Global Policy Forum

Interview with President Kim Dae-jung

Washington Times
November 8, 1999

Q: A mark of your administration has been the "sunshine policy" toward the North, and your attempts to reach out to Pyongyang. In recent days we've seen the release in Washington of the long-awaited Perry Report. What do you see coming now? Have you been satisfied with the response from North Korea? In the light of the Perry Report, what do you make of current conditions?

A: I don't think we are at the stage where we are totally satisfied with the policies of North Korea. However the prospects are getting better and the conditions surrounding this are getting better. With regards to the "sunshine policy," with the very close cooperation between South Korea and the United States and Japan, in that sense I am satisfied. Such countries as China, Russia, Mongolia that have been the traditionally friendly countries to North Korea, which through state visits there or by state visits to our country, they have proclaimed support for our policy in an open manner, such as the joint declarations.

Countries in Southeast Asia, or the European countries and the countries in Africa . . . are supporting this policy of engagement, the "sunshine policy," and they are demanding that North Korea should accept this policy. And in that sense I think we have an accomplishment, and also with this kind of pressure from the world community I think they are contributing to the deterrence of their attempt for a military conflict, and also for a solution to the missiles issue. The Perry Report was based on the very close agreement and consensus among Korea, the United States and Japan, and that's how they affect the direction of this policy.

In that sense, we are fully supporting them. Unless we take the option of war, I think we have to follow this Perry Report. Right now North Korea is trying to get in contact with the United States and Japan, and especially the United States. That is their posture. I think that is a sign they are changing. The United States was central to getting the inspection of the Kumchang-ni suspected underground facilities, and also right now the four-party talks, that is, talks among South and North, the United States and China, for the arrangement of peace on the Korean peninsula, in the process. They have also had dialogue in regard to the missile issue between the United States and North Korea. Of course it is not solved to our full satisfaction, however, there is some progress made, and I think we have to support this. As much as we don't want to go to war, I think we have to have a very strong security posture, and we have to think of the options when they refuse the Perry Report suggestions. They have to understand that they will have substantial damage.

Q: In Mr. Perry's report, he speaks of two tracks. In the first track, diplomacy on the part of the United States; on North Korea's part, a reduction of tensions. He speaks of a second track, in the event North Korea does not cooperate. He doesn't explain to us what the second track is. Can you tell us about that second track?

A: This is basically a win-win policy. It is good for North Korea, and it is good for us. It has to be mutually attractive. We are saying that we have to make it very clear that we will give them what they want, and also we'll have to get what we want. There are three things that we can give to North Korea. The first is a guarantee, or an assurance, of their security. The second is to support them for the revitalization of their economy. And the third is to support them so they can work as contributing members of the world community.

The things that we want are, first, they should abandon their nuclear project, and they have to make a pledge, and honor it. The second is that they should abandon the development and the usage of the missiles. Right now North Korea is claiming that the missile issue is their own sovereign right, but if you take the examples of Germany and Japan, they certainly have the capability to develop the long-range missiles. However, they are not doing this because they consider this as a threat to their neighboring countries. Of course they have the sovereign right to develop missiles, but also they have the responsibility to think of their neighbors and their concerns.

The third thing we want from North Korea is that we should promote exchanges and cooperation, and should end this cold war between us. If you reasonably think of these options, this is the win-win policy. This is good for them. This is good for us. They are refusing to have a dialogue with our country. However, right now I think they are re-evaluating that. If they do not accept the suggestions made through the Perry Report, then I can tell you there are two things we will not do. One is, going to war, and the second, is to cut out any channel of dialogue. However, through the manipulation of economic support, or other measures, they will have to sustain substantial pain and this will be done through the alliances and cooperation of the United States, South Korea and Japan.

Q: Your economy has enjoyed a remarkable turnaround since the Asian economic crisis of 1997. Now some experts say the worry is that Koreans will no longer be willing to make the sacrifices necessary to complete the restructuring process you have begun. How will you deal with this problem?

A: We cannot delay these economic reforms. We just overcame the foreign currency crisis, and probably we can say that this is the starting point, or the opportunity, from which we can start with economic development. However, we don't believe that we have yet gained complete competitiveness to win in the world competition. This is not sufficient; we still have a long way to go. As you know, under the World Trade Organization system, we have a global economy here. From the simplest industries to the high-tech industries, we have to compete in the world market. And in that sense, I don't believe we have gained the competitiveness that is sufficient to compete in the world market. We have to pursue this reform and restructure.

So the reforms are in four different areas: financial sector, enterprises, the public sector and also to have the assurance of flexibility in labor. These reforms we will consistently pursue.

Q: American newspapers have recently reported that hundreds of Korean civilians were killed during the Korean War at the village of No Gun Ri. How have the Korean people and your government responded to these reports?

A: Many of the Korean people, and this is also the position of our government, believe that we have to have fact-finding, that we have to get the facts, and the truth. And if the facts come out and it is needed, then we have to compensate the victims. And also, we welcome the position of the United States, which recently reacted very rapidly when it comes to fact-finding on these matters. I think we should not have any confusion between the fact-finding of this very unfortunate incident with the fact, and the meaning, of the United States' participation in the Korean War.

Q: Last week the Chinese foreign minister, Tang Jiaxuan, made a high-profile visit to North Korea. To what extent do you think China is able and willing to prod the North Koreans out of their isolation, and how are China's increasing trade and economic relations with South Korea affecting relations between the North and the South?

A: China is saying that they have limited capability or influence when it comes to North Korea. However, when it comes to the maintenance of peace on the Korean peninsula, and also such things as the suspension of their missile launching, I think it was based on the cooperation and alliances among Korea, the United States and Japan, but also China. China is inevitably influential to North Korea.

