Cablegate: Seoul - Press Bulletin; February 1, 2010
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UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 06 SEOUL 000141
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TAGS: PREL PGOV MARR ECON KPAO KS US
SUBJECT: SEOUL - PRESS BULLETIN; FEBRUARY 1, 2010
No Progress Made on Inter-Korean Summit
during Last Year's S-e-c-r-e-t Contacts between Two Koreas
Phone Conversations of 35,000 Police Officers in Seoul to be
Searched as Part of Efforts to Fight Corruption in Public Sector
ROK's National Standing Undermined
by Social Conflict and Politics
There are Already Signs of Money and Mudslinging,
with 120 Days Still to Go before Local Elections
Hankyoreh Shinmun, All TVs
China Suspends Military Exchanges with U.S.
over Taiwan Arms Sales
Survey: 54 Percent of Residents in Chungcheong Region
Favor Holding Referendum on Sejong City
President Lee: "It is Possible to Discuss
'Grand Bargain' Deal with N. Korea"
President Lee Myung-bak, in a Jan. 30 interview with CNN, said that
the time is approaching for North Korea to answer the question
whether it will ultimately abandon its nuclear program. (All)
According to ruling circles and ROKG officials, the two Koreas held
two rounds of s-e-c-r-e-t meetings in the North Korean border city
of Kaesong last year to discuss a possible inter-Korean summit, but
failed to narrow differences over the North's nuclear issue, ROK
prisoners of war and abduction victims and humanitarian aid.
Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg, in a Jan. 29 seminar in
Washington, said that (the U.S.) will strongly support any measures
the ROK President takes toward an inter-Korean summit. (Chosun,
Hankook, Segye, KBS, MBC)
President Barack Obama, during a Jan. 29 gathering of House
Republicans in Baltimore, Maryland, emphasized the need to ratify
the KORUS FTA. He was quoted: "What is also true is that the EU is
about to sign a trade agreement with the ROK; which means right at
the moment when they start opening up their markets, the Europeans
might get in there before we do." (Chosun, JoongAng, Segye, All
The two Koreas will hold working-level talks today on the operation
of the joint Kaesong Industrial Complex in North Korea. (All) The
North is likely to demand a twofold increase in wages for its
workers employed by ROK companies at the complex. (Chosun)
Two UN special envoys will visit North Korea on Feb. 9 to discuss
restoring stalled high-level dialogue between the UN and North
Korea, as well as the North Korean nuclear issue. (JoongAng, Dong-a,
Hankook, Hankyoreh, Segye, Seoul)
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President Obama's State of the Union Speech
All ROK media covered President Obama's State of the Union address
on Jan. 27.
Coverage highlighted the President's statements: "These diplomatic
efforts have also strengthened our hand in dealing with those
nations that insist on violating international agreements in pursuit
of nuclear weapons. That's why North Korea now faces increased
isolation, and stronger sanctions - sanctions that are being
vigorously enforced; " and "If America sits on the sidelines while
other nations sign trade deals, we will lose the chance to create
jobs on our shores. ... That's ...why we will strengthen our trade
relations in Asia and with key partners like South Korea and Panama
Most media interpreted these remarks as a warning to North Korea of
stronger sanctions if it continues to pursue nuclear weapons, and
his roundabout way of stressing the need to ratify the KORUS FTA.
Moderate Hankook Ilbo wrote in the headline: "U.S. Reconfirms
Intention to Reject N. Korea's Call for Peace Treaty before the
North's Return to Six-Party Talks."
Left-leaning Hankyoreh Shinmun editorialized: "President Obama's
speech ran 71 minutes but only nine minutes were devoted to
international affairs. It is said that a State of the Union
Address, in recent years, has never treated international affairs as
lightly as this one. ... There are many international issues that
cannot be resolved without active U.S. efforts; It is still
important for America to play an appropriate role in the
international community. ... Since the launch of the Obama
Administration, North Korea has advocated a resolution of its
nuclear issue through dialogue, increasing the possibility of a
breakthrough on the nuclear issue, depending on the U.S.'s attitude.
It is high time for a more forward-looking role from the U.S."
