. (…) Yet the President Park hasn’t spoken much about solution other than emphasizing ROK-U.S. cooperation. If her concept [in her autobiography] is still valid, the solution is to return to the September 19’s Joint Statement,” Chung said.

When asked why the September 19’s regime collapsed, Chung blamed the neocons of the George W. Bush’s government. “The U.S. neocons believe North Korean nuclear issue is by definition a question of the North Korean regime so the nuclear issue has to be resolved by regime change. (…) Generally it is known that North Korea didn’t keep the agreements but the actual facts tell a different story. Historical facts show that the neocons abhorred negotiation and didn’t recognize the September 19’s Joint Statement, the product of negotiation with North Korea.”


Chung argued the North Korea’s direst crisis since the Korean War was the dissolution of its alliance with key players of the Communist bloc in the early 1990s. He elaborated on how much it impacted on the North when the Soviet Union and China decided to establish diplomatic ties with South Korea. “When Eduard Shevardnadze, the then Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Soviet Union visited Pyongyang in September 1990, Kim Il Sung refused to meet him since he knew what Shevardnadze would say. The Minister met Kim Young Nam and informed of establishing diplomatic ties with South Korea. In 1992, after the dissolution of the Soviet Union, Russia unilaterally broke the Soviet-DPRK Treaty of 1961, which mandates mutudal defense of both nations. To us, it’s like the U.S. breaking the U.S.-ROK Mutual Defense Treaty and informing us of establishment of diplomatic ties with North Korea.”

The same went on with the Sino-DPRK relation, Chung argued. On July 15 1992, the Foreign Minister of China Qian Qichen visits Kim Il Sung and informs him that China will soon establish diplomatic ties with South Korea. “He [KIS] was shocked and felt betrayed. He had been asking China to postpone the establishment to 2 or 3 years. In the meantime, he was trying to set up diplomatic ties with the U.S. for cross-recognition of two Koreas. But China cold-heartedly rejected it. Once a bloodlike trust between the two Communist regimes has been broken since then.”

While Chung praised the Roh Tae-woo government’s Nordpolitik, which established and expanded diplomatic ties with China and the Soviet Union, he added the North’s newborn security anxiety had to be taken care of. “Nowdays the ROK’s combined amount of trade with the U.S. and Japan is dwarfed by that of with China alone so it was a huge interest for us. But since then there has been the nuclear program issue further aggravated.” Chung argued that the government should have helped the North commence diplomacy with the U.S. and Japan to mitigate its security concerns.


After the exit of the neocons and the then Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice taking up the North Korea policy, the G. W. Bush administration turned its approach and showed interest in a peace treaty with the North. However, the foreign ministry and the Ministry of Unificiation had conflicting views on the peace treaty issue. “While the Ministry of Unification enthusiastically supported a peace treaty, the foreign ministry didn’t share such an enthusiasm and weighed too much on the ROK-US alliance. But the Ministry of Unification also considered inter-Korean relation as a significant axis,” Chung said.

According to Roh Moo-hyun, across the threshold of an era, a non-fiction written by Kim Jong-dae, editor-in-chief of South Korean monthly Defense 21+, then Minister Chung was infuriated by Ban Ki-moon, then foreign minister, who was negative to a peace treaty citing that it undermines grounds for the U.S. military presence in South Korea. In a high senior-level meeting, Chung banged on a desk and yelled at Ban with fury, reprimanding him for his outdated view on the peace regime, the book says. “It was more or less exaggerated. However, it was not between Ban Ki-moon and Chung Dong-young as individuals but between views of the unification ministry and the foreign ministry,” Chung said.

“The foreign ministry basically sees a peacy treaty as a North Korean trickery. The peace the North says is an absence of foreign military presence so the peace treaty is a groundwork of the North to make the U.S. forces in South Korea withdraw, the foreign ministry assumes,” Chung said. But he criticized such a view as an outdated one. “Everything changes. Even the North Korea’s position on a peace treaty and a withdrawal of the U.S. forces in Korea has changed. Before the 1990s, the North was demanding the withdrawal of USFK as a prerequisite for a peace treaty. However in 1992, the Secretary of South Korea policy Kim Yong Sun visited Arnold Kanter, then Under Secretary of State and delivered Kim Il Sung’s message that it would approve the U.S. military presence in the peninsula on condition of establishment of diplomacy. When Madeleine Albright visited Pyongyang and when the first inter-Korean summit took place later in 2000, the North agreed that the U.S. military presence in the peninsula is necessary considering the geopolitical condition of the peninsula,” Chung said.


