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FOREIGN MINISTER'S INTERVIEW WITH CHANNEL NEWSASIA (3. 6.)
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FOREIGN MINISTER'S INTERVIEW WITH CHANNEL NEWSASIA
[Yun-suk LIM, Chief of Seoul Bureau] Foreign Minister Kang, Kyung-wha, thank you for being on 'Conversation with'.
[Minister Kang] Thank you very much. Thank you for having me. Very happy to be here.
[Yun-suk LIM, Chief of Seoul Bureau] Do you think the likelihood of the meeting between North Korea and United States has increased now?
[Minister Kang] Yes, so I think that very much has to be the expectation.
[Yun-suk LIM, Chief of Seoul Bureau] But the feeling that we got from the Olympics was that there wasn't much contact between North Korea and the U.S. and so...
[Minister Kang] There wasn’t direct contact, but you know, in our discussions with each, we did ascertain that they are, both sides, willing to sit and discuss. And so the task now is how do you bring the two sides together.
[Yun-suk LIM, Chief of Seoul Bureau] And how do you do that?
[Minister Kang] Obviously, each sides have their own positions, but in the end this has to be about denuclearization, about peacefully resolving the North Korean nuclear issue. That is not just the U.S.'s. It's the goal certainly of my country but of the whole of the international community. The complete, verifiable, and irreversible denuclearization of North Korea is a stated global goal as expressed in so many Security Council resolutions. So, we are aiming at the same goal. But I think how do you pace in a way that is harmonized, how do you pace the South-North track, which it has jump-started, with the track that gets us to denuclearization... obviously, they have to go in complement one working off each other. They have to go together in the end. And that's where the diplomatic challenge lies.
[Yun-suk LIM, Chief of Seoul Bureau] Do you see all these as a direct result of the sanctions?
[Minister Kang] There are many theories. But I think certainly one element has to be our consistent messaging that the missile and nuclear program is unacceptable; that North Korea will not be accepted as a nuclear power; that provocations have to stop, and that provocations will be only met with further sanctions. That has been the story of last year — provocations and further sanctions, but that we will engage, that sanctions are... and the pressure is...they are not an end in themselves (but) tool to get North Korea to the dialogue table, and we've been very consistent on that message. And should they come to dialogue and change course, we are prepared to work with them to offer a much better prosperous future. So, the consistency of our message... certainly the sanctions -- ten Security Council sanctions that are accumulative -- have to have impact on the ground. So, I think various things went into North Korea's calculation and they have decided to come.
[Yun-suk LIM, Chief of Seoul Bureau] What happens if North Korea does carry out another missile test?
[Minister Kang] I think that would be hugely disruptive of this dialogue momentum that has been created around the Olympics. It basically will throw cold water on the whole endeavor.
[Yun-suk LIM, Chief of Seoul Bureau] What’s the possibility that perhaps South Korea and the U.S. delaying or even canceling the joint military drills to allow the talks to take place?
[Minister Kang] Well, the agreement was about rescheduling the exercises that were scheduled for Feb. and March to create a peaceful secure environment for the Olympics to take place. That's the only agreement on the exercises so far. These are, as you know, regular, yearly exercises that are defensive in nature. These consultations continue as they do regularly on a year-to-year basis. So, I can't tell you what that consultation at this point might be, but these are not something that we do to provoke North Korea. These are regular, annual, defensive exercises.
[Yun-suk LIM, Chief of Seoul Bureau] Could South Korea possibly think, consider delaying it just to make the environment better for possible dialogue between Washington and Pyongyang?
[Minister Kang] I can't speak on behalf of the military authorities, but I am sure they’re in consultations, but again, it was one-time decision to delay during the Olympics and that's the only agreement to change anything about the regularly scheduled exercises.
[Yun-suk LIM, Chief of Seoul Bureau] When do you think we can expect some kind of dialogue between Washington and Pyongyang?
[Minister Kang] When is a difficult question to answer in any specific terms, but we are certainly working in that direction.
[Yun-suk LIM, Chief of Seoul Bureau] But does it have to come before possibly the end of the Paralympics? Are we running against time?
