2004_03_Links between America and North Korea beneath the surface: America keeping an eye out for a post-unified Korea crisis(Chuo Koron)

Links between America and North Korea beneath the surface: America keeping an eye out for a post-unified Korea crisis

By Fumio, Matsuo, journalist


Chuo Koron (pp. 92-101) (Abridged)

March 2004


America's private diplomacy once drove Japan into isolation at the time of the Sino-Japanese War, and it is once again active in North Korean affairs.  America already has fixed its gaze at a unified Korean Peninsula, the spearhead of a multifaceted diplomacy that we Japanese cannot fathom.


IT research proceeding under tense circumstances


While America and North Korea (Democratic Peoples Republic of Korea) are exchanging harsh words and engaging in shrewd tactical maneuvers, the blunt fact is that universities in both countries are quietly carrying out research cooperation in the information technology (IT) field, as well as formal private exchanges, since June 2001 under an IT training program sponsored by the American side.


The scale of such cooperation is still small.  Moreover, it frequently falls into stagnation, reflecting the political tensions between the two governments at the time.  However, the persons in charge of the program on the American side represent a group that has had a long history of contacts with East Asia and openly pursue the carrying out of exchanges as its mission. Even in this year's State of the Union Message, President Bush singled out North Korea as the "world's most dangerous regime," and the Bush administration is squarely facing North Korea's nuclear card, having carried out such accomplishments over the past year as the war in Iraq, the capture of Saddam Hussein, and convincing Libyan President Kadhafi to have a change of heart.  The significance of this must be accurately grasped.  Japan, for which the abduction issue is a deep thorn in the side of its relations with North Korea, must not overlook this factor.


This was the reason that I, though not being an expert on North Korea, was compelled to put down my thoughts in this essay. For Japan, which as an ally is sending the Self-Defense Forces (SDF) to Iraq, the facts should be made known.  The reason is because there is another face that wells up in my mind when I think of the country called the United States.


Japan cannot hold a candle in comparing the frequency and breadth of the channels of formal and informal exchanges and contacts between the U.S. and North Korea to those between Japan and the North.  That fact tends to be forgotten since the Bush administration two years ago took a confrontational stance toward North Korea by including it among the "axis of evil" countries.


The signing in Oct. 1994 under the Clinton administration of the U.S.-North Korea Agreed Framework, under which the North froze its experimental nuclear program as a trade off for improved relations, ushered in a honeymoon period that lasted until President Clinton in December 2000 - then in a lame-duck situation - cancelled his planned trip to Pyongyang due to the objections of the incoming president, George Bush. For Japan, such a relationship was impossible.


Activities of 31 NGOs


This January, two delegations were taken to the nuclear development facility at Yong Byong and shown material that was said to be plutonium. They were expected to serve as message carriers who could prove the existence of the North's nuclear deterrent to the other countries in the six-party talks. The missions themselves were remnants of that honeymoon.


Why did the anti-communist Luce Foundation assist North Korea?


What was more of a shock to me than my experiences in Syracuse, however, was what I heard at the Henry Luce Foundation, the sponsor of the IT training exchange.  


Henry Robinson Luce.  It had been a long time since I had heard that name.  Born in Shantung, China, in 1898, the son of a Presbyterian missionary, Henry Luce lived in China until the age of 15.  After three years at Yale University, he became a newspaper reporter.  In 1923, he co-founded Time Magazine, which became a great success. There followed the business magazine Fortune (1930), the popular photo magazine Life (1936), the sports magazine Sports Illustrated (1954) as he built his publishing empire. Luce died at the age of 96.  The foundation of that same Henry Luce is now supporting an IT training program for North Koreans!


Five persons came to receive IT training


In Jan. 2003, during my third trip, on arriving in New York City, I checked with a news source who had told me the story mentioned above, but I found out that the 60 persons expected last year had never come.  But a professor who headed North Korea's Kim Chaek University of Technology had come and met with Syracuse University officials in a joint committee setting and they had set up a visit from North Korea for April. 


The schedule was affected by a yellow sand storm in China and a major snowfall in New York, so the professor only stayed three days at the Syracuse campus.  But Professor Sin Thae Song was happy about the formal awarding of funding from the Henry Luce Foundation. At the time, I was visiting the MacArthur Memorial in Norfolk, Virginia, so I could not ask more about it.


My next visit was in July.  When I asked, I heard that the April visit really took place.  From April 8, Prof. Sin, leading a group of five persons, four researchers and one interpreter/protocol officer, arrived at the Syracuse campus, where they all stayed. Syracuse University assigned a staff of approximately 30, including teachers and graduate students, and they put together a friendship program to welcome the group that included a visit to Niagara Falls and the New York Stock Exchange. 


