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View more articles by Park Ui-sung
Park Ui-sung is a North Korean defector now living in the South. He grew up in the country's coastal regions.
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Today’s question: How do you think President Moon is doing so far with inter-Korean relations?
Traditionally, it is risky to talk carelessly about Korea’s rulers. There have been a number of incidents where one comes to a miserable end after getting on the King’s nerves.
If you’d asked me this question when I arrived in the South, I would have been reticent to answer. But after three years here I’ve been able to see that neither praising or criticizing the President results in reward or punishment. Now, I’m the very first in my family to publicly and freely write about my leader.
The first sign of the Korean spring came after a severe winter, when the first warm breeze blew across the freezing ice hockey rink at the PyeongChang Olympics. An exchange of South and North Korean art troupes across the peninsula continued that warm breeze.
South Korean singers, including a famous girl group, told the citizens of Pyongyang that “Spring is coming.”
It was a pleasant spring – even the seasonal fine dust couldn’t disturb this feeling.
I think South Korean President Moon Jae-in has done a good job so far: he’s played a major role in this warm breeze through his outgoing attitude.
To begin with, I am supportive of the Moon administration for two reasons.
The first is that I know North Koreans back home welcomed the two inter-Korean summits.
I still remember June 15, 2000. With my family, I was so excited to see then-South Korean president Kim Dae-jung and North Korean leader Kim Jong Il shaking hands at Pyongyang airport. Unless you personally experienced this event, you don’t know how encouraging it was to us: I thought unification was just one step away.
I think South Korean President Moon Jae-in has done a good job so far
Whether at home, school, or streets, the idea of unification was so prevalent. I support the summit for emotional reasons: a sense of hope that my family and friends will feel for the upcoming inter-Korean talks – I believe Moon’s approach will give North Koreans hope. Despite the outcome of the summit between two leaders, that is important.
But there is also reason to be optimistic about the outcomes: previous inter-Korean talks took place during the mid to late point of South Korean presidencies. This time, though, they are taking place within a year of Moon taking office, suggests there is a lot of time for progress to take place between the two Koreas.
With this in mind, the last two summits show Moon’s strong desire to solve inter-Korean problems and also the high potential for positive results. Moreover, the fact that the summits were followed swiftly by U.S.-North Korea talks is another reason that we can be hopeful.
But I am concerned, too. Setting aside the issue of North Korea’s sincerity in the talks, the current reconciliatory mood reminds many defectors of the Sunshine Policy days.
Many escapees hold gloomy memories of those times: from the point of view of the North Korean government, our very existence is like a thorn in their side, telling the whole world about the regime’s vulnerable system and poor human rights.
For this reason, previous South Korean governments that sought to improve relations with Pyongyang tried to conceal defector issues.
Defector issues are not a card which should be concealed so that North-South relations can improve
The case of Hwang Jang-yop, a former Workers’ Party secretary and one of the high-level officials to ever defect from the North, is a prime example of this conflict. It is widely known fact that his movement was strongly restricted by the Kim Dae-jung and Roh Moo-hyun governments.
It is no doubt that the defector problem is a sensitive and uncomfortable issue for a government which would like to continue dialogue with North Korea. Defector issues will not be mentioned in this talks, but if the North and South relations continue to improve, it will have to be raised at some point.
It is nothing more than a repeat of the mistakes of the past to conceal the defector issue and make concessions in order not to upset North Korea: defector issues are not a card which should be concealed so that North-South relations can improve.
For this problem, we have to keep an eye on how Moon’s government is handling this issue, though I fear that his past means he will not stray away too far from the policy of his predecessors, unfortunately.
Regardless of these problems, I still support Moon’s policy towards North Korea and am optimistic about future talks: the sooner inter-Korean reconciliation comes, hopefully, the sooner I can return to my motherland.
Translated by Jenny Lee
Edited by Oliver Hotham
Featured image: Blue House