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Antipodean Group Pushing Engagement Line

first_img Is Nuclear Peace with North Korea Possible? SHARE RELATED ARTICLESMORE FROM AUTHOR The recently released UN Commission of Inquiry (COI) reportinto North Korean human rights has reinforced the sense that addressing thesystemic abuses perpetrated by the regime in Pyongyang has never been a moreurgent task.   At the same time, hints of a fourth nuclear test amid aprotracted period of regional tension imply that the current status quo ofinternational sanctions and condemnation is unlikely to change for theforeseeable future. North Korea certainly appears to perplex the geopoliticalplayers of Northeast Asia. Even more so in South Korea, where advocates ofPresident Park Geun Hye’s principled stance and backers of variations ofengagement continue to publicly lock horns over the most effective way toinduce change in the North. Since March 1974, the NZ-DPRK society has taken a differentapproach, openly engaging and exchanging with the North via a number of small-scaleprojects. These range from a friendship school in Pyongyang to a cooperativestudy of migratory birds. Its leaders hope that awareness and understandingwill grow out of the process. As other organizations engaging the North Korean regime haveundoubtedly been asked, is any engagement good engagement? For some, the Westdoes not have a glowing record on human rights and should not comment onothers. For many, however, a relativistic approach falls spectacularly flat inthe face of damning evidence of extraordinary human rights abuses.For better or worse, as one of only a handful oforganizations on amicable terms with North, the organization possesses insightinto a society insufficiently understood by the outside world. Daily NK satdown with Chairman Don Borrie and Secretary Peter Wilson to hear their views onunification, the nuclear threat and building trust with the North.  Could you brieflyexplain the origins of the NZ-DPRK Society?Don Borrie (DB): I wanted to form a society after beinginvolved in the Peace Movement during the Vietnam War. I had come to realizeNew Zealanders knew nothing about Korea, just as they knew nothing about Vietnam.Shortly after I became the General Secretary of the Student Christian Movement,I was contacted out of the blue by the [South] Korean Students’ Association.  The Korean Student Christian Federation in Seoul were beingpersecuted by their government for supporting the traditional farmers when thegovernment was seeking to amalgamate farm ownership and squeeze the littlefarmers out. They were accused of being communist, subverting South Korea andsupporting the North Koreans. As I discovered later they had had next to nocontact with North Koreans, but were nevertheless accused of beingcollaborators and were put in prison. We then developed support actions ontheir behalf from here in New Zealand.  During my time as secretary I formed a relationship withGerman economist Wolf Rosenberg to collaborate and form a friendship society justas socialist countries used to do as part of their foreign policy outreach.  We formed the society with the idea that itwasn’t going to be mass movement, but would be made up of volunteers who wouldconcentrate on the DPRK, as we felt the DPRK voice was not being heard. New Zealand in the 1970s saw deep-seated intellectualbattles in the world of the left between the Maoists and the Trotskyites. TheNorth Koreans, however, claimed to be an ally of both and sought to walk amiddle path.  We accepted this as we weredetermined to portray a position true to the DPRK.  In doing so we walked a tightrope between thetwo planks of international socialism, while at the same time appreciating the traditionsof the ancient Korean civilization. We have not been overly influenced by the [NorthKorean] administration. But I think that we have been not as critical of them asmany in the West who are instinctively hostile.              So the society’s foundingphilosophy was one very much embedded in the politics of the time?DB: When we founded the society America was still engaged inVietnam, which led to their defeat. They have since been working to reasserttheir control. But from the DPRK’s point of view they had never wanted to breakwith the Americans in any fundamental way until they had to cope with theiraggression that culminated in the Korean War. There were more casualties per capita in that war than in World War II.The DPRK have been mixed in their attitude toward the Americans ever since. Is the North Koreangovernment open to anyone who shows an interest?DB: To my surprise they have been open to right-wingAmericans. For example, in the mid-1990s I took a group of Polynesian dancersto the April Festival in Pyongyang and Billy Graham was also there with a groupof musicians. They used to welcome most outsiders who expressed aninterest in their society.  They havesince learned that people come into the country with a variety of motivations,ranging from hostility to genuine interest in them as a people. Journalistshave borne the brunt of this, and are now seen as untrustworthy.  While they are not adverse to journalists,they’re certainly very reluctant.   How do you reconcileyour approach with the known atrocities carried out by the regime?DB: International relationships are multifaceted and I don’tthink New Zealanders can take a position of being “pure.” For instance, NewZealand rates with the America in having one of the highest incarceration ratesof indigenous peoples in the world. We are conducting our own racist policies.However, it’s true that DPRK doesn’t have our libertarian traditions and there areelements in both North and South Korea that are, in my view, quite cruel to peoplewho don’t toe the line.Peter Wilson (PW): Prison camp numbers have actually beendropping since the early 1990s. While these things exist, we have to rememberthat China has announced it will be closing its last work camp by the end ofthe year. This would not be the case if Nixon and Kissinger had never gone toChina, and the rest of the world kept them isolated. Just criticizing a countrydoes nothing to help the situation. There will be change if you bring them intothe fold, create dialogue and establish trading relationships, which issomething the North wants. You’re suggesting thefull removal of sanctions?PW: Yes. They shouldn’t be there in the first place.DB: Sanctions are the first staging post of a war, and weare still at war with the DPRK. We have not taken the initiative to change theArmistice Agreement to a Peace Treaty, and we have politicized our developmentpolicy in relation to the DPRK. It’s gone from a humanitarian tool to a weapondesigned to destabilize the regime. The economic sanctions have to go. We need to allow theKoreans to benefit from what we can offer but at the same time we have to beprepared to become an honest nation that admits our own faults, weaknesses andfears.  