Cablegate: Seoul - Press Bulletin; October 21, 2009
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SUBJECT: SEOUL - PRESS BULLETIN; October 21, 2009
ROKG Seeks to Transform Foreign Language High Schools
into International High Schools
Principal's Passion Leads "Bottom-tier" High School to Make
Significant Improvement in College Entrance Tests
Dong-a Ilbo, Hankyoreh Shinmun, Segye Ilbo,
Seoul Shinmun, All TVs
ROKG Denies Legitimate Status of Civil Servant Union
Global Currency War; U.S. Federal Reserve Chairman Bernanke
Indirectly Pressures ROK for Currency Appreciation
Defense Secretary Robert Gates, on his way to Japan yesterday, said
that he is sure that Seoul and Washington will meet the April 2012
deadline for the transfer of wartime operational control from the
U.S. and the ROK. He also said that (the U.S.) will continue to
pursue missile defense partnerships with the ROK and Japan to brace
for missile provocations from North Korea. (All)
Kim Yang-gon, North Korea's point man on the ROK as Director of the
United Front Department at the North's Workers' Party, stayed in
Beijing for six days before returning home yesterday. There is
speculation about possible s-e-c-r-e-t contact between him and an
ROK official, despite the Blue House's denial. (All)
U.S. Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke warned on Oct. 19 that
pursuit of export-led growth by Asian nations, including the ROK and
China, could lead to a reemergence of global trade imbalances and
undercut efforts to achieve more durable growth. (All)
This remark can be seen as U.S. pressure on Asian exporters,
including the ROK, to appreciate their currencies against the
dollar. (Hankook, Hankyoreh)
Most newspapers noted Oct. 19 press remarks by State Department
Spokesman Ian Kelly, in which he said: "There will be American
officials at this meeting (the Northeast Asia Cooperative Dialogue
(NEACD)) in San Diego." They noted Ri Gun, Director General of
American Affairs at North Korea's Foreign Ministry, will also attend
the Oct. 26-27 meeting, and raised the possibility of an unofficial
one-on-one contact between the two countries.
Right-of-center JoongAng Ilbo, in particular, commented from
Washington that diplomatic sources in Washington are closely looking
at the possibility that Sung Kim, U.S. Special Envoy for the
Six-Party Talks, may meet with Ri Gun to make arrangements for
bilateral negotiations, including a visit to Pyongyang by Special
Representative for North Korea Policy Stephen Bosworth.
-Aid for Afghanistan
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In response to Pentagon Spokesman Geoff Morrell's Oct. 18 remarks
asking for economic aid to Afghanistan, conservative ROK newspapers
urged Seoul to expand aid to the war-torn country in line with its
status as the world's 11th largest economy.
Chosun Ilbo editorialized: "From 2003 - when the Afghan war broke
out - until now, the ROK has sent some $130 million to Afghanistan,
which accounts for nearly 0.2 percent of the entire amount
contributed by other countries. ... Given our special relationship
with the U.S., this level of aid can be called stingy."
Dong-a Ilbo editorial stated: "Aid to Afghanistan, of course,
entails danger. After the ROK's medical unit was dispatched to
Afghanistan, one ROK soldier was killed in a terrorist attack, and
23 ROK civilians were kidnapped by the Taliban, two of them slain.
... If we contribute to world peace and stability, the
international community will also join the efforts to establish
peace on the Korean Peninsula. Assistance to Afghanistan has a
positive impact on the ROK-U.S. alliance. The ROK needs to come up
with specific ways to provide aid to Afghanistan before U.S.
President Barack Obama visits Seoul next month."
JoongAng Ilbo filed a similar editorial entitled "Need to Consider
Expanding Financial Aid to Afghanistan in a Forward-looking Manner"
S. KOREA'S PAINFUL DILEMMA
(Chosun Ilbo, October 21, 2009, page 38)
By Editorial writer Yang Sang-hoon
No breakthrough seems likely in the North Korean nuclear issue now
that China has made it clear that it will not risk endangering the
North Korean system for the sake of denuclearization, making it
improbable that the international community will be able to pressure
Pyongyang into giving up its nuclear weapons program.
