JoongAng Ilbo-CSIS Annual Forum, Seoul

Luncheon Address by H.E. Yun Byung-se

Minister of Foreign Affairs, Republic of Korea


JoongAng Ilbo-CSIS Annual Forum, Seoul

May 21, 2013



Chairman Hong Seok-hyun of JoongAng Ilbo,

President Hamre of CSIS, Senator Lugar,

Deputy Secretary Armitage,

Minister Kim Tae-young,

Ambassador Chun Young-woo,

Ladies and gentlemen,


First of all, let me thank the organizers of the third JoongAng Ilbo-CSIS Annual Forum for inviting me to join this prestigious gathering in which many of the most respected minds in Korea and the United States have come together to discuss the grave situation surrounding the Korean Peninsula.

Every year around this time, I watch with great interest what the Forum’s choice of topic would be, because it reflects one of the most relevant issues in the minds of policy makers and the general public in Korea and the US at the time.

This year’s topic, “Kim Jong-un’s gamble and the Crisis on the Korean Peninsula” is intriguing to me from two aspects.  First, ‘gamble’ by nature will likely leave the player to lose his or her stakes on the table.  Even if by chance one leaves the table with a small winning, it is only a matter of time before the winnings are spent, and the player is left penniless.

Second, if we are to define the current situation on the Korean Peninsula as ‘the Crisis’, then we should think about how the current situation is different from the past crises: whether it will proceed along the familiar cycle of rising confrontation followed by easing of the tension like the past, or along the path of prolonged confrontation, unlike the past.

If the former scenario has more to do with the North Korean leader’s take on the situation and his decision-making process, then the latter scenario has more to do with our response to the situation.  Perhaps, the organizers of this conference may have had in mind the situation in which the two scenarios interact negatively to amplify one another.

Ladies and gentlemen,

After more than a year since the inauguration of a new regime in North Korea, many wonder what is motivating North Korea’s campaign of provocative behavior.  After effectively throwing out the leap day agreement by launching long-range missile in April of last year, North Korea has engaged in a series of provocations. That includes launching of another long-range missile in December, carrying out of the third nuclear test in February this year, making nuclear threat against Seoul and renouncing Armistice Agreement in March, making threats against diplomats in Pyongyang and foreign residents in Seoul in April, and paralyzing Gaesung Industrial Complex.  These acts intensified the tension on the Korean Peninsula and proliferated the uncertainty around the world.

Basically, North Korea is taking cues from its old playbook that we all have seen before.  However, the pattern of their behavior since last December seems more diverse and its provocations are more frequent and intense in comparison to the past.  The recent series of provocations are particularly noteworthy from the following several aspects.

First, North Korea is substantiating its desire to be recognized as a nuclear weapon state.  In the aftermath of its third nuclear test, Central Committee of the North Korean Worker’s Party adopted the new guideline of “economic construction and nuclear arsenal expansion” during its plenary meeting held on March 31.  In addition, North Korea enacted a law that made the recognition as a nuclear weapon state a stated goal, while making daring statements indicating its first nuclear strike capability targeting Seoul and Washington.

Second, the military is no longer the only target of North Korea’s threat.  Now, North Korea’s threat is directed at even civilians including diplomats and foreign residents on the Korean Peninsula.  This kind of psychological warfare is something that we have not seen before.

Third, North Korea in its dangerous game, endangered Gaesung Industrial Complex, which has served as the symbol of inter-Korean economic cooperation over the past decade.  North Korea went about this through intentionally and gradually escalating the tension, beginning with the cutting off military communication line, denying the entry into the complex – both personnel and material, and most recently withdrawing North Korean workers.  In this process, Pyongyang refused Seoul’s multiple offers to negotiate a resolution to the problem of the Complex, which ironically was the source of much needed income for North Korea over the years.

Fourth, there is some concern among North Korea experts that the hard-line stance of the new regime in North Korea may last longer than expected, due to the internal situation within the regime.  As we can all agree, it is difficult to see through the internal situation of North Korea with any degree of accuracy, and the reality is that there can be varied analysis on the same observed situation.  For example, during one and a half year period since the death of Kim Jong-il, four different defense ministers came and gone, each lasting about six months in office. Some interpret this as a sign of Kim Jong-un’s solidification of power base through change of generation within the Army, while others interpret this as Kim Jong-un being swayed by complex internal power struggle within North Korea.