In April 2003, the Iraq war was at its peak, with Baghdad falling on the 9th.  At the same time, on the issue of North Korea's nuclear development program, as well, U.S.-North Korea-China talks ended with no next meeting in sight.  It was a time when tensions were heightening between the U.S. and North Korea.  Despite that, civilian exchanges between America and North Korea were openly taking place.


Last November, after traveling to Washington and to New York to finish writing my book, the whole Syracuse experience became known to me.  I was able to get a copy of a paper, titled, "Bilateral Research Collaboration between Kim Chaek University of Technology (DPRK) and Syracuse University (US) in the Area of Integrated Information Technology."  The paper was presented at the Asian Studies on the Pacific Coast (ASPAC) meeting held in Honolulu for two days starting June 20, 2003.  In addition to Kim Chaek and Syracuse universities, the Korea Society, which has a branch in New York City, and North Korea's Mission to the United Nations - these four organizations - jointly presented the report.  But on the front page of the report, it was noted that the Henry Luce Foundation and the Ford Foundation had supported the work that went into it.


Since no Internet connection exists between Pyongyang and Syracuse University, communication was through the North Korean Mission to the UN.  In order to install in Kim Chaek University the same computer needed for research cooperation as in Syracuse, the high hurdle of obtaining a special export license from the U.S. Department of Commerce had to be cleared.  Attaining such a fete was explained in the report, with the notation that overcoming such an obstacle was done "with the hope of improving relations between North Korea and America."


No matter from what angle one looks at it, forma private-sector exchanges are going on between the U.S. and North Korea.  There is proof of the political consideration being given to that country.  Despite the project being essential training of North Koreans by Syracuse University, the wording "research collaboration" was added to give maximum protection to the position of North Korea.  This was close to being an official friendship project.  And since the Republic of Korea was added to the project through the Korea Society, one in effect could call the project a unified Korea project - though the thought of that never occurred to the participants.


Signs of a unified Korea seeping out


While thinking about this matter, I took the time to visit the office of the Henry Luce Foundation before returning to Japan.  An executive of the foundation met me in his office in the Time-Warner Building that proudly faces Rockefeller Center in Manhattan.  The executive laughingly said, "Indeed, if Henry Luce were still alive, it would not be possible for us to support exchanges with North Korea."


He went on:


"Since we are in a post-Cold War age in which the world is essentially being unified by the development of IT, in order to celebrate the achievements of Mr. Luce as an American, we are tackling new concepts.  Since the family of the late Mr. Luce had deep connections for generations with China and East Asia, we have established grants and funds to support various technological initiatives in China and the Republic of Korea, as well as to support research on East Asia in American universities.  Our support for the joint project at Syracuse University is one of a series, with the approval of all the members of the board.  In the current difficult political climate, Syracuse University should be respected for its earnest efforts.


Nightmare of isolation


When the Republic of Korea's Kim Dae Jung met North Korea's Kim Jong Il in Pyongyang in June 2000, General Secretary Kim Jong Il reportedly said, "It's all right if the American military remains on the Korean Peninsula."  Former special U.S. envoy for peace on the Korean Peninsula Pritchard said that a senior North Korean official told him the same thing at a seminar last fall in London.   On the surface, fierce exchanges resembling that of enemy countries are continuing, but in the shadows, there is a surprisingly deep, long, broad and layered relationship between the U.S. and North Korea.  The distance between America and North Korea, as well as with the entire Korean Peninsula, is growing shorter.  One must keep well in mind that a "relationship" exists there that Japan simply does not have.  Compared to the 1972 Nixon handshake with Mao Zedung, which the U.S. went over Japan's head to accomplish, one must come to the conclusion that the degree of communication between Washington and Pyongyang has become deep, only looking at one locality, the UN mission in New York.


President Bush in his State of the Union Address did indeed call North Korea the "most dangerous regime in the world," but just before that, he gave the go-sign for a diplomatic and peaceful resolution of the nuclear issue through regional cooperation, such as the six-party talks.  Secretary of State Powell and Vice President Cheney have come out with similar support statements in speeches after the Davos Summit. 


Consequently, if peace is to be successfully maintained on the Korean Peninsula, it would seem that the six-party forum would be made permanent as a kind of regional organ. It also would seem that China naturally would be at the center, playing a mediator's role as it has previously.  The impression that South Korea and North Korea would want to give would be that of a unified Korean Peninsula. 


In that context, Japan must avoid the nightmare of being isolated from the rest.  For that purpose, it must resolve on its own accord the abduction issue with North Korea and the historical issue with countries surrounding Japan.  I repeatedly asked myself such questions as I flew from Washington aboard the ANA direct flight.


At New Year's, an e-mail came from the friend I mentioned above.  The contents read: "It has been decided that a delegation from Kim Chaek University will make their next visit to Syracuse University in early March.  It is possible that by the end of the year, a delegation from Syracuse University will visit Pyongyang."




© Fumio Matsuo 2012