President Lee Myung-bak's idea of a "grand bargain" and U.S.
President Barack Obama's "comprehensive package" will make little
difference. But the North must be persuaded to denuclearize, not as
a surrender but as a big compromise that will fundamentally change
the situation on the Korean Peninsula. It is naive to expect the
North to give up its nuclear arms, which it considers a matter of
life and death, in return for economic aid. In the course reaching a
compromise, Seoul has to confront very difficult but unavoidable
political and military problems.
North Korean leader Kim Jong-il told Chinese premier Wen Jiabao that
one condition for his return to Six-Party Talks is an end to
"hostile" policies from the U.S. The official Rodong Shinmun daily
said that includes converting the armistice agreement into a peace
treaty. That would be "one of the most rational and practical
means" of achieving a denuclearized peninsula, it added.
But this also calls for an end to the U.S.-ROK alliance and
withdrawal of the U.S. Forces Korea. The North reportedly proposed
a "bold deal" to former American officials and North Korea
specialists who visited Pyongyang in January and February. The
North would abandon its nuclear weapons program if the U.S. removes
the nuclear umbrella it provides for the ROK and puts an end to the
Foreign Minister Yoo Myung-hwan told a Korea Chamber of Commerce and
Industry gathering on Sept. 18 that the North's nuclear weapons
target the ROK, and that the North wants a Washington-Pyongyang
peace agreement and a withdrawal of the U.S. Forces Korea.
The government says this is just a mere excuse for North Korea not
to abandon its nuclear program. But there is no guarantee that the
U.S. will accept a nuclear-armed North Korea for the sake of keeping
forces in the ROK.
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The U.S. government has said nothing specific. Whatever official
stance Washington takes, it will undoubtedly weigh which of the two,
eliminating the North Korean nuclear threat or keeping forces in the
ROK, matters more. If the U.S. judges that it can prevent a war on
the Korean Peninsula without troops in the ROK, then the withdrawal
of the USFK could emerge as a real option.
Given that the priority in the U.S. military strategy is gradually
shifting to the Navy and Air Force, and that the U.S. maintains
military bases in Japan and Guam, the case for keeping the USFK may
well weaken. Robert Carlin, a former East Asia expert at the State
Department, recently said the nuclear issue cannot be resolved
through "mutual hostility."
China and Russia may not unconditionally welcome a withdrawal of the
USFK but will eventually find it preferable to their continued
presence. Japan may also opt for a withdrawal of the USFK over a
nuclear-armed North Korea.
From the ROK's perspective, preventing a war is more important to
the national interest than eliminating North Korea's nuclear
weapons. It is natural that there is no discussion here about the
link between the North's nuclear weapons and the USFK. But that
will remain a weakness in negotiations with the North.
The withdrawal of the USFK would spark fears of a war, but
reunification becomes impossible unless the North gives up its
nuclear weapons. This is a dilemma the ROK must confront.
Negotiations on a permanent peace treaty for the Korean Peninsula
are stipulated in the Sept. 19, 2005 statement of principles and the
Feb. 13, 2007 agreement adopted in the Six-Party Talks. It is a
high time to start mulling a long-term strategy with reunification
in mind and prepare to confront the painful reality.
(This is a translation provided by the newspaper, and it is
identical to the Korean version.)
"2012" PROJECT FOR WARTIME COMMAND SHIFT SHOULD BE PUT IN MOTION
(Dong-a Ilbo, October 21, 2009, Page 39; Excerpts)
By Kim Sung-han, professor of international politics at Korea
University Graduate School of International Studies
Regarding the transfer of wartime operational control of ROK troops
from the U.S. to the ROK, Seoul has three options. The first one is
to revisit the issue as soon as possible and maintain the ROK-U.S.
