For Want of a Prize, a Nation’s Security Is Lost

February 15th, 2012
Published: February 14, 2012 in Family Security Matters

Surprisingly, a rare decision last month on an asylum case by a US immigration judge received little attention. The decision is big for two reasons: 1) the asylum seeker was from Korea and 2) the underlying facts as to why he sought asylum puts the lie to what supporters of South Korea’s decade-long appeasement policy toward North Korea hail as its greatest moment.

The asylum seeker was Kim Ki-sam. The concern for his safety stemmed not from persecution at the hands of a vengeful North Korea but a vengeful South. Kim was a South Korean operative in its intelligence agency–the National Intelligence Service (NIS). For a citizen of an ally to be granted asylum by the US is highly unusual in its own right. But Kim had reason to fear for his life–for he had gone public with evidence of major fraud perpetrated by Seoul upon the international community. It was done solely in the interests of furthering the legacy and wealth of one man–at great cost to his fellow countrymen.

Here are the facts.

In 1998, a long time South Korean human rights activist, Kim Dae-jung (DJ Kim), was elected president. DJ Kim’s road to the presidency was a rough one, almost being killed in 1973. He was kidnapped from a hotel in Tokyo by South Korean CIA agents for having criticized Seoul’s President Park Chung-hee, who had seized power in a military coup. DJ Kim had spoken out against Park for his plan to grant himself near-dictatorial powers. Perhaps minutes away from death as he was being taken out to sea for disposal, DJ Kim was saved through the intervention of the US Ambassador to Seoul. Immediately after learning about the kidnapping, the ambassador had made a frantic phone call to President Park, threatening diplomatic consequences if DJ Kim was killed.

When DJ Kim returned to Seoul in 1976, he was sentenced to five years in prison for signing an anti-government manifesto, serving two years before being put under house arrest. Park was later assassinated, giving rise to a coup that put Chun Doo-hwan in power. Because a popular uprising against Chun in 1980 took place in DJ Kim’s political stronghold of Gwangju province, he was prosecuted and sentenced to death. Again, however, the US intervened, convincing Chun to commute his sentence to 20 years, and later pressuring Seoul to exile him to the US. DJ Kim returned to Korea in 1985 where he won the 1998 presidential election as the Democratic Party’s standard bearer. When he took office the following year, it was the first time in Korean history the ruling party peacefully transferred power to a democratically elected opposition party. Consequently, DJ Kim earned the moniker the “Nelson Mandela of Asia.”

DJ Kim came to office with a sterling human rights reputation and high hopes of the South Korean people he could break down the hostile divide separating North and South Korea. He launched a policy of détente against the North, known as the “Sunshine Policy.” He embarked upon an effort to get Pyongyang to agree to the first ever Summit meeting between two Korean leaders. He successfully achieved what few thought possible as, in June 2000, the Summit took place in Pyongyang amongst much international fanfare. DJ Kim’s efforts won him, later that year, the world’s most prestigious prize–the Nobel Peace Prize–awarded to the person “who has done the most to promote peace,” along with a check in excess of $1,000,000.

The agreement reached with Pyongyang called for two meetings to take place–one in Pyongyang and a second in Seoul. But after DJ Kim went north for the first meeting, North Korean dictator Kim jong-Il refused to come south for the second. With DJ Kim’s term in office ending, his Democratic Party successor, Roh moo-hyun, was elected president. Roh continued DJ Kim’s Sunshine Policy, holding a second Summit in 2007 with Kim jong-il–but again in Pyongyang.

It was only in the waning days of DJ Kim’s presidency the truth about the Summit came out–as a result of revelations made by US asylum seeker Kim Ki-sam–as to why the North agreed to it.

Due to his NIS position, Kim Ki-sam was privy to DJ Kim’s efforts to negotiate an inter-Korean Summit.   DJ Kim instructed subordinates to make the meeting happen. As Kim jong-il saw nothing to gain from a Summit, DJ Kim had to sweeten the pot, finally agreeing secretly to pay the North Koreans an estimated $1.5 billion cash to do so. In fact, Kim Ki-sam reports, the day before the leaders were to meet, the Summit was almost called off by Pyongyang as the fund transfer–due to a banking error–had not yet been received. And, as Kim Ki-sam further reported, simultaneously with DJ Kim’s Summit initiative, he had ordered his people to actively market his name with the Nobel Prize Committee.

In 2002, Kim Ki-sam shared with the Korean media evidence of DJ Kim’s dealings with the North including dates, wire transfers, etc. He then departed for the US, seeking asylum in 2003. It was initially granted in 2008 but remanded after the US Department of Homeland Security opposed it–most likely due to pressure exerted by Seoul. However, last month’s decision by an immigration judge, granting asylum again, is the final disposition of the case.

Others have paid a price for their role in DJ Kim’s scandal. The bribe to North Korea was apparently laundered through Hyundai Asan. In 2003, facing up to three years in prison for doctoring the books, the Chairman of the company fell to his death from the 12th floor of Hyundai’s headquarters in Seoul. The whole story of this presidential betrayal is detailed in “Korea Betrayed: Kim Dae-jung and Sunshine,” published in 2009.

Not only was the Summit a failure and a sham as the North’s only motivation for participating in the “dog and pony show” was financial, so too was the Sunshine Policy itself. It proved to be a one-way street by which great benefits flowed north but nothing flowed south. DJ Kim was so committed to appeasement at any price, even after North Korean gunboats intruded into South Korean territorial waters, firing upon one of its naval vessels without warning and killing sailors, he still opted to do nothing.

There was great disdain of the South by the North due to the former’s perceived weakness. This disdain was made somewhat obvious during the 2007 Summit. While dinners were hosted on alternate evenings by the North and by the South, Kim jong-il did not even bother to attend the dinner hosted by President Roh after President Roh had attended the dinner hosted by Kim jong-il.

The disdain was also made obvious by Kim jong-il’s refusal to go south for the second Summit meeting. Perhaps envisioning himself as Muhammad, he saw no need for Muhammad to go to the mountain; therefore, the mountain had to come to him–as President Roh did in 2007. The payment of $1.5 billion had apparently convinced the North that the South wanted peace at any price–and the North was very content to be the beneficiary of the South’s largesse.

DJ Kim died in 2009. It was a disturbing end for a man who had championed human rights most his life. The man awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for doing “the most to promote peace” in the world in 2000 had only promoted a faux peace. As the monies paid to Pyongyang undoubtedly went into funding their nuclear arms program, what is most disturbing about DJ Kim’s actions is this: He became so mesmerized by the fame and fortune of the Prize, he was willing to pay any price to get it–even at the expense of his own country’s national security.

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