The Kennedy Center’s assistant director, Douglas Paal, and BYU history professor Kirk Larsen spoke at BYU on Wednesday, March 30 about the economic relationship between Korea and China.
The discussion, named “The Korean Peninsula and China’s Balancing Act,” was a part of the Kennedy Lecture Series. Paal was the first to speak and he discussed the efforts made throughout his career to strengthen the economic relationship between the U.S. and Korean government.
Paal is currently the vice president for the studies at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. He worked for the CIA after serving on the navy in Vietnam and eventually was a part of the Carter administration, which contemplated open relations with China.
He was involved with Korea over the years and had general responsibility for Asians with the national security council. He said it was a general priority to keep a strong national security council for Asian countries when he worked with President Reagan and President Bush.
Paal he has seen the government “deteriorate” since his time working there.
“The Korean story, was the effort to try and cap the North Korean problem,” Paal said. “In the early 90s, North Korea was going through a very devastating period because the Russian/Soviet portal collapsed and China had not stepped in to cover the resources Soviets had given them- they were feeling constrained.”
He explained Korea was going through a starvation crisis and seriously considered a nuclear weapons trade to obtain certain benefits. He said many leaders attempted negotiating to reduce the tensions and get rid of the nuclear problem.
“In conclusion they came up with the “Agreed Framework of 1994″ which was designed to build down the nuclear weapons tension and forestall further new capabilities in exchange for energy: heavy fuel oil from U.S. or others and construction of water reactors of North Korea to get rid of nuclear threat sources,” Paal said.
Paal said after further examining the proposal, he thought it was bound to fail. He said there was a contradiction building within the documents that would allow it to work.
He also said over the years there has been an attempt to create peace and a good relationship with North Korea but was shortly put to an end after a Korean secret weapons production was discovered. He said the situation is essentially dying off.
Kirk Larsen then discussed the relationship history between both North and South Korea with China and how it also has been weakened due to agreements and disagreements made throughout history.
He explained Koreans essentially take advantage of the opportunities that China has provided and at the same time approach the country with weariness.
“China is the only country in the world that has leverage with Korea. It is a type of cutting off aid or economic types, it doesn’t leverage for any shared mission, history or good feelings. The relationship between the two powers has always been difficult,” Larsen said.
The Chinese hold a very misconceived view of the history they had with its neighbors; that they are a peace, loving people that never harmed neighboring countries, according to Larsen.
“It’s all tied to a Confucius pacifism and a notion of how China interacted with its neighbors and the “tribute system”: this idea that China didn’t invade or use aggression. It simple used its culture to radiate outward and people came to China to express respect and honor,” Larsen said.
He explained that due to this perspective, the Chinese are ruining relationships with neighboring and powerful economic countries.
“Many Chinese see their exapnsion as a good thing, while forgetting what it looks like from the outside countries,” Larsen said.