“Tag X” and the German Leg of the Park-Kim Summit Question

By | March 27, 2014 | 5 Comments

Philipp Abresch and President Park at the beginning of the interview. | Image:

Philipp Abresch and President Park at the time of the interview. | Image: Sino-NK/Taggeschau.de

On March 26, South Korea commemorated the fourth anniversary of the sinking of the ROKS Cheonan by a North Korean torpedo. However, President Park Geun-hye did not lead events, as she was busy pushing the ROK diplomatic agenda in distant Europe. She delivered an address to the Nuclear Security Summit in The Hague on Tuesday, before moving on to Berlin, where she met both President Joachim Gauck and Chancellor Angela Merkel on Wednesday. She is also due to receive an honorary doctorate from Dresden Technical University on March 28. The resulting acceptance speech is much anticipated in some quarters, taking place as it does in a city where “mass protests helped bring down East Germany’s communist regime in 1989.”

Among all this, however, Park found time to give the following interview to journalist Philipp Abresch.

Source: Philipp Abresch, “Ich würde mich mit Kim treffen“[I would meet with Kim], Tagesschau.de, 26 March 2014. 

Relations on the Korean peninsula are tense – mainly due to the policies of the North Korean dictator, Kim Jong-un. South Korea’s President Park has indicated, in an interview with The Tagesschau, that she is open to a meeting with him, but only [would do so] if North Korea ends its nuclear program. Today, President Park begins a multi-day visit to Germany. She also wishes to learn from the German reunification (Wiedervereinigung).

Philipp Abresch: You have appointed a commission whose purpose is to prepare for a reunification with North Korea. How stable do you consider the leadership in Pyongyang to be? Do you expect a reunification in the next ten or twenty years?

Park Geun Hye: We do not know exactly what is going on in North Korea (Wir wissen nicht genau, was in Nordkorea vor sich geht). And what happens in the future is difficult to predict. North Korea wants to grow economically, but, at the same, North Korea insists on [keeping] its nuclear program. I think that under such circumstances, North Korea does not expect or wait for any help from abroad. Such a policy is not going to attract winning investors. Ultimately, the nuclear program will have a negative effect on North Korea.

Next year, we will mark the 70th anniversary of the division of Korea. And this occasion is particularly important for us: We face a nuclear threat and the danger of war, which we do not wish to have (die darf es da nicht geben). We want to be actively involved in prosperity and peace. That’s why I set up a commission to thoroughly prepare the reunification of the two Koreas. I hope that this commission is received with encouragement and support among [all] people.

I’ve heard that the reunification of Germany was also very difficult, because hardly anyone knew what it was really like inside the GDR [German Democratic Republic/East Germany]. North Korea is much more closed today than East Germany was at that time. We know very little about the country. So we have to be active and prepare ourselves conscientiously (gewissenhaft) for the day of reunification.

What we want is for it to be possible for people from North and South to see one another more often, that there is an exchange between both sides. We must try to resolve the differences between North and South Koreans – the emotional differences and the cultural differences. This is our most important task.

” We can alleviate the suffering of the families “

Abresch: You said that the big day (Tag X/i.e. unification) may come completely unexpectedly. How do you prepare for a reunification when the South knows next to nothing about North Korea?

Park:  We just had a reunion this past February of separated families from North and South Korea. And along with that, many wishes were left open [i.e., unfulfilled]. But we are fortunate that we were able to alleviate the suffering of the families which had been torn apart.

The fact that North and South are in agreement (handelseinig) on such matters is enormously important. So we want to build more and more confidence. But we don’t have much time. Of the 70,000 people who want to meet their relatives across the border, most are very old. We have to work faster to bring these families together again. And in my view, we should do the same no matter what the level or political climate is between the two sides.

No compromise on the nuclear program

Abresch : You have always said that you would not accept a nuclear-armed North Korea. But we have now lived through nuclear tests, missile launches and other military provocations from the North. Hasn’t the policy of patience and restraint failed?

Park: Whether it was right or not to be patient is not so important. One thing has always been clear: The South Korean government will react harshly to the nuclear program of North Korea. But if there were [the possibility of] talks between North and South, then we would not close ourselves [to that possibility].

Our North Korea policy is explicit and reliable. When [confronted with] hardness, we will respond harder. But the softer [we will become] when [confronted with] soft. (Auf Härte werden wir härter reagieren. Aber umso weicher auf weich.) This [principle] also means that we will not stand for a nuclear program that threatens the Korean peninsula and even the entire North Asian region.

We do not stand alone. Germany, the European Union, and many other countries are behind us. That’s why, on my visit to Germany, I ‘m going to speak intensively with the Bundesregierung (Federal Government) about our “politics of reunification” (Wiedervereinigungspolitik).

