Cablegate: Busan Not As Far From North Korea As You May Think


DE RUEHUL #0496/01 0730408
O 130408Z MAR 08




E.O. 12958: N/A

1. (U) This message is from the American Presence Post (APP) in
Busan, Korea.

2. (U) SUMMARY: Despite an apparent lack of attention to North
Korean issues, the port city of Busan is home to several key players
in the expansive realm of North Korean issues. While Busan is home
to one of the leading academic commentators on North Korea, there
are few academic programs available to students here. The NGO group
that started the medical clinic in the Kaesong Industrial Complex
was founded in Busan and originally staffed exclusively by volunteer
doctors from the founding city. A candidate for the National
Assembly in Busan received national media attention as he based his
platform on human rights in North Korea and greater efforts to
secure the release of abductees being held in the North. However,
the print media in Busan lacks credibility and insight into North
Korea leaving interested citizens looking to Seoul periodicals as
their primary source of information on the topic. END SUMMARY.


3. (U) Secondary education in Busan remains a vibrant industry that
continues to grow to meet the demand of Busan residents. There are
12 four-year universities in the city, one of which, Pusan National
University, was formerly regarded as the top university in the
country. Despite the thriving academic community in Busan, no
school has a North Korean studies department. (It is worth noting
that there are only a few of these programs even in Seoul. The top
North Korea program is at Kyungnam University whose main campus is
in the southeastern province with the same name, but the school of
North Korean studies is actually located in Seoul.)

4. (U) There are a handful of professors in Busan that consider
themselves North Korean experts. The leading North Korean professor
in Busan is actually an American, Brian Myers, who made a name for
himself as an expert on North Korean propaganda. Myers taught for
several years at Korea University, one of the top three in Korea,
but made the move to Dongseo University where he had the opportunity
to be a dean at the International Studies department, a position
that he says would never be offered to a foreign professor in Seoul.

5. (U) Myers told us that he finds it challenging to maintain his
"edge" as a North Korean expert while being separated from the
mainstream of this issue that remains in Seoul. Myers has to travel
back to Seoul several times per month where he pores over KCNA (the
DPRK's official media outlet) articles and other North Korean
periodicals that are collected by the Ministry of Unification's
Information Center on North Korea in Seoul. In addition to the lack
of research facilities related to North Korea, Myers said that all
of the symposiums and conferences are held in Seoul which also
limits Busan's students and professors who may be interested in
North Korean issues. For now, Myers said it was very unlikely that
any of the schools in Busan would find a reason to launch a North
Korea program and most schools will be satisfied to offer a handful
of North Korea-related classes.


6. (U) For those in Busan who choose to donate their time and
talents to help North Koreans, proximity to the DMZ or to Pyongyang
is not a driving factor. Green Doctor is an NGO that an eye doctor
in Busan named Cheong Gun started. Dr. Cheong, like many who are
eager to assist North Korean residents, is motivated by his religion
and his desire to help those in need. Cheong began to make a
significant impact in North Korea when he opened a medical clinic
inside the Kaesong Industrial Complex in 2006. The clinic is small
by any standard, only measuring 360 square meters. There are three
full-time South Korean doctors stationed at the clinic, each
specializing in a different area. The clinic is open to any of the
North Korean workers employed at the KIC and is considered better
than most medical care facilities available elsewhere in North
Korea. To date, the clinic has treated over 60,000 workers in its
short period of operation. Dr. Cheong said it was tough going at
the outset because the North Koreans were suspicious about the group
due to its English name and suspected ties to the U.S. The turning
point came when the Vice Mayor of Kaesong was overcome by fumes and
was rushed to the clinic to receive oxygen treatment, not available
anywhere else in Kaesong. The Vice Mayor was cared for and the
clinic had proved its value to the DPRK leadership.

7. (U) In addition to originally providing all of the volunteer
doctors to staff the KIC clinic, Busan is also responsible for a
sizable portion of the financial contributions needed to fund the
clinic and other efforts in North Korea. Dr. Cheong estimated that
80 percent of the funding for his group came directly from Busan
residents. (Note: The Ministry of Unification also contributes USD
40,000 per year to the Green Doctor organization in support of the
clinic. End Note). Cheong said that he has received USD 3 million
in pharmaceutical donations from local drug companies. Green Doctor
relies heavily on financial donations from Christian churches and
Buddhist temples but also receives smaller amounts from private
citizens. For his next effort, Cheong plans to open a 150-bed
hospital in Kaesong City where he could serve common citizens in
addition to KIC workers. To make this dream a reality, Dr. Cheong
will once again look to the people of Busan for support. He is
confident they will respond.


8. (U) As surprising at it may sound, one Busan native started a
run at a National Assembly seat primarily on a North Korea platform.
Do Hee-yoon is the president of the Citizen's Coalition for Human
Rights of Abductees and North Korean Refugees, or CHNK for short.
CHNK is a loose coalition of 25 groups, most of which have a
religious orientation. Do grew up in Busan in the relatively
undeveloped and poor Kangseo district. In the run up to the April 9
parliamentary elections, Do said the GNP asked him to prepare to run
for the seat in his district if the incumbent, Chung Hyung-keun, was
not able to run. In the end, it was decided that Chung would be the
GNP candidate in the district but not before Do had launched his
campaign and made news as a "North-Korean activist" who was running
for office.

9. (U) Do explained that his platform was based around the need for
the National Assembly to do more to secure the release of abducted
South Koreans who are being held in North Korea. The majority of
abductees that the South claims are being held by the North are
fishermen who were captured after wandering into DPRK waters. Do
claims that about one third of these abductees are from Busan
thereby making this issue important to the people here.

10. (U) Another connection between Do's district and North Korea is
the increasing number of North Korean defectors who are being
resettled there. Mostly due to the large number of inexpensive
apartments in the district, Do said that approximately half of the
600 defectors who live in Busan reside in his district. Although
there are a host of services available to defectors living in the
Seoul vicinity, Do lamented that there is less support in Busan and
he hopes to change that if he is able to one day claim a seat in the
National Assembly.


11. (U) If you were to only look at the print media in Busan as an
indicator of interest in North Korean affairs, you might draw the
conclusion that Busan is more than 392 miles away from Pyongyang.
Busan Ilbo's International News Editor, Lim Sung-won, told us that
North Korean issues are just as relevant and applicable to the
residents of Busan as they are to the residents of Seoul. Lim's
claim is upheld when you compare the North Korean editorials
appearing in the Busan Ilbo to those in the Chosun Ilbo, the leading
daily in Seoul. Although the frequency of North Korean editorials
is generally the same in the two papers, Busan Ilbo focuses on
specific events while the Chosun focuses more on overall policy
debate. It is clear in talking with ordinary citizens in Busan that
the Busan Ilbo is not considered as a serious source for North
Korean news. For those who are interested in more than local
issues, many choose to subscribe to one of the larger papers based
in Seoul such as the Chosun Ilbo or the Joong-Ang Ilbo.


12. (U) There are almost an endless number of facets to North
Korean issues. Ranging from human rights to nuclear proliferation
to concern for fellow Korean "brothers", every South Korean who is
interested can find a North Korean issue to take to heart. It is
not surprising to find several groups and individuals who are making
significant contributions to better understanding of North Korea in
Busan, South Korea's second largest city. That said, the North
Korea policy brain trust is not likely to ever shift into the
outlying areas as the flow of students and professors continues
toward Seoul. The people of Busan appear to be content with
providing in-kind service and financial contributions while leaving
the heavy academic lifting to Seoul.

© Scoop Media

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