A Dialogue with Dr. Ri Jong-Hyuk, Senior Deputy Chair, DPRK’s Asia-Pacific Peace Committee (English translation provided)

Dr. Kiyul Chung, Editor-in-chief, the 4th Media, had an interview with Dr. Ri Jonghyuk on April 13, 2011 in Pyongyang, DPRK

Professor and Doctor Ri Jonghyuk

Member, DPRK Supreme Peoples’ Council (Parliament)

Chairman, DPRK-European Union Parliamentary Friendship Committee

Deputy Chairman, DPRK Asia-Pacific Peace Committee

Director, Institute for Korean Reunification Studies


Q: Dr. Ri, I appreciate your time for this interview. In the midst of your busy schedule, you allowed us to have this interview.  I thank you again. Let’s go directly to the questions I have in mind. In the world, there are many debates about the resumption of Six Party talks. I would appreciate if you could share with us what your government’s official position on this resumption issue of Six Party talks.

■ (Dr. Ri) Regarding the Six-Party talks, since this issue is well-known and being talked about a lot, also we, too, have often officially expressed our positions on this, let me focus the most recent situations in regard to the issue. As you know, in December 2009, when Mr. Bosworth, US special representative for Korea policy visited us, the practical issues were inclusively discussed.

The issues we discussed were the issue of signing the Peace Treaty, the DPRK-USA normalization issue, the economic assistance issue, the Korean denuclearization issue, and so on. Through lengthy hours of deep dialogue, we were able to reach common grounds and understandings on those issues.

When there are differing views on certain issues, people usually work out in international settings such as the following steps: First, they try to find out what to talk about first something they can easily agree on; Second, through dialogue, they then would try to reach onto some common grounds. Don’t people consider this sort of way of dealing with issues in conflict a desirable attitude for genuine dialogue?   

Therefore, in order to resume dialogue, we’ve repeatedly urged all the involved parties to engage in dialogue without putting forth any conditions before the talk, but instead with sincere attitudes.

Furthermore, regarding the issue of Korean peninsula, since antagonistic relations have been continued between our nation and the US for a long time, I think it’s very important that both sides should work on to build mutual trust through ongoing dialogues and cooperation.

From that perspective, we’ve made every effort so far and will continue to do so in the future as well.

Korean peninsula nuclear issue is an outcome of US’s threats with a nuclear war and their continued antagonistic policy against us. Therefore, in order to fundamentally remove those issues, we believe there is no other way around but dialogue.

On the issue of Six Party talks, our positions have not changed at all. It’ll be much same in the future as well. We are determined to actively pursue the already-agreed principles and positions we the Six Party nations all agreed on the September 19, 2005 such as the principles of equality and simultaneous acts.

I think today’s situation surrounding Korean peninsula urges all those involved nations should not lose the momentum of dialogue from broader perspectives with a sense of historical mission. On this Six Party talk, last February 26, our DPRK Foreign Ministry clearly expressed its positions. We can join the Six Party Talk without putting any conditions before the talk.

Our position is not to oppose to talk about the uranium enrichment issue at the Six Party talk.

■ (Dr. Ri) Today US still continues to carry out its “isolation and strangulation policy” against us, while, without resuming the Six Party talks and improving the DPRK-US relations, they continue to play with [diplomatic] words such as “truthfulness” (真正性) and “change of action” (行动变化), etc..

What this clearly says is that they are not interested in genuine dialogue but continuation of further strangulating us until we collapse. Is it not?

If the US is really interested in Six Party talks, I think there is not even a single thing they cannot accept our sincere and generous suggestions of dialogue.

Why don’t you look at what Obama administration is doing now? They are still, together with hardcore conservatives, pursuing only to dismantle the Six Party framework and further worsen Korean peninsula situation, aren’t they?

If this sort of policy continues, I think it will definitely fail.

We are prepared to deal with both dialogue and confrontation.

We’ve already made very clearly let the world know of our position on this. So, regarding the denuclearization of Korean peninsula or improvement of DPRK-USA relations, it’s all up to them how they act.

Q: This question is also connected to the first one. When Lee Myungbak regime was put into power in 2008, they began with the so-called “Denuclearization, Opening-up, and 3000” logic. With this logic, they’ve made this nuclear issue their top the number one issue throughout their relationship with the North. I think as a result, the world knows well South-North relations have gone into ruin.

However, there is an analysis. First the background of this analysis is this: By Chinese premier Wen Jiabao’s historic visit to Pyongyang in October 2009, the restoration of DPRK-China strategic relationship has been put into place again and the further deepened and strengthened bilateral relationship has been materialized.