[Minister Kang] It doesn't have to be that they have visibly to sit together to indicate that they are now finally engaging. The diplomatic endeavors can take place without visibly things happening. I wouldn't say whether they would take or not take place before the Paralympics end. (We) especially with our American colleagues are in constant touch and managing the momentum of dialogue, so that it reaches to a solid denuclearization track.
[Yun-suk LIM, Chief of Seoul Bureau] Have you been in contact with them yesterday and today over the latest...?
[Minister Kang] Well, I... yes, you know, my colleagues are constantly in touch with their counterparts, and I am also planning to have another round with my conterpart Mr. Tillerson. We are trying to fine-tune the timing of that.
[Yun-suk LIM, Chief of Seoul Bureau] When can we expect that? I mean within a week or some very soon....?
[Minister Kang] Hopefully, very soon.
[Yun-suk LIM, Chief of Seoul Bureau] Do you think the world is leading towards a trade war between the United States, following US President Donald Trump’s proposed tariffs on steel?
[Minister Kang] I certainly hope it won’t lead in that direction. We are also affected. And I think the issue of steel imports for America is a security concern, but if we started to use that element to reduce trade and put restrictions on trade, I think that takes us on very, very difficult waters - the outcome of which is difficult to predict. I think for South Korea and the United States, the relationships between the two countries are so multifaceted. Yes, we are a security defence ally, but economic relations based upon the FTA has been in a... I think we can call that an economical alliance. It’s a very strong one. And as relationships go, there are bound to be issues that need to be worked through. And this particular issue is not just for South Korea but all major steel exporters. So, we certainly hope to find a solution to this at the bilateral level, but as you say, it’s not just a bilateral issue. It’s a global issue for all steel exporters, and the hope is that we will be able to find a way that does not lead to a global trade war.
[Yun-suk LIM, Chief of Seoul Bureau] But if the tariffs go through, will South Korea take retaliatory measures against the US?
[Minister Kang] I think the question is a lot more complicated than that, rather than a yes or no. As you know, our relationship is not just economic. It’s a very close one politically-, diplomatically-, security-wise, so we would have to take all of that into consideration.
[Yun-suk LIM, Chief of Seoul Bureau] Does that mean that there could be friction, making it tougher for South Korea to take a united stance over North Korea’s nuclear issue?
[Minister Kang] The basic premise that we share with the United States, (is) basically we do this based upon the position of strength, based on very strong security alliance in terms of our defence posture, to force North Korea to change course towards a peaceful resolution of the nuclear issue. I would hope and think that the trade issues -- there are trade issues all the time -- it will not affect our close collaboration on the close security side.
[Yun-suk LIM, Chief of Seoul Bureau] If you turn to other regions, how would you describe South Korea’s relations with China now following that dispute over THAAD?
[Minister Kang] I think our President’s visit to China at the end of last year was very important one. At the official level, things are really back to normal. The communication at all levels is really smooth and frequent. The effect has led to significant changes on the ground for businesses and people-to-people exchange. That has yet to be seen, but I think we are headed in that direction. So, at the official level, it’s quite good.
[Yun-suk LIM, Chief of Seoul Bureau] People were asking how long will it take for businesses to feel the impact...
[Minister Kang] These are not things that you switch on and off. Businesses and people-to-people exchanges take time to generate the momentum. So, I think it will definitely take time, but I think, again, aiming... (we are) headed in the right direction.
[Yun-suk LIM, Chief of Seoul Bureau] What does South Korea think of china’s proposed changes to its constitution to allow President Xi to be extended?
[Minister Kang] As a foreign minister of a country, I don’t think I should comment on the domestic political developments of other countries.
[Yun-suk LIM, Chief of Seoul Bureau] But do you think it will have an impact or maybe de-stabilizing or civilizing the region?
[Minister Kang] I think China’s role certainly is a very important part to us in dealing with the North Korean nuclear issue, and I think on that one, we’ve been pretty much on the same page, sharing their goal, sharing the idea of a peaceful resolution through diplomacy. China’s been very welcoming of these recent breakthrough in South-North dialogue and sharing the same hope that this will also lead to North Korea-US dialogue on the nuclear issue. So, on that particular issue, it’s been very productive and constructive and helpful. So, I think you need to take it issue by issue.