North Korea's official Korean Central News Agency's report yesterday
- that an American is being held in North Korea for illegally
crossing its border with China on Jan. 25 - captured the attention
of the ROK media. According to media reports, the North did not
identify him or give any details about why he entered the North. If
confirmed, it will be the second such incident in a month, according
to media reports.
Most media carried reports that North Korea proposed talks with the
United Nations Command (UNC) on Jan. 27 to discuss resuming the
joint recovery of the remains of U.S. soldiers killed in the Korean
War. The proposal coincided with the North's artillery shootings
into waters near the Northern Limit Line in the Yellow Sea, the de
facto maritime border between the two Koreas.
Chosun Ilbo editorialized: "North Korea has been employing a
two-track strategy toward the ROK and the U.S. since late last year
by aggressively seeking economic cooperation and humanitarian aid on
one hand while heightening military tension on the other. ... The
reason why North Korea continues to make provocations, such as the
latest artillery fire near the NLL, is that it is caught in an
obsolete mindset that threats and appeasement are the most effective
way to elicit aid from the ROK and the U.S. ... Only if North Korea
stops its nuclear development and provocations and returns to the
Six-Party Talks and inter-Korean dialogue will the door open for
economic aid for the North."
Moderate Hankook Ilbo wrote in the headline: "'Double-faced' N.
Korea; North Suggests Joint Recovery of Remains of Fallen U.S.
Soldiers while Firing Artillery... an Attempt to Raise Negotiating
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OBAMA'S STATE OF THE UNION ADDRESS LEAVES SOMETHING TO BE DESIRED
(Hankook Ilbo, February 1, Page 39)
By Washington Correspondent Hwang Yu-seok
U.S. media is keenly evaluating President Obama's first year in
office. Special attention is being drawn to Obama because his one
year in office carries symbolic significance and he opened a new
historical chapter a year ago.
President Obama's first year has been passionate. It has been the
year of an outpouring of energy and drive, which would be hard to
find in a fully democratic developed country. To put it
differently, his first year has been full of ups and downs, and
controversy. Some members of the U.S. public said they feel dizzy
because (President Obama) is trying to do too many things at one
time. Liberals including the Democratic Party considered it a
historical duty to implement Obama's reform, while conservatives
criticized him for engaging in maverick politics in defiance of
public opinion. Obama's popularity rating, which hovered around 80
percent, dropped to 50 percent in less than a year. There has not
been any U.S. president who had such a steep rise and decline in the
Republicans won off-year gubernatorial elections in New Jersey and
Virginia - two states that Obama won a year earlier. In another
startling upset, a Republican won the Massachusetts Senate seat,
which had been held by the Kennedy family for over 50 years. Some
people say that now there is no safe zone for the Democratic Party.
U.S. media's frantic coverage of Obama's first year is
understandable because he experienced "heaven and hell."
There are some reasons for assessing Obama's first year in office as
disappointing. First of all, he sought policies that were too
"leftist." The U.S. public is dissatisfied with Obama's expanded
government intervention and the astronomical fiscal deficit brought
on by his reform efforts. This may be an inevitable choice for him
in order to overcome an economic crisis. In addition, it could be
controversial to define his economic policy from an ideological
perspective. However, it is indisputable that now the U.S. public
is puzzled by the unprecedented level of big government. This is
why the U.S. public, which by nature abhors government intervention,
may be attracted to the Republican Party's political moves. A
(U.S.) columnist said that the U.S. is basically a rightist country.
A liberal leader should know how to conceal that he is too
Others note that President Obama pursued reform at too fast a speed.
As similar mistakes are often made by the government in its first
term, it seemed that Obama blindly believed that he would be able to
carry out any reform he wants. Newsweek made an interesting
observation that Obama failed to win the hearts of the public
because he acted too rationally. His cool-headedness, intellect and
thoughtfulness were virtues that earned him victory in the
presidential election. But after he took office, those elements
made him appear cold and disinterested.
President Obama's January 27 State of the Union Address provided him
with a chance to reveal his visions for reform to the public.
