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Kim Dae-jung: KDJ
AR: Hello, I am Anjali Rao in Seoul. My guest today is the former South Korean president Kim Dae-jung.
AR: This is Talk Asia!
AR: During his time in office, Kim Dae-jung orchestrated the sunshine policy, designed to engage his country's secretive and poverty ridden neighbor, North Korea. That earned him both a noble peace prize and a storm of scandal.
KDJ: We as a government never gave them money. The Hyundai Group did. But that was in return for tremendous rights.
AR: The President Kim is also one of the only world leaders with the first hand insight into the puzzling figure, who's the ruler of the north, Kim Jong-il.
KDJ: Kim Jong-il he is a very smart man who's very quick to make a decision. Kim Jong-il is very different from how the outside word perceives him to be.
AR: President Kim, welcome to Talk Asia.
Let's first discuss the sunshine policy. Even with the best intentions in the world it always had its critics. Did it though, live up to your expectations?
KDJ: Within the North and South Korean relationship, the sunshine policy has been successful. But with North Korea and the United Sates, the relationship was better during the Clinton administration as there was greater cooperation.
Since the start of the Bush administration, relations between the two countries have worsened. And in the process, that's caused complications to the Sunshine policy.
I cannot say the Sunshine policy achieved perfect success, but it's true it obtained excellent results. Above all, the tension between North and South Korea has been eased.
Before the Sunshine Policy, the situation was that people in the South panicked when the United States lost the Vietnam War. And they panicked when a North Korean border guard fired a gun. People even got ready to flee the country!
But after the Sunshine policy, there's a much better understanding among the people. For example, this time, when North Korea fired its missiles, or when there was news that North Korea was developing nuclear weapons, the South Korean people didn't really panic.
Now, the South Korean people have much more knowledge about their counterparts in North Korea. And the South Korean people now have a lot more confidence in dealing with the North.
AR: Kim Jong-iI is such a secretive figure but you've met him. Give us an idea of your impressions of this man.
KDJ: That's a very interesting question! Kim Jong-il is very different from how the outside world perceives him to be. And I'm not the only one who thinks so. Secretary Albright, Prime Minister Koizumi and former Prime Minister Peterson of Sweden also had that same impression when they visited North Korea and met Kim Jong-il.
KDJ: Kim Jong-il is a very smart man who's very quick to make a decision. If he sees that another person's ideas are right, he can accept them on the spot. These are his merits.
KDJ: Of course, Kim Jong-il is also completely committed to a dictatorship, which fits our perception of him as an evil man.
AR: Perhaps one of the most famous conversations that you had with him, and who knows, perhaps one of the most fascinating, was in the car ride with him when you arrived in North Korea. President, many people would love to know what you talked about during that ride. Can you tell us here and now what was said?
KDJ: I was not quite sure whether Kim Jong-il would appear at the airport or not. But he was there!
KDJ: When you visit another country as a guest of the government, you would usually take a car with only a protocol officer. But Kim Jong-il was in the seat next to me. I was so surprised when I saw him!
KDJ: With about 600,000 people outside on the streets cheering and waving flowers, there was too much going on for us to have a conversation. We couldn't hear each other even if we did try to have a conversation. And I was also a bit nervous at the time because we faced a very important summit meeting ahead.
KDJ: So, there were two reasons why we couldn't have a conversation. First, because we were not in a proper situation to have a dialogue and I was too nervous and didn't feel like talking. Second, because there were people cheering on the street and we had to wave at these people. I do remember him saying "I'll treat you well," but other than that, we didn't have that much conversation.
AR: You also made a deal with Kim Jong-il to exchange visits. You went to North Korea, and he agreed to come to the South but he never lived up to his half of the bargain. That must be a source of great disappointment for you.
KDJ: Yes, I was very disappointed, and I still feel very bad about it. If he couldn't come, he should have said so and apologized. Instead he kept silent. He never mentioned anything about not visiting in any official statement.
KDJ: Former Chinese President Jiang and President Vladimir Putin of Russia tried to persuade Kim Jong-il to visit Seoul, saying to him, "President Kim is older than you, yet he's the one who's made the visit. You have to show him respect by returning his visit!"
I heard Kim Jong-il said he would, but he never did.
KDJ: I believe that inter-Korean relations, in terms of peace, would have gotten so much better if he had visited here.
AR: He'd been stubborn about coming to visit South Korea and he'd certainly been stubborn about his country's nuclear program. How big a setback do you think it was for relations in this part of the world that he carried out those missile tests in July?
