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H. Hong: Building a Roadmap for Peace in Northest Asia

Address to the International Leadership Conference
Seoul, Korea February 9-13, 2014

(Edited transcript of recorded remarks)

I think the U.S. policy is an attempt to deter China, which has been increasing in economic power nine percent annually for the last 30 years. The United States has a three-to-one superiority to China in terms of economic power. With its overwhelming economic and military power, five times larger than that of China, the United States is still trying to return to the Cold War mentality in Northeast Asia rather than seeking peace and mutual prosperity in Northeast Asia. This, I think, is ill-advised.

I think the United States is trying to promote the idea of joint coexistence and joint prosperity and introduce China to that effort. But currently the United States is trying to strengthen its allies in Northeast Asia. Korea and Japan are not allies. There is an effort to establish a military alliance between Korea, Japan and the United States and also between Australia, the United States and Korea. The United States is also trying to induce India to that paradigm.

But alliance presupposes enemies or potential enemies. So these alliances are not to promote joint prosperity but attempts to pressure China. I think this is ill-advised, and we are sorry to see that. I think the United States is too preoccupied with domestic issues like the financial crisis and that is why the United States is trying to promote its military power in the form of collective self-defense.

The rearmament of Japan is unwelcome from the perspective of Korea because Japan has not repented for its past, as Germany did. Collective self-defense is okay, but Japan has not repented for its past sins of engaging in the massacre in Nanjing and conducting experiments with live human bodies. If Japan’s military is strengthened I think it will do the United States wrong, and we cannot welcome that.

Christopher Hill talked about China’s attitude toward its neighboring countries, but the solution to China’s attitude is not to put pressure on China and align all these neighboring countries together with the United States. This is ill-advised, and China will not accept it.

The conflict between China and the United States will not change dramatically; but within about five years, a decade or 30 years, China’s power will exceed that of the United States, and neighboring countries will no longer listen to the United States. Therefore, the United States should invite and promote joint prosperity and coexistence in Northeast Asia rather than put pressure on China.

Another threat to security in Northeast Asia is the conflict between China and Japan over territory in South Sea. As Christopher Hill said, Japan is also preoccupied with domestic issues, so Japan disregards its neighboring countries. Japan’s nationalism and China’s nationalism combine to create tension. The tension surrounding the islands in the Southeast Sea is a threat to the relations between China and Japan. So the United States is advised to play a mediator role. Instead of strengthening Japan’s military power, the United States should accept the optimum level of military power of Japan.

The point that I want to make, as Christopher Hill said, regards North Korea. North Korea has conducted nuclear tests three times in the past and launched long-range missiles, threatening the peace and security in Northeast Asia. Under these circumstances, United States policy toward this area should be more active in resolving the nuclear problem of North Korea.

The Obama administration has been trying to open a path of dialogue even with enemy countries. But during the first Obama administration North Korea fired nuclear missiles and the United States renounced any plans to conduct negotiations with North Korea. The United States is using the term “strategic patience,” saying that North Korea is deceptive and setting barriers to negotiations. In order to resume the Six-Party Talks, North Korea should stop nuclear tests and accept inspection teams at the North Korean facilities, which is unacceptable to North Korea.

The United States and Korea are aware that within two years North Korea will be capable of developing nuclear weapons. It will threaten not just Japan and Korea but also as far as the island of Guam. In that case it will pose a serious threat to security, and the military balance will be broken in favor of North Korea. South Korea and Japan will be subject to military threats from North Korea.

Therefore, the United States should put more effort into resolving this situation. North Korea is likely to continue waging brinksmanship. China is an ally of North Korea, so we ask China to play an active role in persuading North Korea to stop developing nuclear weapons.

But North Korea is based on juche ideology, and if we try to meddle in North Korea, it will backfire on us. It will conduct another nuclear test. The United States says that China’s influence over North Korea is limited.

Under the circumstances, the United States should play a more active role, but I don’t have high hopes for that because the United States is more preoccupied with domestic issues and more concerned about Iran’s nuclear weapons. The United States is not willing to negotiate with a deceptive country. The United States seems to have almost given up any hope of resuming talks. So if North Korea comes up with nuclear weapons, the United States is likely to acknowledge the fact; the US government denies that, but in five years it may become a reality.

I’d like to talk about solutions. The United States government and China are expecting too much from South Korea. The South Korean government should play a more active and creative role, of course. The South Korean government should realize that it would be the greatest victim in the eventuality of North Korea developing nuclear weapons. So we should make proposals that may be accepted by not just North Korea but also the United States and China. That includes the guarantee of security for North Korea so that they can renounce any plan for developing nuclear weapons.

If North Korea again refuses, China should genuinely participate in putting pressure on North Korea. We need a plan A and a plan B. We should make both proposals to North Korea, so Korea’s diplomats should play a more active role. I agree with Christopher Hill that if Six-Party Talks are not feasible, we should have four-party talks. The manner of talks is not important. The contents and the will are more important, because there is a high likelihood that North Korea is capable of having a nuclear weapon in the next two to five years.

Under the circumstances we should freeze North Korea’s nuclear weapons programs. That’s why we need four-party talks or six-party talks. Freezing should be our top priority. Once the six-party talks begin, in order to induce North Korea to give up its nuclear ambitions, they should be based on mutual security. If North Korea gives up its nuclear weapons, it will have no alternative but to rely on conventional weapons. Therefore, we should guarantee a balance between North Korea and South Korea in some sort of conventional weapons.

Then the nuclear issue should be aligned with the establishment of peace on the Korean peninsula. South Korea and the United States should be more proactive in inducing, or trying to induce, North Korea to give up its nuclear ambitions. For the next five years, under the Pak Geun Hye government, it may be impossible, but we should do everything to avoid the possibility of conflict on the Korean peninsula.

There may be a possibility of conflict between the United States and China, so if there is a conflict between the two Koreas, the conflict surely will happen in the Korean peninsula. Therefore, we should make every effort to avoid full conflict between the two Koreas.