The analysis on the so-called “North Korean nuclear issue” is about US’s Northeast Asian strategy. This strategy was supposed to go through as in the following stages: 1) First to isolate and strangulate the North; 2) Second, with this first-stage strategy, to divide China and DPRK; 3) Third, thereby, to further extend US control over the whole Korean peninsula up to the North; 4) Finally, once this US strategy on the Korean peninsula is successfully carried out, then henceforth their next Northeast Asian strategy is to complete their ongoing “China Encirclement Strategy” for 20 years now since the collapse of Soviet Union.

However, according to this analysis, US strategic card with the North Korean nuclear issue has failed after all with Premier Wen Jiabao’s visit to Pyongyang in October, 2009. It’s like the US lost its prey at the last minute something they thought they were going to get for sure. I’d like to hear your thoughts on these sorts of analyses.

■ (Dr. Ri) The “Denuclearization, Opening up, 3000” policy in regard to the North, I think the title itself is one of the sophistries. That policy, in its nature, exposed its confrontational character to unify the nation by absorption, once they force us to discard our nuclear [deterrence] power. Since the nuclear issue is a result from the U.S. nuclear threat, in fact, we don’t even need to directly talk with the South. There is nothing they can do about on this nuclear issue. I suspect why Lee Myung-bak administration continues to make this nuclear issue as his issue in a way we cannot agree with is to justify their confrontational policy through which they are determined to ruin the North-South relations.

Especially, by actively taking part in US strategy to encircle both DPRK and China in order to sow feuds between us and China, I think the South intends to build an anti-North international coalition in which they even want to enlist China to join. I believe their ends are to first lesson Chinese influence in Northeast Asia, second to achieve their “absorption reunification” strategy, and finally to deter Chinese’ South Korea strategy.

However, their strategies have been ruined first by Chinese premier Wen Jiabao’s visit to Pyongyang in October 2009 and our great General’s two historic visits to China last year. Chinese Party and the government regard Lee Myung-bak administration’s North (Korea) policy as “confrontational policy which both refuses North-South dialogue and ruins North-South relations.”

So, Chinese government urges South (Korean) authorities should speed up to participate in dialogue and cooperation in order for them to improve North-South relations, so that they can keep up with the pace the North brings in their “dialogue and peace-offensive.”

Especially, they identify what Lee Myung-bak administration does, by way of so-called “North Korean nuclear issue,” is to join US’s China pressure strategy in international arena and to continue all sorts of military drills in Korean peninsula as part of US strategy to encircle China, doesn’t it?

This year Lee Myung-bak administration has asked China to help for them to bring our uranium enrichment program to UN. However, China refused to do that. They instead pressured the South to work hard to improve North-South relations and resume Six Party talks.

Q: This question is also connected to the first and the second one. There is also another similar analysis. It claims it’s the US who fabricated Cheonan incident as Its new strategic card to replace the failed North Korean nuclear card which US has worked so hard for almost 20 years. There are a number of people around the world not only Koreans but also non-Koreans. They are progressive and conscientious scholars and experts. They come from both in the East and the West. The 4th Media had carried their views and perspectives on that issue through the last year.

In their views, there are not any disagreements on their core claim that it’s the US who masterminded the fabrication of the Cheonan incident in March 26, 2010. Some of their views are Lee Myungbak regime is like a US’s “shock troop” or “playing a devil’s role.”  Some scholars and experts even claim the Choenan incident is exactly same as the Gulf of Tonkin in 1964 when US badly needed a pretext to justify their military invasion of Vietnam. So they argue the Cheonan incident is the 2nd Tonkin incident. 

Particularly professor David Griffin from Claremont University in California calls the 9.11 as another “false flag.” He even calls the 9.11 “the 2nd Pearl Harbor.” This claim is to argue the 9.11 was the pretext for US’s “Anti-terror war.” After all, the 9.11 was the US-instigated incident, sort of a “self-made show.” The key word in their claims is the “false flag.”

In summary, Dr. Ri, when the so-called “North Korean nuclear issue” as another US’s false flag failed, therefore when US needed an alternative strategy for its new Northeast Asian strategy, in other words, when they needed something badly, the Cheonan incident was right there. I’d like to hear your thoughts on these sorts of claims and analyses.

■ (Dr. Ri) I am also aware of some Western media in which they identify Cheonan incident with “the Gulf of Tonkin” incident in Vietnam and even with “the Pearl Harbor attack.” I was interested in those writings and personally agree with their views. In fact, Cheonan incident took place when Obama administration was in deep trouble with Iraq war and Afghanistan war, so that they were sort of cornered to a defensive position. Didn’t it?

