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Wild or Open? Questioning North Korea

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A panel of distinguished North Korean specialists gathered at the 2013 World Knowledge Forum to discuss the issues facing the often controversial state due to its young new leader and a fledgling  nuclear policy. These experts discussed the state of a country caught in the crossfire of frequent international contention. At the forefront  of the discussion were the issues of nuclear armament, economic sanctions, and refugee acceptance.

On hand to discuss the communist state were Christopher Hill, Dean of Josef Korbel School of International Relations at the University of Denver; Meir Dagan, Former Director of Mossad; Jia Qingguo, Associate Dean of the School of International Studies at Peking University; and Chun Yung-Woo, Former Senior Presidential Secretary for Security and Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Korea.

Mr. Hill, the former US ambassador to South Korea, was critical of the leadership within the North Korean government.    "It's pretty clear  that we now have a third generation leadership, sort of a Kim 3.0, and they seem pretty much  committed to  continuing their  nuclear program," he  said.     As part  of the  six-party talks to end nuclear proliferation  in the North, Mr. Hill also called for an increased influence from China. He was critical of China‟s job  in doing so thus  far. "China has  had  one  thing  to  do--to keep North Korea from going nuclear,  and  China  has  not  done a good job  of that,"  he  said. Mr Hill noted that  China  is in the  unique position  to  act  as the  "pivot" that  would  bring  peace between North  and  South  Korea.

On China's involvement in North Korean affairs, Dr. Jia was most concerned about the economic sanctions facing North Korea. His main concern was the fine line between what would hurt the regime and what would  hurt  the  citizens  of North  Korea. "We don't want  to  create a humanitarian disaster out  of our  efforts to  push  North  Korea out  of their  weapons," he  said.

Mr. Dagan looked at the affairs of the country in terms of a greater world conflict. His trepidation  on the issue of North Korea's continued nuclear proliferation  tied into concern for his own region of the world, the Middle  East. He expressed, "Failure means a nuclear arms  race  in the  area.  Unfortunately, it will have implications not  only in the  area,  but  also  in the  Middle  East."

Ambassador Chun  spoke about North  Korea‟s new  leadership situation. Kim Jong-Eun‟s  leadership of the country is quite a strong concern in many international circles, according to Ambassador Chun. He stated, "I think [Eun] is in firm control of North Korea now...I think he has the political [and] technical skills to rule the country and to be more popular in North Korea.    I wouldn't  just write him off as an incompetent  North Korean ruler.    He has been very skillful in imposing stronger civilian control and stronger party and stronger military  control."    He was also  concerned about North  Korea‟s over-investment in nuclear arms.    He added, "There is no  future in North  Korea as long  as they  have  to  devote their resources to build up capital to destroy peace and  harm  their  neighbors. That will not  guarantee survival."

The real issue of the debate came to a head when the topic of refugees was discussed. Dr. Jia was worried about the number of refugees that  were  entering China. He stated, "If you  call them refugees, then somehow you have to manage the situation.     Will South Korea take up the tab?   If we do this, we may encourage more  North  Koreans to  come to  China." Others cited  that  China had  not  done enough. "I don't think that China has the right to send these people back to North Korea. I think China has to be held to an international standard," Mr. Hill said. Ambassador Chun  was also  concerned about the  state of the  North Korean refugees. "If you  send  them back  to  North  Korea, they  are  in trouble," he  said.  As to  South  Korea‟s refugee policy, Ambassador Chun  added, "We adopted a „one Korea‟ policy...all North  Korean refugees are welcome, whether they  are  millions, hundreds, or thousands."

Overall, the future of North Korea is as up for debate as it was at the beginning of the forum. Mr. Hill expressed his trepidation for its future.  He stated, "North  Korea will not  last forever...and when  it does collapse we will not have predicted when, and we will not  have  predicted how." The other experts present were also reluctant to cast a clear forecast of what would happen to this country with such a young leader at the helm and so many questions to face in its future.

From the World Knowledge Forum at