Many states have endeavored [to halt] North Korea’s nuclear program, for example, in the realm of the Six-Party Talks. During these talks, North Korea has simply continued to work on its nuclear program. North Korea has won time to further expand and build its nuclear capabilities.

Up until now, we have been caught in a vicious circle (Teufelskreis). We were provoked and then we backed down. We absolutely have to break this vicious cycle. It would be ideal if North Korea changed itself voluntarily. And it would be good if the world could move forward cohesively (geschlossen auftritt), in order to create an overall atmosphere in which North Korea, finally, has to move.

Talking about peace and stability

Abresch: There have always been high-level meetings between North and South Korea, and between the national leaders of both sides. When will such a meeting take place between the two of them?

Park: We have always been open to discussions between North and South Korea. If it were necessary, the two heads of state would also meet. But if such talks were arranged for their own sake or the talks occurred only once, I don’t think they would result in much for the Korean people.

Abresch: What would you like to say to the North Korean leader Kim Jong-un?

Park: In the event that there were talks with Chairman Kim, I would speak to him about the North Korean nuclear program. About peace and stability. And we would talk about the future of inter-Korean relations. I would also indicate to him (hinweisen; “point out”) that North Korea’s current strategy of simultaneously pursuing economic development and a nuclear program couldn’t possibly go together.

Beyond that, I would also bring [Kim Jong-un] the news that [South] Korea and the international community want to help North Korea to develop economically, the minute it distances itself from its nuclear program. This could begin a new era of Korean relations.

Source: Philipp Abresch, “Ich würde mich mit Kim treffen“[I would meet with Kim], Tagesschau.de, 26 March 2014. Translation by Adam Cathcart.

5 Comments

  1. Dear Dr Cathcart,
    I don’t know how you can blithely repeat the canard that the Cheonan was sunk by a North Korean torpedo. It wasn’t. How do I know? Because Pyongyang denied and continues to deny it. Isn’t it naive to take Pyongyang’s word for it? No, it isn’t — because six or seven months later the DPRK shelled Yeonpyeong Island, killing four people. This was the first attack on ROK territory by the DPRK since the Korean War, and couldn’t possibly be denied; in fact they gloried in it, in effect saying, “Yes, we are the sort of people who respond with deadly force to provocations [It’s always `provocations’]BUT WE DIDN’T SINK THE CHEONAN!” Why deny it when they obviously didn’t care about retaliation (as proved by the Yeonpyeong shelling)?

  2. Dear Paul,

    Thanks for your comment.

    I cannot speak for Dr. Cathcart, but almost all the people I know who are in a position to speak knowledgeably about the sinking of the ROKS Cheonan acknowledge, even when it harms their own position to do so, that North Korea sank it. Unfortunately, denying that fact flatly denies us the possibility of dialogue about why it was sunk, which I find much more interesting.

  3. A very interesting interview. Thank you for acquiring, translating and posting it.

    I wonder, though, if the word ‘genau’ has been correctly translated in President Park’s response to the first question. I understand it to mean ‘exactly’ in English.

    As it stands, the sentence seems to suggest that South Korean Intelligence is at a loss. ‘Exactly’ allows for considerable knowledge, but leaves space for a tacit admission that there is more to be learnt.

    As it stands, she doesn’t seem really to know anything about NK, even with a dozen high level defectors to consult and intelligence specialists whose job is to know what’s going on.

    ‘Exactly’ resolves that problem.

    Look out for Dear Leader in May from Simon & Schuster in the US and Random House in the UK. It covers some of the issues raised in this interview.

    Makes me think of the Deep State and how it might be characterised with regard to North Korea.

  4. Dear Mr Green,
    It’s probably true that a flat denial doesn’t help dialogue. However, all NK’s proposals for dialogue over the Cheonan have been rebuffed, including an offer to send an NK team to examine the torpedo shortly after the sinking. ROK President Lee Myung-bak hesitated for (I think) three weeks before pointing the finger of blame at Pyongyang. In the meantime he huddled with his advisory group, which included ex-presidents Chun Doo-hwan (the “Butcher of Kwangju”) and Kim Young-sam (who pardoned Chun from a death sentence passed by a Seoul court).

  5. Dear Martin,

    Many thanks for the careful read. It seems it was a good idea for me to keep the original German text in parenthesis for “Wir wissen nicht genau, was in Nordkorea vor sich geht,” as I was hoping precisely for some guidance or critique, such as you have offered.

    The text has now been changed in that paragraph from “really” to “exactly.” And of course, this is a translation of a translation, since her responses to the questions were in Korean, and then translated into German (presumably by Tagesspiegel, and then approved by the Blue House or the ROK Embassy in Berlin).