Nonetheless, analyses abound as to what North Korea seeks to gain from all this, so I will not attempt to add another version today.  However, what I would like to emphasize is that this futile attempt by North Korea is failing and will never succeed.  As can been seen from the ROK-US combined military exercise conducted over the past two months, our two countries are continuing to strengthen the combined deterrence capability of the alliance. As for North Korea, instead of consolidation within, the continuing difficulties are deteriorating the lives of the people of North Korea.  Internationally, the United Nations sanctions and responses from the major countries around the world have led to further isolation of North Korea.

Difficult as it may be to see a fundamental change in its policy toward North Korea, there are some indications that China is slowly evolving its thoughts and stance vis-à-vis North Korea.  It is a sign that North Korea’s erratic behavior is taking a toll on China as China tries to play a role in denuclearization of North Korea and maintain peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula. There is a growing recognition that the misadventure of North Korea is becoming a liability, instead of strategic asset.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Through her address to the US Congress during her recent visit, President Park Geun-hye clearly stated that North Korea’s simultaneous pursuit of “nuclear arsenal and economic development” is incompatible, and that North Korea “cannot have a cake and eat it, too.”

As we all remember, North Korea blew away the golden opportunity offered by the Obama administration back in 2009 with the launch of long range missile.  Three years later, North Korea again blew away the leap day agreement with the launch of long-range missiles.  Today, the new government in Korea seeks to usher in a new era on the Korean Peninsula.  How North Korea responds will decide its fate.  North Korea should not repeat the same old mistake it made.  Rather, it must make the strategic choice to take the path of change toward openness and prosperity.

The Park Geun-hye government is pursuing the trust building process on the Korean Peninsula to bring forth such change from North Korea by building trust between the two Koreas, in order to establish a sustainable peace and lay a ground work for peaceful unification on the Korean Peninsula.

For trust to materialize, each side must adhere to the promises made and the principles agreed while maintaining coherency.  Breach of promises must incur corresponding consequences. Seoul’s latest reaction to Gaesung Industrial Complex issue is a good case in point.

Please don’t make any mistake about the trust-building process.  This is neither an appeasement policy nor a collapse inducing policy. There are two major aspects to the trust-building process: safeguarding peace and making peace.  To safeguard peace, we will never allow a nuclear armed North Korea, and make sure that there is a corresponding price for North Korea’s provocations.  This must be done based on strong combined deterrence capacity.  To make peace, we will lead North Korea to make the right choice, while leaving open the door for a dialogue and cooperation.  When and if North Korea makes such a choice, we will assist North Korea along with the rest of the international community.

In her first summit meeting since the launch of her administration, President Park Geun-hye, together with President Obama, agreed “to bring North Korea in to compliance with its international obligations and promote peace and prosperity on the Korean Peninsula, including through the trust-building process.”

President Park will visit China in the near future to meet with the Chinese President Xi Jinping.  There, we expect another meaningful outcome to be produced regarding our bilateral cooperation, including the trust-building process.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Northeast Asia region today suffers from the so-called “Asia Paradox,” in which despite the increasing economic interdependence, the regional actors fail to cooperate in the political and security area due to historical issues, among others.

The Park Geun-hye government is pursuing the Northeast Asia peace and cooperation initiative, which seeks to begin accumulating small but significant interactions in soft cooperative security issues such as environment, disaster relief, nuclear power safety, counter-terrorism so that they turn into habits of cooperation.  Eventually these habits of cooperation can be nurtured into building of trust that will usher in an era of peaceful, cooperative, and responsible Northeast Asia.

Of course, North Korea can join our efforts.  A peaceful and cooperative Northeast Asia will help to settle a sustainable peace on the Korean Peninsula.  At the same time, a peaceful and stable Korean Peninsula will help to foster a peaceful and cooperative Northeast Asia.

This follows the several historical examples. We have seen in Germany where the issue between the two Germanys was interlinked with the greater European peace. In the Middle East, the issue between Israel and the Palestine was interlinked with the Middle East peace.

The trust-building process on the Korean Peninsula and the Northeast Asia peace and cooperation initiative could transform the structure of the region from that of mistrust and confrontation into trust and cooperation, so that an era of happiness will unfold on the Korean Peninsula and in Northeast Asia.

I think if we can gather everyone’s wisdom and lead North Korea toward the path of right choice, today’s crisis can become an opportunity for tomorrow’s peace.  In this regard, similar to the way ‘Cooperative Threat Reduction Program’ of distinguished Senator Lugar paved a way for many former Soviet states toward denuclearization, I hope to hear many creative ideas toward resolving the North Korean nuclear issue from all of you today.

I am looking forward to insightful analysis and new visions to be presented from today’s Forum.

Again, thank you for inviting me to join you today and for your attention.

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