Combined Forces Command (CFC) on the grounds that economic
conditions are not ripe for the wartime command shift as well as the
fact that other circumstances, including the North Korean nuclear
issue, do not make the transfer appropriate. The second option is
to make every effort to be capable of taking back the wartime
operational control as scheduled, but not to directly link the issue
with the North Korean nuclear standoff. The third option is for the
ROK to achieve capability of taking over wartime operational control
and making every effort to resolve the North Korean nuclear issue by
2012. However, if the ROK is not able to do this or (certain)
conditions are not met, the timetable for transfer of wartime
command should be changed.
If the ROK chooses the first option, it can frankly admit that there
is a remote possibility that the ROK's capability and other
conditions may be ripe for the OPCON transfer, but it could give the
U.S. leverage in negotiations, thereby leading Washington to demand
rewards for maintaining the CFC. If the ROK and the U.S. waste
their time and energy in another tug of war over wartime command
shift, coupled with other issues like troop dispatches to
Afghanistan, missile defense, and the USFK realignment, it could
undermine trust between the two nations, which have been restored
with difficulty. If the ROK chooses the second option, then the
U.S. would not be provided with unnecessary leverage. However, if
the OPCON transfer comes when the North Korean nuclear issue is
aggravated despite the ROK's defense budget increase, it could send
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a wrong message to North Korea. A call for the ROK's nuclear
possession would also grow louder.
The third option can be called the "2012 Project." This is totally
worth trying because its result depends on how to manage the
project. If we revise the "Defense Reform 2020" plan from a mid-
and long-term perspective to enhance its efficiency, we could be
capable of the OPCON transfer in 2012 without any drastic defense
budget increase. The North Korean nuclear issue can also be
resolved if the ROKG abandons its passive mindset of "As long as the
Kim Jong-il regime is in place, it is difficult to resolve the
nuclear issue" and takes an active role in leading its inter-Korean
and foreign relations by presenting a blueprint of dialogue and
pressure. Despite our efforts, if the ROK and the U.S. judge six
months ahead of the scheduled date for the OPCON transfer that the
ROK's capability and the political conditions on the Korean
Peninsula are not appropriate, they can change the date based on
KOREA SHOULD GIVE MORE SUPPORT FOR AFGHANISTAN
(Chosun Ilbo, October 21, 2009, page 39)
U.S. Defense Department spokesman Geoff Morrell on Sunday said all
countries that wish for the peace and prosperity and economic growth
of the world have an "obligation" to support Afghanistan. Another
U.S. government official said it would be better for the ROK, which
has provided medical support for Afghanistan until now, to make
contributions to other sectors as well, adding that the quicker the
ROK decides and the bigger its support, the better.
When he visited the ROK in April, Richard Holbrooke, U.S. Special
Envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan in the Barack Obama
Administration, mentioned the need for additional support from
Seoul. But he was not as frank in expressing the scale of support
However, it is clear that Washington has changed its stance of
leaving it up to Seoul to decide whether to expand its support for
Afghanistan and wants an answer. The situation in Afghanistan has
become more pressing. There are around 68,000 American soldiers
there and another 40,000 troops from some 40 other countries. The
number of soldiers either killed or wounded in Afghanistan is rising
rapidly as the Taliban resistance intensifies.
The top U.S. military commander in Afghanistan has asked for more
troops, saying it would be difficult to achieve his mission without
a massive increase. The situation in Afghanistan has grown worse
after the presidential election on Aug. 20 was overturned due to
allegations of vote rigging. As a result, a growing number of
countries which have dispatched troops to Afghanistan are planning
to pull out.
In the summer of 2007, a group of Korean missionaries were abducted
in Afghanistan, leading to the withdrawal of Korean medical and
engineering troops. Seoul has not dispatched any troops to
Afghanistan since then, and the U.S. government has refrained from
asking it to deploy troops there, mindful of the shock the country
suffered due to the abductions. Most Koreans are still opposed to
the deployment of troops to Afghanistan.
