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View more articles by Jacob Fromer
Jacob Fromer is NK News's Washington DC correspondent. He previously worked in the U.S. Senate.
Sensational impeachment proceedings and a looming federal election — now less than one year away — threaten to pull an already polarized U.S. Congress further apart, but a member of the U.S. House of Representatives told NK News that Congress can still come together with bipartisan support on at least one issue: North Korea.
“On foreign affairs, there can be quite a bit of unity on certain issues,” said Congresswoman Judy Chu, the leader of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus, in an interview last week.
“And this” — North Korea — “could be another one of those.”
Chu, a California Democrat, freely criticized President Donald Trump’s approach to dealing with the DPRK — not for attempting diplomacy with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, but for doing it “just for show.”
“The idea of talking is very good,” she said.
“But doing it in a thoughtful manner, where you actually pay attention to the people who work in the State Department, who really know what’s at stake — that is the way to actually achieve something with North Korea.”
In an interview in her office on Capitol Hill, Congresswoman Judy Chu, the leader of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus, spoke to NK News at length about sanctions, human rights, nuclear weapons, diplomacy — and Congress’s role in all of it.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity and readability
NK News: Can you talk about why you care about North Korea as a member of Congress?
Congresswoman Judy Chu: So, the Korean-American community has come to me, numerous times, about their issues pertaining especially to the divided families issue.
And that is the fact that families have been divided, because of what happened in the split between North and South Korea, and they have not been able to reunify.
So, their desire is to have these families reunited, to have them at least be able to see one another.
But, of course, ultimately, their goal is to have North and South Korea united.
NK News: I saw today (30th October) the Foreign Affairs Committee passed a bill and resolution about divided families. Why now? Why is this something that made it through? And I saw it was a bipartisan bill too. What does that mean?
Congresswoman Judy Chu: Well, of course, one big factor is the fact that Democrats have now taken back the House. So these are Democratic initiatives.
And it’s put forth by these individuals because they are close to the Korean-American community. Congress member Grace Meng is the author of H.R. 1771 and she, of course, has a large Korean-American population in her district.
Karen Bass is a Los Angeles representative and also has a large Korean-American population in her district.
So they took the initiative to put it forth, and we had a leadership that was receptive to it. So they put it through, and I fully expect for this to have a House vote.
NK News: So, President Trump, he is talking with the leader of North Korea, Kim Jong Un. Do you support that kind of diplomacy? And if not, what is the difference between good diplomacy and bad diplomacy?
Congresswoman Judy Chu: There were high hopes amongst the Korean-American community, that this would be a step towards reunification — that because at least we were talking with people in North Korea in such a high profile way, that there could be, first of all, denuclearization, of course, which is a huge threat for people in South Korea, but also that perhaps this could lead to reunification.
But as we saw, very quickly, this diplomacy had no effect whatsoever. And it seemed to be all for show. I believe that they are probably more realistic now.
NK News: So if the two leaders of the countries talking isn’t enough, what has to happen?
Congresswoman Judy Chu: Well, I think there would have to be more substantive talks and not just for show.
The idea of talking is very good. But doing it in a thoughtful manner, where you actually pay attention to the people who work in the State Department, who really know what’s at stake — that is the way to actually achieve something with North Korea.
But, as we can see, President Trump doesn’t pay attention at all to his own State Department. In fact, he probably avoids them.
I’m not sure if he even knows who is in charge of North Korea and its diplomatic issues. I just get the sense that he is just acting very spontaneously.
NK News: Can you talk to me about what your thought process is when you may have to be voting on sanctions?
Congresswoman Judy Chu: Well, I think sanctions are really important because they are the only tools that we really have. And North Korea definitely is suffering from these sanctions.
So what we have to do is to think of a way to maximize the power of those sanctions. For instance, if we lift some of them, could we then see a step forward from North Korea?
If there was a step by step process, where both sides could see some positive effect, then maybe we could get somewhere.
NK News: And is that happening now?
Congresswoman Judy Chu: I don’t think anything is happening now. Absolutely nothing.
NK News: Do you have a lot of Korean-Americans in your district?
Congresswoman Judy Chu: I don’t have them in my district, but I am chair of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus, so I take the responsibility of looking out for the Asian Pacific Islander population all across the nation.
