Yongusil 17: One Dream, Three Nations: Adam Cathcart on “Double Defectors” at the 2013 Korea-UK Forum on the Peaceful Unification of Korea

By | November 17, 2013 | No Comments

South Korean President Park Geun-hye and Britain's Queen Elizabeth II during a ceremony to commemorate British soldiers who served in Korean War. | Image: GNC Global News Channel

South Korean President Park Geun-hye and Queen Elizabeth II during a ceremony to commemorate British soldiers who served in Korean War. | Image: GNC Global News Channel

The United Kingdom has always arrived within and inhabited the same geo-political space as South Korea, even at moments of extreme difficulty such as during the militaristic and autonomous reigns of Park Chung-hee and Syngman Rhee. The United Kingdom has historically seen its interests served by the polity south of the demilitarized zone and has always made common cause and purpose with it. The United Kingdom has in a sense always shared the dreams and ambitions of South Korea, as they are the dreams ultimately (and eventually) of social democracy, capitalistic free enterprise and protection of private property. The recent state visit of South Korean President Park Geun-hye to London appeared to represent that unity.

Since 1992, it is apparent that the axis of geo-politics to which both nations belong has been the overwhelmingly successful one, in spite of two economic near-meltdowns. Meanwhile, the North has had its few allies peel away (see China’s recognition of the ROK in 1992) or have disintegrated completely, having left only “the tyranny of the weak.” While the theory of “collapsism” for the DPRK still strong (currently revitalized by Bruce Bennett’s recent Rand report), one stubborn fact of East Asian politics has been the simple failure of unification to happen. North Korea’s existence has proved a seemingly intractable challenge to this discourse of inevitability;try as collapsists and well-meaning unifiers might, the dynasty of the family Kim to the North proved stubbornly successful in its continuation and abilities in the realm of power and narrative transfer.

None of this reality, of course, means that in 2013 the dream of a southern unification is in any way diminished for its proponents (though demographic and social conceptions among the young in the South perhaps one day will serve to pull the rug of popular consent from beneath them), nor for their affiliated allies in the realm of human rights advocacy more generally. Thus the Republic of Korea’s Ministry of Unification and the National Unification Advisory Council continue their quest for its eventual achievement.

On November 19, 2013, Dr. Adam Cathcart will make common cause with the dreams and the dreaming of this narrative at the prestigious “Korea-UK Forum on the Peaceful Unification of Korea” held at the Millennium Gloucester Hotel in London. Participants in this expansive event include Lord Alton (of the UK Parliamentary Group on North Korea), Professors Heonik Kwon, I.H Park, Y.Y Cho, J.C Kim, and S.P Hong, Dr. James Hoare (of SOAS and the University of London), Dr. Mark Fitzpatrick (of IISS), and Aidan Foster-Carter, as well as a number of other diplomatic and political luminaries.

Cathcart’s paper represents the advancing of research in an area in which Sino-NK has strived to excel: Cross-border movement between China and North Korea by refugees, and Pyongyang’s public relations strategy for the “defector problem.” Given that defectors over the Tumen River are rare but important individuals who have moved (often multiple times) across national boundaries, their inclusion in a conference on unification and human rights in North Korea is most appropriate. In a paper co-authored with Brian Gleason in Seoul, Cathcart will delve into the phenomenon of the “double defectors” and describe ways that these individuals represent a growing fissure between China and North Korea when it comes to the common security and penetrability of the DPRK’s northern frontier, and Pyongyang’s dissatisfaction with growing Chinese-South Korean ties.

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