His Excellency Jeong Se-Hyun, Minister of Unification, Republic of Korea.

On October 1, 2003, the Asia Program hosted South Korea’s Minister of Unification, Jeong Se-Hyun. Minister Jeong’s speech, coming after the 6 party talks in Beijing, served to reinforce the importance of the U.S.-ROK alliance as well as convey Seoul’s views on the nuclear crisis to U.S. policymakers, academics and Korea specialists.

Minister Jeong acknowledged that there was a long way to go before achieving a permanent peace in Korea. Incremental confidence building measures, such as expanding contacts between civilians, government officials, and the militaries of the two Koreas, as well as holding out the carrot of economic benefits provide a possible path to peace. He urged North Korea to become a responsible member of the international community by reforming and opening up to the outside world.

However, this conciliatory tone does not mean that South Korea is harboring any illusions about North Korea. Minister Jeong emphasized South Korea would not reward bad behavior or pursue inter-Korean cooperation with undue haste. He was adamant that South Korea would not tolerate any military provocation and that the DPRK must abandon its nuclear ambitions.

When asked how South Koreans viewed Bush administration policies generally, Minister Jeong underscored the fact that while the public may be bitterly divided, there is no concern about Bush’s policies on the part of the government, and that no single view predominates. He reiterated the policy of maintaining deterrent capability based on the U.S.-ROK alliance, reassuring the audience that “peace can be made only when peace can be kept.” He further emphasized the importance of consulting with the U.S. and regional powers such as China, Japan, and Russia in order to bring about a peaceful resolution to the North Korean nuclear standoff.

Minister Jeong noted that the situation was not as dire as it seemed, citing important areas of progress in inter-Korean relations, including visits and exchanges by 10,000 Koreans, $600 million in bilateral trade, and the signing of major agreements in economic cooperation and investment. A cabinet shuffle within North Korean leadership circles and the North’s growing dependence on the South are hopeful signs that change and reform are on the horizon and that the Korean people can finally “dismantle the legacy of the Cold War.”

Robert M. Hathaway, Asia Program Director, 202-691-4012
Drafted by Wilson Lee