Moreover, in regard to the North issue, their so called “strategic endurance” which means they will wait until we voluntarily give up our nuclear power is turned out to be absolutely failed. In the situation like that, I suspect another extraordinarily shocking incident might have been needed in order for them to further reinforce international pressures against us.

Q: When President Hu Jintao met President Lee Myungbak in Shanghai World Expo, President Hu said to his counterpart, “I hope South Korean investigation on the Cheonan incident can be conducted scientifically and objectively.” However, South Korean conservative media even distorted this statement. They distorted the statement by reporting as if President Hu confirmed that “South Korean government’s investigation on the incident was conducted scientifically and objectively.”

The South even distorted the statement from the head of a neighboring country. In that fabricated incident, by accusing the North as the culprit/the aggressor, US tried to replace the failed North Korean strategy. In other words, since the UN resolution 1874 to punish North Korea’s second nuclear test wasn’t working due to the fully-recovered DPRK-China strategic relationship, US needed a new strategy to discard the failed nuclear card. So, with that Cheoan Incident, they were able to argue with a new card which is the so-called “Cheonan incident first, Six Party talks next” strategy.

There are similar analyses on the incident which is: US’s Six Party Talk strategy has failed. With this card, they cannot further force DPRK collapsed anymore. Therefore, in order to discard the Six Party Talk strategy, they had to create a pretext which could justify their decision to drop the card. Right at that time, the Choenen Incident took place. By taking this new card, they were going to throw the Six Party Talk card away. They were going to discard. With that new strategy, US intended to push both Korean Peninsula and the whole Northeast Asia into the brink of war. I’d like to hear your thoughts on these sorts of analyses.

■ (Dr. Ri) However, the Six-Party Talks is not something whether any individual nation can unilaterally decide to abolish or not. The Six Party talk which the US has originally initiated from the very beginning is an internationally-coordinated framework for cooperation through which various issues can be discussed. Wasn’t it? However, these days, not only US but also particularly the South Korea regime, by arguing uselessness of Six Party Talk framework, are manipulating international public opinion mainly through media deception and play in order for them to create obstacles to the resumption of the conference, isn’t it?

The issue is why the South hesitate the resumption of Six-Party Talks. We believe they pursue their hidden ends such as the following: 1) to prevent denuclearization of Korean peninsula by any means necessary; 2) to solely depend upon American nuclear umbrella; thereby 3) to economically and militarily strangulate our Republic.

There is another analysis that South Korean government, by putting forth all sorts of reasons and excuses however, in fact, they’ve been preventing the resumption of Six Party Talks Chinese and DPRK governments’ efforts to revive from taking place. In fact, throughout last year after the Choenan incident, South Korean government has played a key role to push Korean peninsula and Northeast Asia region into the brink of war by repeatedly raising the issue of Cheonan Incident, while they’ve continued to avoid the resumption of Six Party Talks. Isn’t it?

According to Chinese government sources, they considered the last year as the most dangerous situation in regard to their national security since the foundation of their nation in 1949 in terms of the war crisis which had been continuously formulated in Northeast Asia region and Korean peninsula after Cheonan incident took place. There is also a similar analysis that the whole Koreans, too, felt the last year was the year of the most dangerous war crisis we’ve ever had since the end of the 1950-53 Korean War.

■ (Dr. Ri) I think that sort of analysis is quite reasonable. Since our country was divided into South and North, the worst situation was created and even there was an armed confrontation though it was locally limited. Before Lee Myung-bak regime was put into power, dialogue and cooperation in North-South relations had well proceeded. And even, at the end of Roh Moohyun administration, there were all sorts of conferences, events and meetings which took place over 200 times.  

However, as soon as new regime in power, the South has completely shut off not only government-to-government talks but also NGO-level exchanges and contacts. I think the present situation is the worst one we have ever had since the division. So, in order to prevent these sorts of disasters, we are still making every effort to resume multilateral dialogues and exchanges between North and South by any means necessary.

As you know, Professor, in this year alone, how many suggestions we’ve made? From the very beginning of this year till this day, we’ve continued to make suggestions, even to have inter-Korean parliamentary talks. However, under the present circumstances, I doubt these approaches could be worked out either.

Q: Last winter when South Korea’s Reunification Ministry publicized its well-known policy of “reunification by absorption,” particularly Chinese government heavily criticized South Korean government’s decision on this. Even if neighboring countries challenge South Korea’s policy of “reunification by absorption” as an illusion and like a daydream, however, Lee Myungbak government still pursues this policy. I’d like to hear DPRK government’s position on this issue, particularly your thoughts.

