March 7, 2001

March 7, 2001 | Lecture on Asia

Commemoration of Kim Dae-Jung's Presidency

Mr. Ministers, excellencies, honored guests, ladies and gentlemen: It is an honor to be invited to take part in this commemoration of the first three years of Kim Dae-jung's presidency. I thank our friends at the Kim Dae-jung Peace Foundation for the Asia-Pacific Region for inviting me to participate in this historic conference. The work of the Kim Dae-jung Peace Foundation is well-known and admired by individuals around the world who share a strong and abiding belief in democracy and the rule of law as the principles that must guide all people who strive to build a civil society.

I particularly thank my old friend Dr. Chang Heng-Hoon, the Secretary General of the foundation, for his leadership in assembling this international program of renowned scholars and leaders to commemorate this very exciting anniversary. To be included in this commemorative event is especially meaningful for me, because not only is President Kim a political leader whom I greatly admire and respect, he is also a friend and colleague of many years.

Nearly 20 years ago, when he was living in exile in the United States, we at The Heritage Foundation were honored to host Kim Dae-jung for a variety of seminars and conferences. He taught us a great deal about the need for structural, political, and economic reform in Korea, and he articulated his views favoring a free and open market system to produce long-term economic vitality for Korea.

I had little idea then that my friend would one day serve as president of Korea and institute the very reforms we were discussing at the time. So you can imagine the satisfaction I had a little over a year ago when I wrote an article for the Asian Wall Street Journal titled "Korea's Free Trade President Is Vindicated." In it, I argued that the lessons from President Kim are clear: Protectionism and central government economic controls are bound to fail, and because of President Kim's extraordinary leadership, South Korea "has emerged as Asia's most promising recovery story."

THE CROWN JEWEL

The diplomatic crown jewel of President Kim's administration is, of course, his rapprochement with North Korea--an achievement for which he was quite properly awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. Such an accomplishment cannot be strictly separated from the man who accomplished it, and I think we should note the human dimensions of this individual. If there is one characteristic of Kim Dae-jung's temperament that stands out above all others, it is his persistence.

President Kim's handshake with Kim Jong-il was the product of his persistent devotion to an ideal. It reminds us that acts of genuine leadership require a genuine leader to perform them. I recall one day more than 14 years ago, when then-Assemblyman Kim Dae-jung was at The Heritage Foundation for a luncheon. I remember very clearly how he held our attention as he discussed a policy that he favored--a policy that has more recently been given a name: "sunshine policy." Even years before that visit to Washington, he was fully committed to a reunified Korea, not merely as an idea, but as a reality, even though, as he said last year, it would only occur one small step at a time.

Professor Kent Calder of Princeton University recently summarized some of the new realities that came from last year's Pyongyang summit:

The remarkably positive chemistry of the initial meetings produced tangible results. Within little more than two months, North and South Korea had agreed to rebuild roads and railways across the demilitarized zone, resolved to re-establish a liaison office in Panmunjom...and completed an emotional series of visits between family members who had been separated for nearly 50 years. Soon afterward, their athletes marched under a common flag at the Sydney Olympics.

The potential for the Pyongyang summit to bring economic and security gains on the Korean peninsula is mind-boggling. For more than 50 years, North Korea has subsisted like a paralyzed limb on an otherwise healthy body. Recently, its condition has deteriorated dramatically.

CONVERGING FORCES

What we see now is a convergence of three very basic forces.

First is the North's dire economic need--which is, in many cases, the basic force of hunger.

Second, it is not at all fanciful to think how a few highways and railroad lines across the DMZ could carry a revitalizing flow of tourism and trade to the North, like blood flowing into that paralyzed limb.

And third, we should not underestimate the importance of the family visits that were arranged after last year's summit and that will continue next month. More than 7.5 million South Koreans--about 15 percent of the population--have relatives in the North. The reunion of family members separated for decades has stirred one of the deepest of all human sentiments: love of family, a powerful but intangible force that will pull toward more open relations with the North. And this force, perhaps more so than any other, could bring North Korea's people--as distinguished from its rulers--into contact with free people and thus feed submerged sentiments for freedom in the North.

THE SECURITY KNOT

The most difficult knot to untie is, of course, security. As President Kim coaxes the North out of isolation and into more beneficial relations with the South, the North's leaders, at least, are likely to see themselves as being more vulnerable. Given that view, they are likely to regard their economic gains as a means of building a stronger military to restore security. And that of course would be seen, and seen correctly, as a threat and provocation to other nations.