First, if it is the worry and concern of North Korea that the combined forces of the United States and South Korea might attack them, or we take provocative action. Of course that is not the option that we are thinking of, however, it might be a concern on their part. But China can be the deterrence. Second is the fact that North Korea is receiving support from China in terms of food, oil and other resources they need. So it is true that China has great influence, however there is a limit to their influence when it comes to leading them to an openness and a liberalization as China wants them to do.

China is taking very seriously the economic exchanges, the cultural exchanges, with South Korea, and the contributions they can make with us in terms of the maintenance of peace. China is openly and consistently telling North Korea that they should abandon adventurism, that they just might provoke the war here in the Korean Peninsula. China is telling North Korea that they should engage in dialogue with South Korea. In this sense I think China is having some influence over North Korea.

Q: First, North Korea developed nuclear materials, and the United States, South Korea and Japan got them to stop doing that by offering them nuclear reactors. Next, they began to excavate a cave for suspicious purposes, and the United States got to inspect that by contributing food. They then began to develop a missile and the United States got them to promise not to fire it by improving trade relations. Some people in the United States, particularly in the Congress, see all this as effectively blackmail by North Korea, that every time the United States and its allies give in it encourages more of the same bad behavior by North Korea. What is your answer to the people who believe that?

A: They may characterize this as giving in to blackmail, but this is also compensation for their concession. For example, if we did not have this basic agreement, by which we are providing them oils and building them the light-water reactor, as noted in the Perry Report, they might have 50 to 60 nuclear weapons, and would be a grave threat not only to Korea and Japan but to many countries of Southeast Asia, and to the United States if you consider the long-range missiles they might have had here. So I don't think it is giving in to blackmail. In terms of food support in return for inspection of the suspected underground facilities at Kumchang-ni, when we learned of this it created great tension. An inspection was made and it was determined that, so far, it has nothing to do with nuclear facilities. This agreement enabled continuing surveillance. I think this contributed greatly to the security of the United States, Korea and Japan.

The easing of some of the sanctions imposed by the United States was part of the agreement reached in Geneva. As Perry indicated in his report, this is not giving them a blank check. This has no immediate economic influence, and this is opening up the way for future trade. Because of this they suspended the firing of the test missiles. That is very good for American interests, because with this long-range missile that could reach the United States they could cause many difficulties, especially in Japan, where they would take this very seriously, and they would react very quickly, and that would give the cause for rearmament, and they might go for the nuclear. And that will hurt greatly the security of Northeast Asia, as well as of the United States.

Q: Does South Korea plan to develop its own long-range missiles to counter the North Korean threat, and to participate with the United States in a missile defense program?

A: We have great confidence in the missile-defense project of the United States. The South Korean people understand that now that North Korea has the long-range missiles that will reach the whole of Korea and also Japan and even the United States. At the same time, we have [missiles] with the range of 180 kilometers [about 110 miles] which will cover North Korean territory. We have an agreement with the United States that we will develop and manufacture missiles ranging 300 kilometers [about 180 miles], and we are asking that we have the right to develop and test missiles ranging 500 kilometers [about 310 miles], which would cover the border with China, and I think this will give the message to North Korea that our missiles can counter their missiles. That will give pride to our people, and give a sense of security to our people.

Q: Korea has sent 200 troops to East Timor for peacekeeping. Will we see more South Korean participation in these peacekeeping operations? And what is your reaction to U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan's comment that sometimes human rights considerations outweigh the principle of national sovereignty, which has disturbed some people in other parts of the world?

A: We don't have any master plan for future military missions of this type. When it comes, we will consider that and make decisions as they come up. The principles behind the decision to send troops to East Timor were humanitarian and also in defense of democracy. But there is another very important reason why we sent those troops. As you well know, during the Korean War under the resolution of the U.N., 16 countries sent their troops here and they helped us defend our country from communism. Because of that, we are enjoying our security, and also prosperity.

So when the U.N. made a resolution and asked us to send troops to East Timor, we took this as a responsibility that we must take, and also this was to repay them for their favors. As for the secretary-general's statement that when there is a conflict between human rights and the sovereign right, that sometimes the human rights can override the sovereign right, I think in principle that is right, because before we had nations, we had God-given human rights.

Nations exist basically to protect the human rights of their people, and if they do not, we should not require the sacrifice of those human rights of the people. But if you implement this statement of Kofi Annan, we can have many difficult side effects, and also conflicts and confusion. This is not something that is easy to implement. For example, in Myanmar Burma, the lady Aung Sang Su Kyi got more than 80 percent of the support of the people, but she is not in power and she is now under surveillance. The U.N. is not free to do whatever they want in terms of this. So in these types of issues and problems, I think the U.N. or other international organizations should be at the center of it, and they should have active discussions with the sovereign nations and they should try very hard to promote and implement human rights and also they should bring very peaceful pressure on those nations. And I think that is the track of this world, too.

For human rights issues, I think the intervention or support from the outside world is important. But also the effort and sacrifice, or willingness to make sacrifices within, among the people of a nation is important. The Korean democracy -- we had a few decades of sacrifices and tens of people lost their lives because of this concept and hundreds of people were imprisoned because of this concept and we finally gained it. And also the support from the democratic-minded peoples and democratic countries was very important. Of course the prime example of that nation is the United States.

These are excerpts from an interview with President Kim Dae-jung of South Korea, conducted by Wesley Pruden, editor in chief of The Times, and David W. Jones, foreign editor of The Times, at the Blue House in Seoul.

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