KDJ: North Korea made a huge mistake! And because of that, tensions have accelerated in the Asian region. Japan is moving forward to rearm itself, the US and Japan are applying more pressure on the North, and the UN has condemned the North on its missile test.
All that's not helping North Korea, and it's also not helping the stability and peace in the Asia region. I have publicly said how foolish it is for North Korea to pursue such an act, and I have strongly advised North Korea to stop these kinds of activities. But it has not listened.
AR: Kim Jong-il has always said that he wants one-on-one talks with Washington. That according to Washington is not going to happen. Knowing Kim Jong-il as you do, is there anything to persuade him to come back to six-party talks?
KDJ: I cannot understand why the US is refusing to have bilateral dialogue with North Korea.
KDJ: Dialogue is not ALL about friendship. You have to talk to the enemy if there are mutual interests involved. In the past, former President Regan called Russia the 'Evil Empire,' but still pursued a dialogue with Moscow. The US has had a year-long conversation to sign an armistice agreement with North Korea. I cannot understand now why the US is saying that it cannot have dialogue with the North. Having a dialogue doesn't mean making friends or compromising. I just cannot understand Washington's stance on this.
AR: North Korea has admitted that it is pursuing this nuclear program. Surely it is now up to the North Koreans to suspend that program if it wants one-on-one talks with the US. That could pave the way for those negotiations to happen. So, the ball must now be in North Korea's court not in Washington?
KDJ: I do agree with you that North Korea bears responsibility for that.
But at the same time, the North says it will give up its nuclear program and receive a thorough inspection from the US, in exchange for security guarantees and the lifting of economic sanctions. That's why North Korea is saying that it needs to have direct talks with Washington. But the US is not accepting this request, insisting that the North should give up its nuclear program first. That's why North Korea cannot trust the US, and that's causing problems.
KDJ: Let me strongly point this out. North Korea IS willing to improve its relations with the US because it thinks that's the only way it can survive. North Korea also thinks that that's the only way to prevent itself from becoming one of China's tributaries.
KDJ: So, I believe we should give North Korea a chance, provide security guarantees and lift economic sanctions so that it can join the International Community. If North Korea doesn't keep its promise, then the other remaining five parties can apply counter-measures against North Korea. If this happens, China would not object and South Korea cannot object.
KDJ: So, I believe it's time for the US to make a decisive decision. If North Korea obtains a nuclear weapon, then South Korea would want one. So would Japan and Taiwan. And all of Asia will become a minefield of nuclear weapons.
AR: President Kim stay with us here on Talk Asia.
When we return, we'll reveal Kim Dae-jung's thoughts on President Bush's 'Axis of Evil' speech.
President George W. Bush: "North Korea is a regime arming with missiles and weapons of mass destruction while starving its citizens. States like these and their terrorist allies constitute an axis of evil that's arming to threaten the peace of the world!"
AR: We're back on Talk Asia with the former South Korean president Kim Dae-jung. President Kim, President George W. Bush called North Korea part of an axis of evil. You know Kim Jong-il. Talk to us about him on a personal level. You said that he's quick, that he's decisive. Is he in fact, evil?
KDJ: I think the communism he pursues has a lot of elements of evil. But as an individual leader and person, he's the kind of man that I'd described earlier. And many other leaders who have met him describe him in the same way.
KDJ: In January 2002, President Bush called North Korea a part of "the axis of evil" and then he visited Seoul in February. We had a long and interesting conversation. I said to President Bush, "President Regan called Russia an "Evil Empire," but still had dialogue with Russia. The US also had dialogue with North Korea during the Korean War. I said there is no co-relation between being evil and having dialogue. If there is the need and interest, there should be dialogue. And there are different kinds of dialogue friendly ones and offensive ones.
KDJ: President Bush agreed with me. So, when he had a press conference, he said three things. One is that the US will not attack North Korea. Second is that the US will have dialogue with North Korea. The interesting thing is that he used my Reagan story, and said he would have dialogue with North Korea in the same way that Reagan called Russia 'evil' and also had dialogue with it! The third thing he said was that the US will provide food to North Korea.
KDJ: However, these words have not been put into practice that much.
AR: When President Bush made his axis of evil comment that was a time when you were trying very hard to befriend the North. How difficult was it to keep up that campaign while maintaining your alliance with the US?
KDJ: During the Clinton administration, the president openly supported my sunshine policy. He declared that all the policies toward North Korea by President Kim will be supported by the US.
KDJ: But with the Bush administration, there appeared a policy of opposing everything that was favored by the Clinton administration. There's even a joke that that it's an ABC or anything by Clinton policy. And they turned against many of the policies towards North Korea.