But things are different when it comes to offering non-military
support. At a meeting in Paris in June of donor countries, the
government pledged US$33 million until 2011. The U.K. pledged $1.2
billion, Germany $640 million and Japan $550 million. From 2003 -
when the Afghan war broke out - until now, the ROK has sent some
$130 million to Afghanistan, which accounts for nearly 0.2 percent
of the entire amount contributed by other countries. There are
around 28,000 U.S. troops in Korea, making it home to the
third-largest overseas contingent of American soldiers following
Germany with some 58,000 and Japan with around 33,000. And the U.S.
troops in Germany and Japan are not there solely to defend those
countries against foreign aggression, but over the last 60 years,
U.S. troops in the ROK have served as the primary deterrent against
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a possible attack from North Korea.
Given our special relationship with the U.S., this level of aid can
be called stingy. (The ROK) needs to boost its contribution to
Afghanistan in light of its participation in the international war
on terrorism. But the U.S. government must first present a
blueprint for how it intends to resolve the problems there.
(This is a translation provided by the newspaper, and it is
identical to the Korean version.)
ROK SHOULD CONTRIBUTE TO AFGHAN PEACE
(Dong-a Ilbo, October 21, 2009, Page 39)
Today marks eight years and 14 days since the war in Afghanistan
broke out. Despite the 21st century's pursuit for co-prosperity and
peace, the war in Afghanistan has lasted a great deal longer than
the war in Iraq, which lasted for six years and six months, and the
Second World War, which continued for six years and two days. In
this global era, the war in Afghanistan is a task which the all of
humanity should work together to solve. As a member of the G20 and
the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) and
as the world's tenth largest economy, the ROK should extend a
helping hand to establish peace in Afghanistan. A total of 42
nations, including the U.S., have sent troops to Afghanistan to
fight against the Taliban. In this global era, in which a country's
national status is dependent on that nation's contribution to and
role in the international community, we cannot simply sit back and
watch the war.
The Military Committee Meeting (MCM) and Security Consultative
Meeting (SCM) between the ROK and the U.S. will be held in Seoul on
October 21 and 22. Pentagon officials hinted that defense officials
on both sides will discuss the Afghan issue, saying, "When it comes
to the ROK's aid to Afghanistan, the quicker and bigger, the
better." Instead of accepting Washington's request in a passive
manner, the ROK should actively make a voluntary contribution to
world peace that befits its national power.
In May, the ROKG pledged to build a hospital at Bagram Air Base,
increase its staff in the Provincial Reconstruction Teams, and
expand economic aid to the war-torn nation. Still, the ROK's share
is only 0.13 percent of all foreign aid promised to Afghanistan.
Even if we fulfill all our promises by next year, the accumulated
amount of aid would not exceed $100 million. This pales in
comparison to Japan's $2 billion in aid. If it is difficult to
greatly expand economic aid, the ROK needs to increase the scale of
existing aid projects, such as the provision of equipment and
educational or vocational trainings for medical staff, police, and
civilians. It could also consider sending security guards to
Afghanistan to protect Koreans there.
Aid to Afghanistan, of course, entails danger. After the ROK's
medical unit was dispatched to Afghanistan, one ROK soldier was
killed in a terrorist attack, and 23 ROK civilians were kidnapped by
the Taliban, two of them slain. However, if we only try to avoid
the Afghan issue, we cannot gain a say in the international
community. Afghanistan is in desperate need of outside help, as we
were during the Korean War. Providing aid to Afghanistan is also a
way for us to repay the debt we owe to the international community.
If we contribute to world peace and stability, the international
community will also join the efforts to establish peace on the
Korean Peninsula. Assistance to Afghanistan has a positive impact
on the ROK-U.S. alliance. The ROK needs to come up with specific
ways to provide aid to Afghanistan before U.S. President Barack
Obama visits Seoul next month.
CRACKS IN ROK-U.S. COOPERATION AHEAD OF FULL-SCALE NEGOTIATIONS ON
N. KOREA'S NUCLEAR PROGRAM
(JoongAng Ilbo, October 21, 2009, page 46)
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The ROK and the U.S. have been out of step over their "nuclear
diplomacy with North Korea." Last week, the U.S. Department of
Defense said that North Korea proposed an inter-Korean summit to the
ROKG. The ROKG expressed surprise, saying that it had informed the
U.S. government that the proposal was meaningless and the U.S.
government seems to have misunderstood Seoul's position. Later,
this controversy was tamped down when the White House spokesman said
there was miscommunication within the U.S. government.
