Understanding Korea | New NY 23rd


The American people don’t mistake the absence of a final agreement for the absence of progress. We made progress; we must be patient. We made historic advances; we will not turn back.–Ronald Reagan

Bruce Cumings is an American historian of East Asia, professor, lecturer and author. He is the Gustavus F. and Ann M. Swift Distinguished Service Professor in History, and former chair of the history department at the University of Chicago.–Wikipedia

Do Americans understand Korea? Fifty years of propaganda and North Korean isolation have made that unlikely. Many are concerned that the Singapore meeting might fail due to lack of preparation and misunderstanding; Korea is different from other countries and different from what we imagine. The Korean language is loosely related to Japanese, unrelated to Chinese, and much like no other language. Translators at Singapore may face a difficult challenge in making Korean views clear to Americans.

Bruce Cumings writes:

Visiting Seoul in March, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson asserted that North Korea has a history of violating one agreement after another; in fact, President Bill Clinton got it to freeze its plutonium production for eight years (1994–2002) and, in October 2000, had indirectly worked out a deal to buy all of its medium- and long-range missiles. Clinton also signed an agreement with Gen. Jo Myong-rok stating that henceforth, neither country would bear “hostile intent” toward the other.

The Bush administration promptly ignored both agreements and set out to destroy the 1994 freeze. … The simple fact is that Pyongyang would have no nuclear weapons if Clinton’s agreements had been sustained.

American hostility toward North Korea is much like decades of hostility toward Cuba–in both cases bitterness from defeat resulted in decades of sanctions. I am also reminded of a prospective agreement on nuclear arms nearly reached by Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev at Reykjavik, Iceland, an agreement which eventually led to progress.

What will come of the Singapore meeting is unpredictable. Do Trump, Pompeo, and Bolton even have a common goal, one wonders? Was Giuliani’s claim that Mr. Kim came begging intended to forestall agreement? Which Donald Trump will show up–Dr. Jekyll who wants a Nobel Prize or the “take it or else” bully, Mr. Hyde?

Perhaps President Trump meeting and discussing with Kim Jong-un will unexpectedly produce progress on peace for Korea. Let’s hope so.





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