■ (Dr. Ri) Not to even mention neighboring countries including China, countries far from here such as European countries, particularly German people whose country is considered as the precedent of so-called  “reunification by absorption” are talking about what Lee Myung-bak regime do with their reunification by absorption is the same thing as if they are going to declare a war against us.

Recently, I met a number of politicians and parliamentary members from Europe, they even said like this: “We thought Korean (the North) people, commonly known to the outside world for their impetuous and impatient characters, however, you seem not! If so, then how amazingly patient you have been in your dealings with Lee Myung-bak regime? When they’ve kept pressuring you with psychological warfare, reunification by absorption, and so on, and so on, how wonderfully patient you still are without doing anything to that sort of warlike tactics?

A few days ago, I had a chance to read a material which is about the story of German scholars at a conference where they’ve advised the South should never follow the German model of reunification by absorption.

Dr. Chung: I have never seen those data. Did people who looked up here says liked that?

Dr. Ri: No, I don’t either know them.

Q: Recently world media talk about DPRK government’s decision on Mt. Kumgang tourism. Among many others, there is a Chinese article whose title might give an impression that the North unilaterally decided to cancel the contract it originally made with the Hyundai-Asan in South Korea. In the meantime, this title also gives seemingly an impression as if “South Korean government challenged the North’s decision as a unilateral one.” In fact, South government also publicly demands the North should drop the decision as if there was nothing happened. I’d like to hear from you about DPRK government’s official position on Mt. Kumgang tourism.

■ (Dr. Ri) The Mt. Kumgang (diamond) tourism project can be considered literally as the symbol of North-South Exchange and Cooperation. I do know well that project since I am the one who’s been deeply involved with that work from the very beginning. As you know well, this project which had been fully blossomed during 10 years of both Kim Daejung and Roh Moohyun governments, however, last three years of this government, this project has been completely shut down.

The Mt. Kumgang Tourism project is absolutely something that Lee Myungbak regime intentionally discarded and threw it away to the trash can. Let’s forget what happened in the past. And let’s talk about the most recent situations in regard to this project. Since last year, we’ve made several times reasonable suggestions to South Korea.

However, all that efforts didn’t produce any practical results due to Lee government’s position on this project. Even if Hyundai- Ahsan Group made every possible effort in Seoul, as long as South Korean government blocks that move, it won’t work. It didn’t succeed a bit. But the government in Seoul has absurdly continued to put forth so-called the “three conditions.”

For example, they’ve kept asking for 1) the “security guarantee of tourists” and 2) the “promise to prevent things from reoccurring” in the future. However, as you know, we gave them the most guaranteed assurances from our General (i.e., the leader Chairman Kim Jong Il) when he met Chairwoman Hyun Jung-Eun, the CEO and the owner of Hyunday-Ahsan Group in Pyongyang, he directly assured her on those condtions.

Then, what sort of further assurances from us would they need [when they have already the assurance from the highest power in our country]? I even made a trip down to Mt. Kumgang to meet Hyundai-Ahsan people to give those assurances.

And, even if we might not be able to find anything from our joint investigation on the 2009 shooting incident in Mt. Kumgang since there won’t be anything left helpful for the investigation, however, since they’d repeatedly asked for that investigation, we’ve agreed to conduct the investigation as well.

We also agreed to provide them the “security guarantees of tourists” in written. So, when I met Hyundai-Asan Group Chairwoman Hyun Jung Eun, I sincerely asked her to convey our official messages/positions on this to South Korean Reunification Ministry as exactly as I said.

However, the official response from Seoul was that they will not take the message they received as the official one, since DPRK’s Asia-Pacific Peace Committee is not an official government agency. It’s terribly absurd that now they say they won’t consider us as the official body to work with them. However, even if we Asia-Pacific Peace Committee are the one who’s been officially carrying out Mt. Kumgang Tourism project from the very beginning of its inception, now they claim they won’t consider us as the official body.

[Even if the official response from south was so absurd, however, in order to resume the North-South Exchange program,] we had to also agree to their suggestion. So our government specifically assigned several official personnel from Favorite Place Tourism Guidance Agency to join us to work on the project. They’d already joined us twice to work with Hyundai-Asan people.

However, again, nothing has progressed. Nothing happened! The fundamental issue is Lee Myungbak government does not want to resume it. However, with all sorts of excuses and reasons in order to delay the resumption of tourism, it is after all they are the one who obstructs the progress.