During a visit to the U.S. to attend the UN General Assembly last
month, President Lee Myung-bak announced a "grand bargain" to
resolve the North Korean nuclear issue. U.S. government officials
were lackadaisical over the ROKG's ambitious proposal, saying they
were not aware of or not briefed on the proposal. The ROKG tried to
put an end to the controversy, saying that it had explained the
grand bargain to the U.S. government and there seemed to be
miscommunication within the U.S. government. A few days later,
President Lee said, "So what if Mr. So-and-so says he is not aware
of it." (As a result,) the Mr. So-and-so, Kurt Campbell, the U.S.
Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs,
skipped the ROK on his Asian tour. The ROK and the U.S., which have
stressed tight cooperation on the North Korean nuclear issue, seemed
to be out of synch, setting off rumors that ROK-U.S. relations are
Since the North Korean nuclear issue erupted 20 years ago, the ROK
and U.S. governments have underscored the importance of their close
cooperation. However, their words have not always been true in
reality. Shortly after the first nuclear crisis in the mid 1990s,
then-President Kim Young-sam argued with President Bill Clinton over
whether their approach to the North Korean nuclear issue should be
called a "package settlement" or a "comprehensive settlement."
President Kim Dae-jung had conflicts with President George W. Bush
over differences in their basic position on North Korea. President
Roh Moo-hyun was also at odds with the U.S. administration. Over
the course of this time period, North Korea (worked toward and then
finally) staged a nuclear test.
In the wake of North Korea's second nuclear test, the ROK and U.S.
governments noticeably improved their bilateral coordination.
President Obama has put a top priority on nuclear proliferation
prevention and foreign policies and President Lee has taken a hard
line on the North Korean nuclear issue. Both governments have
emphasized their strong coordination. In fact, close cooperation
between the ROK and the U.S. played a considerable role when UN
Security Council resolution was adopted. Both countries also showed
strong cooperation when there were discussions on holding five-party
talks excluding North Korea. We are concerned, however, that at a
crucial moment when U.S.-North Korea talks are imminent, ROK-U.S.
cooperation is suffering a setback.
The ROK and the U.S. took swift steps to remove discord. But what
matters is that both countries need to check thoroughly whether the
recent spate of controversies resulted from poor coordination and
lack of trust in each other. North Korea would try to capitalize on
any cracks in ROK-U.S. cooperation. This would jeopardize the
negotiation process on the North Korean nuclear issue. The ROK and
the U.S. should not play down the current discord but step up
efforts to bolster bilateral coordination.
CONSIDERATION OF EXPANDING FINANCIAL AID TO AFGHANISTAN IN A
(JoongAng Ilbo, October 21, 2009, page 46: Excerpts)
The U.S. (recently) expressed hope for the ROK to provide financial
aid to Afghanistan when U.S. Pentagon Spokesman Geoff Morrell said
to reporters, "Any country that finds it difficult to give military
support is asked to give financial aid." This remark signals that
the U.S. is seeking to secure further financial assistance from the
ROK, judging that it would be difficult for the ROK to send troops.
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The top U.S. military commander in Afghanistan is demanding that
additional troops be deployed. However, President Obama has not
made a decision on the issue. With a Vietnam War-like nightmare
looming, an increasing number of Americans are calling for the
withdrawal of troops. It seems that the Obama Administration has
not devised its Afghan strategy clearly. Therefore, in this
situation, it would be difficult for the U.S. to request its allies
to send troops.
Troop deployment to Afghanistan is a "hot potato" issue. But we
should fulfill our commitment as an ally and a responsible member of
the international community in order to shoulder the burden. It
would have been difficult for the U.S. to ask for a military
contribution. However, the U.S.'s request for a financial
contribution seems to assuage any burden for the ROKG.
The ROKG needs to expand financial aid to Afghanistan in line with
its international status even if it holds off considering troop
deployment for now.