As Tensions Rise on Korean Peninsula, Newly-Elected South Korean President Seeks Diplomatic Thaw with the North

Posted July 5, 2017

MP3 Interview with Tim Shorrock, journalist, conducted by Scott Harris


As the U.S. celebrated the nation's Independence Day on July 4, North Korea claimed to have conducted its first successful test of a long-range missile that it says can "reach anywhere in the world." The country claimed it was an intercontinental ballistic missile, or ICBM, that Pyongyang says could potentially hit the U.S. mainland.

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who confirmed North Korea's claim that it had launched a long-range missile, said that "testing an ICBM represents a new escalation of the threat to the U.S., our allies and partners, the region and the world. ” While Donald Trump said on Twitter in early January that a North Korean test of an ICBM capable of reaching the United States, “won’t happen,” U.S. options to pressure Pyongyang are limited to engaging China to exert new pressure on the North’s leader Kim Jong Un and ratcheting up sanctions.

Although Trump’s National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster has said that military force was a possible option in confronting North Korea, U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Joseph Dunford maintain that any conflict would devastate South Korea’s capital, Seoul, and inflict horrific casualties on its 25 million residents, including an estimated 300,000 U.S. citizens residing in the metropolitan area. Between The Lines’ Scott Harris spoke with independent journalist Tim Shorrock, who has reported widely on Asian and Korean affairs. Here. he assesses rising tensions in the Korean peninsula, the Trump administration’s bellicose rhetoric and newly-elected South Korean president Moon Jae-in’s pledge to revive what’s called a sunshine policy of economic and diplomatic engagement with the North. [Rush transcript.]

TIM SHORROCK: North Korea has been building nuclear weapons since it has been missiles to carry them on and it has actually made quite a jump in its missile capability in the last year or so. But, you know, they are building these because they are afraid and have been concerned for many years about the possibility of the United States attacking them, as the United States did during the Korean War.

And the U.S. has surrounded North Korea with an incredible array of weapons for decades, including nuclear weapons, and so, this is between North Korea and the United States and it's dangerous for both. So I think the problem is, North Korea - the fact that it's developing nuclear weapons and developing missiles has to be looked in sort of a historical context because, you know, there's a lot of people who've been involved in negotiating with North Korea, have been talking about recently, you know the North Koreans look at places like Iraq, or Libya. Iraq, where the U.S. invaded and replaced a government, and in Libya, where they convinced (Moammar) Gadhafi to give up nuclear weapons, and then with NATO bombed and replaced his government also. They see nuclear weapons as protection against that kind of attack.

So, the question of how to deal with that has to confront how does North Korea feel safe so it's not attacked by the United States or the combined powers of the United States and Japan, and South Korea, which have a three-way military alliance. And I think that's the real issue before the United States, as well as with South Korea, in terms of dealing with North Korea as its neighbor. And so, there has to be some kind of resolution to this long conflict.

BETWEEN THE LINES: Tim Shorrock, North Korea and its current leader Kim Jong Un are often portrayed in the U.S. media as irrational, dangerous and as examples, there's often discussion about the really overheated rhetoric coming out of North Korea's new media. You have people who visit North Korea from the U.S., sometimes taken prisoner, as this young man who came back in a coma and later died for stealing a political slogan on a banner. How do you assess the rationality of the leadership of the nation of North Korea when it comes to these concerns about their nuclear program?

TIM SHORROCK: Well, first of all, their policies are completely rational. I don't think its irrational to protect your country from another attack. They're also very predictable, not unpredictable, as many people say. However, they are without a doubt, it's a very cruel regime. What happened to this young man, Otto Warmbier, who went there as a tourist, an innocent kid, not knowing what kind of government he was dealing with, and clearly a year ago something happened that cut the flow of blood to his brain and he went into a coma. It's a tragedy what happened to him.

We need to have better communication with North Korea. I mean, the United States has never recognized North Korea and put an embassy there, some kind of diplomatic presence there would really alleviate these kinds of issues when Americans are arrested and taken prisoner.

BETWEEN THE LINES: South Korea's newly-elected President Moon Jai-in was in Washington recently speaking with President Trump. Tell us about Moon Jae-in and his stated policy of wanting to ramp up diplomacy and outreach to North Korea, hearkening back to a time that another South Korean president pursued what they called the "Sunshine Policy." How was that greeted in Washington by the Trump administration and what are the chances that this newly-elected president in South Korea could make some kind of breakthrough here.

TIM SHORROCK: Well, I actually think the chances are pretty good. I was actually in South Korea for two months this spring, April and May and I heard him give campaign speeches a couple times, where I was in the city of quanju in the south and he made the Sunshine Policy a big part of his speeches. And he would talk, how we need to restore that kind of economic dialogue and cooperation with North Korea and go back to those days under certain conditions, of course.

But that's a very popular notion in Korea. There was a recent poll in South Korea that showed 80 percent of people want to restart the intro Korea talks and negotiations. So I think that all these sanctions are very strong. That the U.S. and U.N. has endorsed. South Korea would like to open a door to negotiations. They still want to maintain a strong military alliance they have with the United States to prevent a war and to be there in case there is a war, but they really want to reach out more, and already Moon Jae-in is doing that. For example, way before I came here, a North Korean tae-quando team was here for a world tae-quando championship. And Moon went to greet the North Korean team, and he proposed they form a joint Olympic team for next Winter Olympics when they are in South Korea.

For more information, visit Tim Shorrock's Nation magazine page at

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