It is not for us to assume thatour form of society is the world’s best. There is no society which is theworld’s best. If we find a way to communicate and exchange our ideas, skillsand talents, we can live in peace.Assuming thesanctions stay, how can the international community best serve the North Koreanpeople?DB: We must get off their backs. We’ve got to change [NewZealand’s] policy from being one dominated by the United States, which ischaracterized by the lynchpin of fear.  TheAmericans are motivated by fear – fear of the enemy. The enemy is assumed to bethe people that America doesn’t agree with. We must wake up to the reality thatthere are other civilizations that we must live with, and learn to appreciatethem. We must also be rid of the pervasive propaganda with respect to ourenemies and open up our relationships to establish friendship and trust.How have you managedto build trust with the North?DB: I think that our small group has forged significantrelationships with the North Koreans and I think they really appreciate ourstickabiltiy. I’ve spent most of my adult life working on this question, and ina sense have come to be recognized as someone who is prepared to standalongside people who are strange and not walk away.  PW: There is currently a level of trust at the civil societylevel, but not at the governmental level as the New Zealand government at leastis perceived to be too close to Washington. They are not seen as taking anindependent line.  Do you get any senseof how the North Koreans perceive the Park Geun Hye administration?DB: It seems the relationship between North and South variesfrom verbal denunciations of the other in very lurid terms, to periodicexchanges of military might. But underneath all this I think there are avariety of conversations going on that we are not party to.PW: We get little glimpses of this. We hear the Ministry ofUnification saying, “If our cousins to the North are prepared to do X then wewould be prepared to do it.” These are symbolic things, like hiking and cyclingtours. You could say this is separate from politics but it’s all part of thebigger picture. The oceans are made up of many little drops. How did you rate thesunshine policy?DB: I was skeptical initially but I did feel a window hadbeen opened at the presidential level. That the DPRK leadership was open todialogue was a revelation to the skeptical West. It is a tragedy that themomentum generated on that dialogue was cut short. I put this down to theAmericans who became perturbed over the possibility of a Korean rapprochement thatwasn’t conducted by them. The Americans in my view are using South Korea – notfor the sake of the South Koreans but for the sake of themselves.How do you respond to those in the South that embrace the U.S. military presence?DB: We can see that aspects of the South Korean culture havebeen mesmerized by the West, and there has been an uncritical acceptance of theconcept of the accumulation of wealth as a central feature of development. Oneof the deepest anxieties of the North and one of their motivations for hangingon to their own values and systems is the danger that westernization will leadto a loss of “Koreanness.”  They areproud of their identity and history. However, their homogeneity probably has to adapt to therealities of global diversity. When a North Korean delegation visited NewZealand in 2012 they were surprised and troubled by our cultural diversity, andwere in disbelief that we could live together. Their attitude is that Korea isfor Koreans. It’s almost a feeling of anxiety and anger that their cousins inthe South have become so enmeshed in the ways of the West. I don’t think,however, that the West doesn’t have anything to offer. South Korea should adopta more independent policy and pursue economic and political social contactswith their neighbors. What form ofunification do you support?DB: Kim Il Sung talked of unification happening in stages,which is probably realistic. He talked of the returning to the common identity,and a reunification of the two nations under the state of Koryo. He acceptedthere were fundamental differences in the two Koreas’ economic systems and hedidn’t believe change could be forced. The development of a relevant Koreansystem of economic activity was always going to take a generation or two, butit’s supposed to be gradual. In a deeper sense it’s about the coming togetherof the two societies. But at the same time not destroying the integrity thatthe [North] had fought for in standing up to the Americans. PW: Unification is really something for the Korean people todecide. It can’t happen while there is still an Armistice Agreement in place ofa peace mechanism. The agreement was foisted on the peninsula by external actors.Thus we could argue that it’s really the international community’s responsibilityto work to end this state of war – whether that is through a peace treaty or apeace mechanism or something else. Then the decision to unify should be left tothe Koreans themselves. What has stopped aPeace Treaty going forward?PW: Apathy, and that others are scared of the United States.Nobody is prepared to stand up to them as they are beholden to things liketrade. The Americans want to keep their troops in Asia, close to China. Thecurrent situation is one of benign neglect. Obama talks of “strategic patience”but that’s just ignoring the problem. What’s your take onthe North Korean nuclear issue?DB: [New Zealand] is currently following a dangerous line inallowing its policy to be formed alongside the United States vis-a-vis theDPRK, because the DPRK are now in a position where they face being eliminatedby nuclear weapons. We must remove this fear. They are convinced they have toplay the US at their own game, that they are only a little power, and that theycan only take symbolic action. Thus they have elected to engage in nuclearthreats. I’m deeply disturbed by this but I can see it from their point ofview; if they hadn’t developed some way to retaliate then they could have gonethe way of Iraq.PW: Last year there were reports in the Chinese and SouthKorean media that North Korea had diverted more than 250,000 of their militaryinto building infrastructure. When I was there in July I asked a senior DPRK officialabout this and he said, “Yes, now that we have a basic nuclear deterrent, wecan afford to relax a bit and put our labor to more constructive uses.” What next for thesociety?PW: We will continue to engage in low-key contacts.  This leads to better understanding on allsides which is what we are really all about. DB: We are engaged in a variety of things to bring together smallgroups of New Zealand society with small groups of Korean society. In this waywe can develop friendships and build trust with each other. Antipodean Group Pushing Engagement Line Tracking the “unidentified yellow substance” being dried out near the Yongbyon Nuclear Center Analysis & Opinion AvatarDaily NKQuestions or comments about this article? Contact us at [email protected] center_img Analysis & Opinion Analysis & Opinion Analysis & Opinion By Daily NK – 2014.05.06 7:50am Facebook Twitter Pence Cartoon: “KOR-US Karaoke”last_img read more