[Yun-suk LIM, Chief of Seoul Bureau] Do you think perhaps bilateral meeting between Washington and Pyongyang or even Seoul and Pyongyang is going to resolve this better than perhaps multi-lateral talks like the 6-party talks? Do you think that would be a better way to resolving this?
[Minister Kang] Well, I think the key bilateral element has to be there, which is the US-North Korea element, and North Korea knows that what it is after -- for example, the lifting of the sanctions which it needs to improve its economy; security guarantees, that can only come from the United States. So, that is a critical bilateral element, but to facilitate that, you can certainly expand it to trilateral or 4-party or 6-party. And we’re open to the format, but I think all countries at this point are wanting to see a peaceful path ahead of us towards this issue.
[Yun-suk LIM, Chief of Seoul Bureau] Regarding Japan, is South Korea sending mixed signals to Japan regarding the comfort woman issue?
[Minister Kang] I wouldn’t say mixed. I think, but certainly a different message from this new government than the previous government. This government was landed with an agreement that was just not the kind of agreement that the victims themselves or their families or the support groups wanted, and that was so obvious immediately after the agreement was announced. And so, we had to find a situation where we needed
to address the domestic constituency but also make sure that this doesn’t disrupt our relationships with the Japan. We hope that we can work with Japan on that basis.
[Yun-suk LIM, Chief of Seoul Bureau] But from what we have heard from Japan side, they’re not happy with this, and it doesn’t seem as if this relations can go forward with what South Korea’s been saying. How can the two countries resolve this?
[Minister Kang] Well, that’s unfortunate. I think... so therefore, there is room for further discussion to enhance mutual understanding, but on this issue, it's an issue of human rights violation. It’s an issue of a very painful past in the two countries relationship, and the past has to be seen in its full truth -- not just half-truth, and also in terms of the justice that any resolution of this issue might bring to the victims themselves. We have victims. This is not a political or security issue that the two governments alone can find a way forward. This is an issue in the first instance of the victims themselves. And when you have a situation where the victims say “we’re not happy with this”, you cannot ignore that. And we are trying to say that this has to be acknowledged. Yes, we may have that agreement, but that agreement is not sufficient, seeing it from the victim’s perspective.
[Yun-suk LIM, Chief of Seoul Bureau] Do you want fresh apology from Japan, too?
[Minister Kang] As government, we’ve said we’re not going to ask or request anything further from Japan, but if there is something of a genuine nature coming from Japan vis-a-vis the victims, I think we will greatly welcome that.
[Yun-suk LIM, Chief of Seoul Bureau] Is the trilateral meeting between the South Korea, China and Japan still going on?
[Minister Kang] I think we are still finding a right time. It’s very difficult to coordinate among the three capitals, but I’m hopeful that we will be able to schedule something fairly soon.
[Yun-suk LIM, Chief of Seoul Bureau] Fairly soon? Roughly, I mean the first half of this year or when?
[Minister Kang] I’m hoping.
[Yun-suk LIM, Chief of Seoul Bureau] Hoping for something within the first half or...?
[Minister Kang] Yes, but again, we’ve always said earlier the better, and the timing hasn’t worked out so far. So, our position remains the same -- earlier the better, and it will show the three countries working together. There’s so much to discuss.
[Yun-suk LIM, Chief of Seoul Bureau] It seems that this new government has a new policy towards South East Asia. Is the focus on ASEAN also because perhaps South Korea wants to reduce its dependence on the United States?
[Minister Kang] Certainly, that... this is all part of our diversification drive. We want to diversify our diplomatic horizon and not just in terms of numbers where we have embassies and friendships but ... not just the quantity but also the quality of the engagements that we have in these countries, and it’s not just about weaning ourselves off of any country. It’s more... wanting to have greater visibility and have greater presence and have many more friends to work with. So, the critical part of this is also our development assistance policy. Korea is not a big player when it comes to development assistance yet -- overseas development assistance, but it’s increasingly so. And we want to use this tool to work with partners in South East Asia and other countries to assist in the kinds of development that the people and the country and the government on the ground would like to take their countries.
[Yun-suk LIM, Chief of Seoul Bureau] Well, it has been a pleasure talking to you, Minister. Thank you for being on Conversation With.
[Minister Kang] Thank you very much. It’s been a pleasure. Thank you.