While the North Korea’s nulcear program issue is basically about the DPRK-U.S. relation, it is directly correlated to the inter-Korean relation, Chung argued. He refered to a September 2010’s commentary of the Chosun Sinbo commemorating the 5th anniversary of the Joint Statement of September 19. In the commentary, Chosun Sinbo argues the DPRK-U.S. Joint Communique of October 2010 was made possible thanks to the first inter-Korean summit which took place three months ago and the Joint Statement of September 19 by Chung’s talks with Kim Joing Il on June 17 2005.

Chung recalled Kim Jong Il being a man whom he was able to negotiate with. Pointing out peculiarities of the North Korean regime, he underscored an effectiveness of summit talks. “North Korea is a monolithic system, in which all authorities on policy decision are concentrated on a single person. Thus the most effective and swift way to negotiate and communicate is directly facing a supreme ruler of it,” Chung argued.

“In antagonistic relations, opponents used to be imagined as monsters. However, when the parties meet and talk, there will be an actual impression on them. The impression gives a sort of confidence that the opponents could be dealt with this way or that. I think President Park has such confidence since she had an experience,” Chung added.

Chung stressed the former Roh Moo-hyun administrations efforts to expand inter-Korean exchanges. “There were mere 2,500 persons who visited the North through the end of the Korean War to the first inter-Korean summit of 2000. However, in the year 2005 alone, a hundred thousand who hold South Korean ID cards set their foot on the North Korean soil. The Mt. Kumgang tourists are not included. My aim was to raise this number to a million.”

He criticized the government strictly barring inter-Korean exchanges since the May 24 measure of 2010, which halted nearly all the trades with North Korea. “The regime competition is already over so we can be confident. Rather than adhering a mechanical reciprocity, we need to approach the North as if we are running the whole peninsula.”


North Korea is facing a dilemma in trying to achieve contradicting goals, Chung argued. “It [byongjin line] has a problem since both goals are in conflict with each other. In order to spur an industrial growth, the North has to go out [and open] but it can’t do that with nuclear weapons. It [resolving the dilemma] is not only difficult to the North but also to us.”

“Our solution is to resolve the nuclear program issue with a peace regime originated from the Joint Statement of September 19 and to help its economic growth by Kaesong Industrial Zone. We can provide two keys to North Korea’s two conflicting means of survival,” Chung argued.

In the matter of unification model, Chung refuted both the Vietnamese model and the German one. “The Vietnamese way of unification is a unification by force. The military knows better than anyone that this is impossible for us, I guess. Throughout May and June of 1994, the Clinton administration planned a war including an air strike against Yongbyun. A simulation demonstrated that within three months after the outbreak, there would be enormous casualties including 50 thousand U.S. military, 500 thousand ROK military, a million ROK citizens and 80 per cent of the South Korean industrial facilities would be devastated. (…) This is an impossible option for us.”

“Absorbing the North as the Germans did is also impossible. There are three crucial differences between East Germany and North Korea. First, two Germanies didn’t fight a war against each other so there is no strong hatred between each other. (…) Second, East Germany had a civil society, the church for example. […] There was a communal culture through the churches but there is no such thing in North Korea. Third, the two Germanies had been communicating for a long time. After the 1970’s summit talks, over a million had been visiting each other. This is also a different condition from North Korea,” Chung said.

Some opposes engagement to the North for aiding dictatorship. Chung criticized such an opinion as a fossil from the cold-war era. “It leads to the North Korean collapse theory and a unification by absorbing. It was proven for a number of times that such a view is unrealistic. […] The strategic patience, which the Obama administration has been applying, only resulted in accelerating the North Korea’s nuclear program,” he argued.

Chung proposed expanding the Kaesong model as the Korean model of unification. “We already have the answer: The Kaesong Industrial Zone,” he said. South Korea, which suffers from decreasing potential growth power, can reboot its economic growth and North Korea can achieve half the living standard of South Korea within 20 years, he argued. “If so, we might don’t need unification costs particularly,” he added.

Chung stressed the ingenuity of the Kaesong model and its possibility to unification. He recollected when he met Egon Bahr, the creator of Ostpolitik, which significantly contributed to the German reunification. “When I showed him pictures of the Kaesong Industrial Zone and explained what it is, he slapped his knee and said that it’s a wonderful imagination. Even in the making of Ostpolitik, no one had never though of building a West German industrial zone in the East German territory and it’s astonishing that it came true, he said. The KIZ is more than a mere industrial zone. It’s the Korean model of unification. Along with the KIZ, we will see an economic unification on the way and it will ultimately lead us to unification.”

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