These near-paradoxes are well-known, and I think the best hope for their eventual resolution lies in the skillful leadership Kim Dae-jung has provided for the past three years. As an American, I share with my countrymen of all political views a deep desire to see his efforts succeed. Nearly 34,000 Americans died in battle on Korean soil, and the U.S. military presence here for 50 years is a constant reminder to us that we would instantly be embroiled in any new military conflict.

As president of The Heritage Foundation, much of my professional work is focused on promoting U.S. policies that not only avoid such conflict, but advance President Kim's historic rapprochement with the North. With the advent of the George W. Bush Administration, I believe the United States is in a position to play a larger role as an honest broker in that process, so let me briefly mention a few issues and problems that I think will be central to the development of U.S. policy in the months ahead.

Although it is always dangerous to single out individuals for recognition, I would be remiss if I didn't mention the work of Stan Roth, the recently retired U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs in the Clinton Administration. Since taking that post in 1997, Mr. Roth has been instrumental in advancing the view that easing tensions between North and South Korea will require a multilateral process. He deserves credit for facilitating communication and coordination among Seoul, Tokyo, and Washington and helping to develop a framework within which the three view the problems of improving North-South relations. I'm pleased to see that he is participating in this program this afternoon.

Now let me turn to a few related issues.

MISSILE DEFENSE

First, we will see a growing debate in the months ahead about U.S. plans to build a nuclear missile defense system. The Bush Administration is fully committed to building such a system, and the new Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld, chaired a commission two years ago that wholeheartedly endorsed such a program. And, I might add, my own organization is energetically supplying research that supports missile defense.

So, in a nutshell, I think the question is not whether the United States will build a missile defense, but when. Much of the concern about this, especially among U.S. allies, centers on the worry that the United States will develop a missile shield to protect its own territory and leave its allies vulnerable.

I can think of very few propositions that are more clearly mistaken. President Bush wants to strengthen relationships with U.S. allies, and he could ease any fears among them by proposing to deploy missile defenses as a means of protecting the United States and its allies on essentially equal terms. It is inconceivable to me that the United States would form a different policy.

SEOUL-WASHINGTON RELATIONS

Perhaps a more immediate worry among South Koreans is whether the Bush Administration will support Kim Dae-jung's sunshine policy. The question recently received attention in the press after Richard Armitage, the new Deputy Secretary of State-designate, suggested that the term "sunshine policy" be replaced in diplomatic circles with the term "engagement policy." And when Secretary of State Colin Powell told a Senate committee that he would "review thoroughly" the U.S. relationship with North Korea, this prompted more buzzing about the possibility of tension between Seoul and Washington over President Kim's sunshine policy.

The Bush Administration is reviewing virtually every policy of the previous Administration--which is, of course, quite appropriate. But worries about potential tension between Washington and Seoul regarding North Korea policy are premature. Mr. Armitage has stated that the Bush Administration will continue to support Kim Dae-jung's sunshine policy or engagement policy, call it what you will.

That is not to say the policies of the Bush Administration won't differ from those of the previous Administration. Secretary Powell has said that U.S. relations with North Korea must be based on "reciprocity," and it is important to understand what he means by that.

RECIPROCITY

Some security analysts have suggested that the United States under the Bush Administration will play a "bad cop" role in dealing with North Korea while letting South Korea play the "good cop." But this is a mistaken interpretation of what Secretary Powell meant by "reciprocity." I believe that he meant that the United States will expect North Korea to reciprocate positive initiatives by both the United States and, especially, South Korea.

For example, I think that would include a genuine, open exchange of families who were separated by the war, not just a small controlled group picked by North Korea. It will also be a gratifying act of reciprocation if Kim Jong-il follows through on his promise to visit South Korea.

Most important from the standpoint of American interests, a policy based on reciprocity would take note of the 37,000 U.S. military personnel who are risking their lives and living apart from their families to guarantee the security of South Korea. The United States would like to see substantive reciprocal action by North Korea to reduce its military forces deployed along the DMZ against South Korean and U.S. troops.

These troop deployments are an artifact of Cold War policy in a post-Cold War world. North Korea's conventional forces may not have the ability to project themselves into the region as do ballistic missiles, but they are equally dangerous and destabilizing. Reductions in both kinds of forces should be a central aim of a U.S. policy based on reciprocity.

Moreover, North Korea's willingness to use special operations for clandestine missions into South Korea to kidnap people or perform other terrorist acts is dangerous behavior that must be stopped. That it has been seemingly suspended is helpful, but a policy of stopping it would be a much better signal.