However, he failed to win understanding from the opposition party
and the public because he identified his administration's problems
as 'historical challenges' the U.S. has confronted in the past. The
public did not want to hear about a raft of economic measures but
how the President will run politics in a flexible manner, i.e. how
he will put congressional politics back to normal. President Obama,
however, stopped short of delivering this.
It seems that with midterm elections looming, it will be harder for
the Obama Administration to pursue reform such as health care. We
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sympathize with a remark by a Republican who said that what
President Obama needs is not eloquent words but actions.
LESSONS FROM THE REPUBLICAN PARTY AND OBAMA
(Dong-a Ilbo, February 1, Page 31)
Republican lawmakers of the U.S. House of Representatives invited
President Barack Obama to a policy conference Friday. At the GOP
House Issues Conference that lasted for 90 minutes, Obama criticized
and expressed his regret over the party's policies. Republican
lawmakers, however, observed proper decorum.
The Republican Party invited Obama to show the American people that
it is not a party of "no" but a party of policy that can discuss
issues with everyone with an open mind. For his part, Obama might
have accepted the invitation as an opportunity to explain his
policies to the people and refute the opposition party's criticism.
Whatever the political reason both sides (had for getting together),
ROK politicians should learn a lesson from President Obama and House
Republicans, who willingly came together to discuss contentious
In the ROK, too much tension exists between the president and
opposition parties and between the ruling and opposition parties.
They keep stressing the importance of communication, but nobody
takes the initiative. Insisting on a "debate to the end," like
picking a fight, is not a sincere way to begin dialogue.
Main opposition Democratic Party Chairman Chung Sye-kyun put forth a
week ago a "new Democratic Party plan" aimed at wealth distribution
and economic growth. He suggested the same plan eight months ago.
Nevertheless, his party, which dominated parliament for 10 years,
has yet to present itself as an alternative party capable of taking
power even though two years have passed since it lost power.
Rather, it continues to stand against every policy the ruling party
pursues. The leftist Democratic Labor Party (DLP) which marked its
10th anniversary Saturday, is struggling because the majority of the
country's workers have turned against the party due to its pro-North
Korea stance. Although its approval rating once reached 18 percent,
the (DLP) is having trouble fielding candidates for the local
elections in June.
Opposition parties are not the only ones to blame for the
backwardness of ROK politics, but they must learn from the U.S.
Republican Party, which invited the president to its policy
discussion. The ROK's opposition parties could make the same
attempt over the revision to the Sejong City project. The ruling
Grand National Party is more to blame in this instance, however,
because its members have failed to communicate with one another over
a matter that could determine the nation's fate.
ROK people's main concerns are job creation and economic recovery.
Both the ruling and opposition parties must show different attitudes
at the extra parliamentary session that begins today.
(This is a translation provided by the newspaper, and it is
identical to the Korean version.)
AMBASSADOR STEPHENS: "U.S. REMAINS PREPARED FOR ANY CONTINGENCY ON
THE KOREAN PENINSULA"
(Segye Ilbo, January 30, 2010, Page 6)
By Reporter Kim Young-suk
U.S. Ambassador to the ROK Kathleen Stephens said on January 29, "We
remain fully prepared for any type of military contingency on the
Ambassador Stephens said in a breakfast lecture hosted by Giwoohwe
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Association at Gyeonggi Small and Medium Business Center, "(The
U.S.) remains committed to the verifiable denuclearization of the
Korean Peninsula," adding, "We are serious about denuclearization,
and about the consequences of failing to denuclearize, such as
isolation and sanctions."
This reaffirmed U.S. President Barack Obama's statement in the State
of the Union Address a day earlier, that if North Korea continues to
insist on nuclear development, it will face stronger sanctions. The
Ambassador's remark is also apparently meant as a warning to North
Korea, which fired dozens of coastal artillery shells in the waters
around the Northern Limit Line (NLL) near the Yellow Sea.
DID U.S.-NORTH KOREA "UNDER-THE-TABLE NEGOTIATIONS" ENTER FINAL
(Chosun Ilbo, January 30, 2010, Page 1, 5)
By Reporter Ahn Yong-hyun
Some ROKG foreign policy and security officials have recently said,
"There seems to have been a great deal of progress in the U.S.-North
Korea 'under-the-table negotiations' over the North Korean nuclear
issue and the resumption of the Six-Party Talks. We are concerned
that the ROK may be alienated again (as it was when the 1994 Geneva
Agreed Framework was reached.)"