However, that didn't make me anti-American, nor did I criticize President Bush. There are many other interests and reasons for friendship that President Bush and I share. North Korea is just one common interest among many. And even on that issue, it is basically a difference of opinion of how to bring about peace on the Korean peninsula.
AR: Washington does have a hard-line against North Korea. With that in mind then how valuable do you think China's contribution is to resolving this dispute?
KDJ: North Korea is a very poor county, but it has a high almost morbidly high level of pride. China may have the biggest influence on North Korea, but it cannot control the country.
KDJ: The problem is that North Korea wants to talk to the US. It wants to give in to the US and to get benefits from the US. They feel that that is the only way that they can safely survive in the international community. That is why, what's most important is what policy the US has toward North Korea.
AR: President Kim, stay with us. We'll be back in just a minute here on Talk Asia. And when we do come back, we will talk about the president's family life, including the personal tragedy of watching his sons get caught up in corruption.
Welcome back to Talk Asia. We're with the former South Korean president Kim Dae-jung.
You were kidnapped and nearly killed in 1973 by government agents and they've now admitted that happened. Given all your experiences leading up to your time and power, did you ever wonder whether it was really worth it? Were your convictions that much worth fighting for?
KDJ: The founders of the US, people like George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, fought to achieve freedom. They were willing to die for it. There are people who are willing to die for great ideals such as freedom and justice. I cannot say that I'm as great as they are, but I have fought for truth as a student of these great people.
KDJ: However, when I think about those painful experiences in my prison cell, and when I was sentenced to death, thinking about the rope hanging around my neck, I was very frightened. After I was sentenced to death, people from the military regime came up to me and said "If you cooperate with us, we will let you live. If you don't cooperate, you will die." I said, "If I compromise with you, I'll live temporarily, but I will die forever. If I do not cooperate with you, my body will be dead, but I will live in my people's heart and history forever. I rather choose to live in history forever."
KDJ: At that time, President Carter and President Regan saved my life. They played a decisive role. When I was almost buried at sea, it was the CIA who saved my life by gathering information and passing it on to the Japanese.
Nobel peace price comity: I now a call up the on noble peace winner of 2000 president Kim Dae-jung to come forward.
AR: President Kim, you've drawn comparisons with another world leader, Nelson Mandela. He was also a dissident at one point in his life who then rose to the presidency of his own country. Also you've both won the Nobel peace prize. The difference of course, is that yours was shrouded in controversy. People say that you secretly paid Kim Jong-il for your famous meeting that got you that prize. What do you say to those accusations?
KDJ: Nelson Mandela suffered a lot more than I did. And he overcame and succeeded in spite of situations and challenges that were much more difficult than mine. So, I admire and respect him very much. He is also a lot more senior than I am, and I have much to learn from him.
KDJ: As for the issue with North Korea, we as a government never gave them money. The Hyundai Group did. But that was in return for tremendous rights. And as in the instance of Prime Minister Disraeli borrowing money from the rich in order to buy rights in the Suez, I felt that by acquiring rights in North Korea, we would also improve our ability to influence the North. That has partly been realized.
KDJ: And because we were able to secure the development rights for the next 30 to 50 years for railway, port and telecommunications, as well as tourism and various industrial complex construction rights, we gave Hyundai the go-ahead under special authority of the president.
AR: President Kim obviously one of the most traumatic periods in your life must have been when your sons became embroiled in corruption. How difficult was that to deal with, not only as a politician, a very very prominent figure, but also as a father?
KDJ: In a word, I felt very sorry towards the Korean people and I was in great pain. I should point out that much of that incident was fabricated. I believe the truth will come out one day. But when it happened, I was ashamed and remorseful that I had not taught my sons well. At the same time, I felt sorry for my sons who were sacrificed because of my position.
AR: President your life has been full of many many ups and downs, more than most people. For you though, what was the greatest highlight of your life so far? What's been the biggest honor for you?
KDJ: Politically, it is ending 50 years of dictatorship and achieving a peaceful transfer of power between the ruling and opposition parties.
Economically, it is overcoming the financial crisis in a short period of time. And in the South-North area, it is having a summit with the North.
And personally, it is receiving the Nobel Peace Prize.
All these, I consider great moments in my life.
AR: President Kim thanks you very much indeed for coming onto the show and sharing your thoughts with us today. My guest today has been the former South Korean president, Kim Dae-jung. Do join me again next week for another edition of Talk Asia. I am Anjali Rao, thanks for watching.