BY ANTHONY LAURENCE
(Webster Groves, March 3, 2011) Former South Korean ambassador Ho-Jin Lee addressed about 100 students and faculty members regarding the rising tensions between South Korea and North Korea. The Feb. 24 speech in the Sunnen Lounge also underscored key problems facing one of the United States’ most important allies in East Asia.
“Last year was the worst year in South Korean security since the end of the Cold War period,” Lee said.
Concerned about the safety of South Korea, Lee referenced the November shelling of South Korea’s Yeonpyeong Island and the sinking of a South Korean ship in May, which left 46 South Korean sailors dead. Lee also gave a warning to the increasingly aggressive North Korea.
“The South Korean military is always ready to respond to North Korean belligerence,” Lee said. “These provocations show that North Korean strategy hasn’t changed.”
Although he did not speak on whether or not North Korea and South Korea might go to war, South Korean native and Webster University’s Asian comparative politics professor Dr. Jih-Un Kim, said he believes there is no reason to be concerned about war breaking out.
“Despite the two skirmishes in the Yellow Sea, I do not believe there is a chance for the two countries to go to war because China and the United States, their closest allies respectively, would see this as debilitating to the region and would pit the two super powers against each other further destabilizing the world economy,” he said.
Ambassador Lee’s speech also emphasized North Korea’s ambitions to build a nuclear weapon and the role of China in convincing North Korea to cease its nuclear weapons development.
“China will play an important role in advising North Korea to make concrete steps towards the cessation of their uranium enrichment program,” Lee said. “China has ample influence to change North Korean behavior.”
Lee then explained the last ten years of nuclear weapons negotiations between major powers in the region including North Korea, South Korea, Japan, China, Russia and the United States.
These series of compromises, referred to as the Six-Party Talks since 2003, eventually broke down in 2006 when North Korea violated the agreements by conducting an underground nuclear test. Since 2006, the talks have been off and on.
Regardless of the instability and lack of success of the Six-Party Talks, Lee remained optimistic about the future of North Korea’s nuclear program.
“For the time being I am skeptical, but I predict that in the future North Korea will discontinue its weapons program,” Lee said.
Kim believes the only way that this scenario will be possible is through continued conversation between the United States and North Korea.
“The Six-Party Talks have been operating with some gaps in the middle for the several past years and it has not been so successful, but the United States and North Korea should have some more direct talks and interactions,” he said.
At the end of his speech, Lee revisited South Korea’s security. His last words emphasized the relationship between North and South Korea and how frigid the situation has been for the past twenty years.
“We used to say that we live in a post-Cold War period, but on the peninsula we continue to live under Cold War conditions,” Lee said.