A THINK TANK'S ROLE

Finally, because I represent a major think tank in Washington, let me address a question I'm often asked: What policy proposals has The Heritage Foundation made to the new Bush Administration, and what part do we expect to play in policy debates?

For a full year prior to the elections last November, Heritage pursued a project to craft a conservative agenda to offer the new Administration. We have now published a book titled Priorities for the President. It is a comprehensive policy manual of nearly 400 pages that makes detailed recommendations in 15 policy areas, both foreign and domestic. (Incidentally, the book is also available on our Web site, www.heritage.org.) We are aggressively promoting these policy recommendations to key figures in the Congress and the Bush Administration.

During the transition following the elections, Heritage served as a relay point for resumes of people seeking jobs in the new Administration. We have now submitted more than 400 names for consideration. In fact, several of our most capable staff members left us to take jobs in the Bush Administration, one of whom was our Distinguished Fellow and the Chairman of our Asian Studies Center Council, Elaine Chao, who is now Secretary of Labor. So I think it safe to say that we enjoy very cordial relations with the new Administration and expect our proposals to receive serious consideration.

THE HUMAN FACTOR

For the remainder of today, several panels will speak in some substance and detail about the policy issues I've touched on this morning. As a backdrop to those discussions, I would like to return to a point I made earlier about what I called the human factor in achieving policy goals.

We are, after all, commemorating not just a presidency, but a president. And one question that occupies our minds is how well Kim Dae-jung and George W. Bush will work together in advancing their nations' mutual and vital interests in a more secure and more prosperous Northeast Asia.

The answer will depend to a significant degree on the chemistry of personal interaction, and on that score, I want to express my optimism, because there are several striking parallels between the two men. Let me mention three qualities they share, qualities that bode well for relations between Seoul and Washington. Those qualities are persistence, commitment to the principles of freedom, and consummate political skill.

Ten days from now, we will see their interaction when President Kim visits Washington.

As I mentioned earlier, Kim Dae-jung has been characterized his whole life by his persistence. His persistence sustained him through repeated failures in seeking public office--four times before he was elected to the National Assembly and four times before he gained the presidency. His persistence is a virtue that to no small degree accounts for his historic summit with North Korea.

George W. Bush is a similarly persistent man. Since his election victory, he has perplexed his opponents, delighted his supporters, and surprised almost everyone by proposing as President every major position he advocated as a candidate. And he shows every sign of persisting.

Similarly, both men share a deep philosophical commitment to the cause of freedom. While still a lad in high school, Kim Dae-jung wrote an essay criticizing brutal Japanese colonialism--and was expelled for his efforts. But he persisted and earned his reputation as the foremost advocate of democracy in Korea.

George W. Bush campaigned on an agenda of five priority issues, each centered on principles of personal and economic freedom. As a matter of fact, his position on each of those issues reflects principles that The Heritage Foundation has promoted for several decades. Now that he is in office, Mr. Bush shows a resolute intention to stand on his principles.

Finally, both Kim Dae-jung and George W. Bush are men of consummate political skill. You are familiar with the political skills of Kim Dae-jung, so I needn't restate those here.

As you know, Mr. Bush won the election by the narrowest of margins, failing even to win a majority of the popular vote. He entered office under enormous expectations to compromise and form what would resemble a coalition government.

Within days of taking office, however, he met personally with every Democrat in Congress. And he took the unprecedented initiative of speaking in a closed session of Democrats. Mr. Bush astounded the opposition with his civility and respect.

In short, President Bush, like President Kim, has won broad respect for his political skills.

The policy problems these leaders face in Northeast Asia are extremely complex and vitally important to world peace. Careful, intelligent analysis is absolutely essential to solving those problems.

But analysis is not sufficient. The human factor, as I have called it, is equally essential. I believe it is cause for genuine optimism that the Republic of Korea and the United States should be favored, at this crucial juncture, with two leaders of such unusual persistence, principle, and skill.

It is an honor to be included on this occasion of commemorating the first three years of the presidency of a friend, a colleague, and a president of rare distinction. Thank you.

Edwin J. Feulner, Ph.D., is President of The Heritage Foundation. This lecture was delivered at the Kim Dae-jung Peace Foundation Conference in Seoul, Korea on February 22, 2001

About the Author

Edwin J. Feulner, Ph.D. Founder, Chairman of the Asian Studies Center, and Chung Ju-yung Fellow
Founder's Office