They say that the U.S. is pressuring the North to rejoin the Nuclear
Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) by no later than May, and the North is
calling for the signing of a peace treaty and the easing of
sanctions in return, although these are not being publicly
The North's Rodong Simnun said on January 29, "Given the tense
situation on the Korean Peninsula, the 60th anniversary of the
outbreak of the Korean War, and the current international situation,
it is appropriate and right to have the peace treaty talks without
delay." Dongguk University Professor Kim Yong-hyun explained that
in order to understand why the North is repeatedly asking for peace
treaty talks despite the U.S.'s official rejection, we need to look
at another piece of the puzzle - under-the-table negotiations
between the U.S. and North Korea.
Some observers say that because the ROKG is mindful of a deal being
negotiated between the U.S. and the North, it keeps the door to
inter-Korean dialogue open. Although the North fired dozens of
coastal artillery shells in the waters around the Northern Limit
Line (NLL) near the Yellow Sea on January 27-28, the ROKG decided to
have talks with the North about the Kaesong Industrial Complex as
scheduled on February 1. President Lee Myung-bak even held out the
possibility of an inter-Korean summit within this year.
Since the North withdrew from the NPT in January, 2003, at the
height of the second nuclear crisis, it has stayed out of the NPT
regime. For U.S. President Barack Obama, who advocates for a
nuclear-weapons-free world, it would be difficult for him to
exercise his leadership at the Nuclear Security Summit in April and
the NPT Review Conference in May with the North Korean nuclear issue
An ROKG official said, "In a situation where the North Korean
nuclear issue is considered the biggest challenge to the NPT regime,
Pyongyang's return to the NPT would be viewed as an important step
The Obama Administration particularly said in reference to the North
Korean nuclear issue that it would "not buy the same horse twice."
If the North puts on the table "a return to the NPT," a new card
which was not used under the Bush Administration, it will serve as a
justification for the U.S. to be flexible at its negotiations with
A subtle atmosphere of change is also found in the issue of relaxing
sanctions, which the North demands as a condition for its return to
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the Six-Party Talks. On January 21, the North announced a plan to
establish the "State Development Bank" to attract foreign capital.
This bank, however, can operate only when the U.S.'s financial
sanctions are removed. A diplomatic source said, "The U.S. might
have told the North, 'If you set up a new bank and follow
international standards, we will not impose additional sanctions,
although it would be difficult to lift the existing financial
There is also talk that Pyongyang suggested establishing the offices
of a trade representative in each other's country. If the offices
open, they would serve as a permanent channel of communication
between the U.S. and the North, and the economic sanctions would
pale into insignificance. Some observers speculate that the reason
why President Lee reiterated his proposal for the establishment of
permanent liaison offices in each other's capital in his New Year's
Address on January 4 may be that he was aware of the possibility
that Washington and Pyongyang might open trade representative's
offices in each other's country. President Lee had proposed setting
up permanent liaison offices in April, 2008.
If there is sudden progress in the U.S.-North Korea relations,
inter-Korean ties may likely take a back seat. There are already
signs that the North is trying to use its "Tongmi Bongnam" tactics
of promoting exchange with the U.S. and blocking off the ROK. The
North is publicly saying that it will alienate the ROK at the peace
However, a Blue House official predicts that the North's tactic of
"excluding the South" will not likely work this time. A researcher
at a state-run institute noted, "Large-scale outside assistance is
desperately needed to overcome the after-effect of the currency
reform and to stabilize the regime for a hereditary power
succession. Since China will not share the entire burden of aid to
the North, the North will have no choice but to rely on the ROK."
At present, the North is active in having "lucrative" talks about
the Kaesong Industrial Complex and the resumption of tourism of Mt.
Kumgang. An ROKG official said, "Since the ROK-U.S. alliance is
strong and the North wants a lot from us, there is a remote
possibility that we may be isolated. However, I am not sure if we
can take a strong initiative in inter-Korean relations."