Monday, December 6, 2010

A blast from the past: 'Conference for a new direction in US Korea policy'

In fossicking through boxes of remainded books in a small, dingy, out of the way bookshop, GuamDiary came across the proceedings of a conference for a new direction in US Korea policy, held 33 years ago in New York City.
Reading through the conference's official transcript, we see that little has fundamentally changed in US policy towards North Korea.
Let's first place the conference in its historical setting. Jimmy Carter had just become president. Park Chung hee the South Korean dictator and US ally sat comfortably in the Blue House in Seoul. President Nixon's call for reduction of US troops strength in South Korea, to bolster troops levels in the US debilitating war in Vietnam, had set Park on a charm offensive to bribe the US Congress. A crisis of confidence erupted known as 'Koreagate".
The new American president called for a rethinking on US policy on Korea. An 'ad hoc' committee composed of a Nobelist, university activists, clergy, a UN consultant, and an activist seized the moment to call for an international conference to be held in New York from 1 April to 3 April 1977.
To that purpose, they placed an ad in the 'New York Times'. The response and the furor it aroused was more than the 'Committee for a new direction for US Korea Policy' could have expected.
The call bore the headline 'Korea--Our Responsbility'. Its brief clearly stated the Committee's case: the cruel rule of the Park dictatorship; the blantant violations of human rights and the imprisonment of and assassination attempts on the lives of its opponents; the role of the US backed by its military of propping up Park Chung Hee; the documented reports of Park's attempts to subvert the US constitution through bribery of elected government officials;the rising tide of popular resistance of South Koreans oppossed to General Park's rule also raised the possibility of renewed war by Park to maintain power; the presence of US nuclear weapons in South Korea, among other issues.
The Committe called for the removal of the nuclear weapons and the troops and weapons and paramilitary forces, as well as denying all aid and assistance to Park Chung Hee. The Committee took Carter at his word: a complete reexamination of US Korea policy was in order with the view to a peaceful solution to the mounting crisis between the US and South Korea and a hope for a peaceful conclusion of the Korean War.
The public reaction to the Committee's 'NYT's' ad was swift: on one hand, the Committee was denounced as 'Communist', but more surprising, on the other hand, they got strong public support and encouragement.
Consequently, in a whirlwind of activity, the Conference began on 1 April 1977, across the street from the UN, with delegates from 9 countries, including South Korea. Japan sent 3 members of parliament. A welcome surprise was the presence of South Korean dissidents living in the US and West Germany whose speeches and talks broke the Park dominance of the Korean media. They included high ranking diplomats, senior army and navy officers, former KCIA agents, clergy, businessmen, university professors, writers and poets, journalists, and a world renowned Korean composer kidnapped and tortured by Park's CIA.
Although members of the US government were invited to attend, no one sent a staff member or came in person. Senator Ted Kennedy sent an encouraging note. Rear Admiral Eugene LaRoque submitted a statement to the conference. The German SPD had an observer at the proceedings. And the noted Korea expert Gregory Henderson then of Tufts Fletcher School of Diplomacy attended as a special guest.
Among the delegates, the following names are easily reconisable today: Bruce Cumings, Jon Halliday, Michael Klare, and the reverend James Stentzel
In all, during three days, the delegates discussed and debated a new direction for US policy towards Korea, from various standpoints - social, political, economic, and military. Judging by the transcripts, the discussions were lively and informative.
It is a pity that time and space limit GuamDiary from giving its readers a taste of the quality and the flavour of the talks and the question & answer sessions.
The conference did much to energise the Korean Americans to redouble efforts to influence change in South Korea in the US.
Suffice to say, at the end, the conference sent a telegramme to president Carter, encouraging him to revise US policy towards Korea as he had promised. The conference urged its delegates, once they returned home, to support the struggle of the people of South Korea in opposing dictator Park, to actively emphasize the defence of human rights - a cornerstone of Carter's foreign policy - when it came to South Korea, call for the recall of US nuclear armaments from a very tense divided Korean peninsula, and withdraw US troops. In brief, the conference simply promised to avocate for a new US Korea policy along the lines Carter was proposing.
The conference held 5 news conferences at the end of three days of talks. The Japanese and Korean and Korean American press, as well as Mexican, French, British, and German media were present. In fact, press conferences were not only held in English, but in Korea and Japanese. Yet the US mainstream media boycotted the conference and as for coverage, remained silent as a tomb.
It was as though, according to the conference coordinator, that no one in the American government cared about forging a new Korea policy but Jimmy Carter.

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