This time too, we expressed our wish to meet Chairwoman Hyun in person in order to convey an official commemoration message from Chairman Kim Jongil on the occasion of 10th Anniversary of late Hyundai Group Chairman Chung Jooyoung’s death. However, again, this time, too, the government didn’t allow them to meet us.

Of course, the Hyundai-Asan people did want to meet us. So we had to travel down to Mt. Kumgang in order to pass the message to Ms. Hyun through Hyandai Asan office director. It seems South Korean government’s firm decision not to resume Mt. Kumgang tourism is quite apparent.

However, through media control, distortion and manipulation, they falsely accuse us as if it’s the North who doesn’t want to resume the tourism. The decision we had to make to resume the tourism was a very difficult one after the three years of repeated endurances. However, we could not have waited further to let those buildings and facilities sit idle any longer. If we continue to let those buildings and facilities empty, then they will surely be further decayed. That’s why we’ve repeatedly asked to resume the tourism.

Of course what we plan to do down there will be only until the South resumes the tourism. For this very reason, we had suggested to have working meetings with Hyundai-Asan. They also agreed to talk. However, this time, too, the government obstructed for the meeting to be held. Under these circumstances, how could we further not to do anything?

However, the South, again through manipulative media play, is spreading unfounded rumors such as: “The decision the North made is unfair and unjust; This decision should be against international laws; Therefore, the North after all couldn’t do anything real,” however, our decision is not an empty word. Ours is real. Of course, Mt. Kumgang tourism for the Southern pat still will be carried out by Hyundai-Asan.

But for the Northern part, we’ll do it. We’ll soon move into act with legal, administrative and practical measures in regard to the resumption of Mt. Kumgang tourism.

Q: In the similar context, I’d like to ask one more question regarding Gaesung Industrial Complex. I think, along with the deteriorated South-North relations, today the Gaesung Industrial Complex also faces a crisis. This analysis interprets, due to Lee Myungbak government’s antagonistic anti-North policy during last three years, the Gaesung Industrial project is also thrown into a crisis like the case of Mt. Kumgang tourism. I’d like to hear from you on this issue as well.

■ (Dr. Ri) Talking about Gaesung Industrial District, today isn’t that the only channel to keep North-South relations connected? Since the activation of Gaesung Industrial District project does benefit both North and South and it’s also one of major international concerns, we are doing our best to keep Gaesung Industrial District district project running. Even after North-South relations have lately gotten worsened, we are still supplying labor forces as South Korean companies have asked for.

But, frankly speaking, there are already 45,000 people working in Gaesung, isn’t it? However, it is difficult to guarantee enough labor forces with the Gaesung population only. That’s why we’ve emphasized all along the necessity of dormitory since we have to bring more people from other areas in order to provide enough labor forces. However, this issue, too, has been stalemated again due to the South who didn’t want it to be further progressed. But, lately, there seem some changes to be made.

Initially South Korean companies hesitated to build dormitory. But once they decided to keep the businesses here, they seem to decide to take care of the dormitory issues.However, no matter what we do and South Korean business people do, this Gaesung Industrial District project also solely depends on how the South (government) decides.

Q: If I have a chance to meet Hyundai A-san officials, can I directly share with them about what we talked about today.

■ (Dr. Ri) It’d be great if you can do that under the circumstances when we don’t have any opportunities now to meet Huyundai A-san people. The relationship we’ve had with Hyundai A-san is solely based on mutual respect and trust. How many times our General has received visits from the late Chairman Chung Joo-young, then the late Chairman Chung Mong-hun and Chairwoman Hyn Chung-eun and put his deep trust in them? As we’ve done in the past, we will sincerely cherish, in the future as well, the relationship we’ve built together with Hyundai A-san. We will never desert it.

The problem we have with the South, of course, originates from the authorities in the South. They do prevent literally everything from being further progressed. Thus we fully understand the difficulties Hyundai Group has. We share our sympathy with them.

Dr. Chung: If there is an opportunity that I meet with Hyundai A-san people, I will make sure the thoughts, minds and ideas from the North well conveyed. Thank you for your precious time for this interview with a new global independent English media, called the 4th Media. If there is going to be another visit in the future, I hope I could have another interview with you with a better preparation.

■ (Dr. Ri) I’ve heard about your work with the 4th media. I believe this media can play a host of roles to build a positive atmosphere for North-South reconciliation and cooperation by removing distrust but instead promoting mutual understanding between North and South.

Dr. Chung: Once again I deeply appreciate your time for this long interview.

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