And also, actually, in Los Angeles County – I don’t have them in my district – but there is the largest Korean-American population outside Korea. So it’s a huge diaspora there.
NK News: It seems like this issue also resonates beyond just the Korean-American population. It seems like the North Korea issue resonates for a lot of people in the U.S.
Congresswoman Judy Chu: Well, we have 28,000 troops there. And of course, we’ve had people that fought in the Korean War. So we have a close association with Korea.
And the fact that we have 28,000 troops there, of course, it’s something we really have to think about with regard to the nuclear weapons that North Korea is trying to develop. Those troops would be in danger if North Korea actually tried to do something.
But, of course, we also have to be really mindful and concerned about the welfare of the people of South Korea, as well as people in that whole peninsula
NK News: That leads into my next question, which is about human rights in North Korea. Is that a priority of the Congress?
Congresswoman Judy Chu: Of course, yes. We want to make sure that people are treated fairly.
But of course, we know Kim Jong Un is a dictator, we know that he would even stoop to having his own half-brother murdered.
He appears to be fairly brutal in his tactics, and this is something that we cannot tolerate.
NK News: Do you think Congress would tolerate a nuclear North Korea? They’ve tested the weapons. Do we just have to deal with it?
Congresswoman Judy Chu: We do not want a nuclear North Korea, of course.
And to have somebody who acts like Kim Jong Un is even more problematic. He is a dictator and he is unpredictable. He wants power.
How will he utilize that power? He could do great harm to others.
NK News: For all these issues – human rights, nuclear weapons, sanctions – I think a lot of people out there don’t necessarily understand the role that Congress plays here.
They might picture foreign policy as just the President going out and shaking a bunch of hands. Can you help me understand what the role is that Congress can play?
Congresswoman Judy Chu: Well, Congress plays a huge role in making sure our foreign policy is for the benefit of the U.S. and that we maintain our role as leaders in the world.
We are the ones that can pass bills to provide sanctions. We are the ones that authorize troops. And, of course, we passed many a bill that urges humanitarian standards.
And, of course, we have these kinds of bills that are addressing human issues, which is the divided families.
I’ve actually also been a cosponsor of bills to provide for adoptions. There is this whole issue about adoptions of these orphans in North Korea and their treatment.
Anyway, there are all kinds of human issues that are involved here, where there’s been legislation.
NK News: With a divided Congress, one chamber controlled by the Democrats and one chamber controlled by the Republicans, how does that factor into the situation?
Congresswoman Judy Chu: Well, look at what happened just recently with the Turkey vote. The Turkey sanctions vote, and basically, all the related Turkey/Syria votes were pretty overwhelming.
Yesterday’s was 400 or something votes. Then last week’s was 360 or something votes. It was pretty bipartisan. So on foreign affairs, there can be quite a bit of unity on certain issues. And this could be another one of those.
NK News: North Korea?
Congresswoman Judy Chu: Yeah.
NK News: What about impeachment? How would that affect foreign policy with North Korea? Not necessarily the President being impeached, but even the process going on while he’s conducting foreign policy.
Congresswoman Judy Chu: We like to say that we can walk and chew gum at the same time. This is a phrase you’re hearing more and more around here because there is impeachment but that’s not dominating our agenda.
We have so many things going on. So we can definitely address these issues. And we know these issues are very important.
NK News: Can you just paint a picture for me, what your vision is of the ideal situation with North Korea? What do you want it to look like, if you could just snap your fingers and make it happen?
Congresswoman Judy Chu: Well, I would want a real diplomatic effort. I would like talks to resume in a serious way. I would like to see North Korea curb its development of these nuclear weapons.
Of course, what I’d like to see are all the nuclear weapons eliminated, but I’m not sure that that is achievable. And then, for certain of the sanctions to be lifted so that there can be more aid to the people of North Korea who I think are very impoverished. Their standard of living is probably horrendous.
I think that once they get more food, a better quality of life, then maybe we can have a better relationship between all of us.
There have been times when our relations with other countries have been at the lowest level. Let’s look at the U.S. and China — then Nixon goes over to China and the barriers are broken.
And now look at it — okay, we’re kind of in a tense situation right now — but after Nixon went, it was really amazing how different the relationship became.
So I have hopes that things can change.
Edited by James Fretwell and Oliver Hotham
Featured image: Judy Chu Facebook