The World Affairs Council of Charlotte hosted expert panelists, Ambassador Kathleen Stephens, Lieutenant Commander Adam Miller, and economic officer Dohwan Kim to discuss the United States and the Korean Peninsula in 2018. Since the close of the Korean War in 1913, the United States and South Korea have been engaged in comprehensive alliance. Each panelist shared their own unique perspectives on the relationship between the two countries and the future of the Korean Peninsula.
Kathleen Stephens, U.S. Ambassador to South Korea (2008-2011) and President, Korean Economics Institute
Ambassador Stephens has been involved with South Korea ever since 1975, when she spent time there as a Peace Corps volunteer. Ambassador Stephens started her part of the discussion by mentioning how she’d never seen interest in the Korean Peninsula as high as it is now in the United States. She then went on to describe how “we’ve never been good at predicting the future.” She explained by discussing that in 1948, when these countries were established, what was meant to be a temporary line was drawn. That line, however, ended up lasting 70 years. Now, she says we’re looking at two states that are not unified that have taken drastically different paths—South Korea took a path of economic development and democratization while North Korea took a path of survival and put all their efforts into surviving as a regime. She went on to discuss how there is still much work to be done in the Korean peninsula and that change is going to take empowered and supported negotiators.
Lieutenant Commander, Adam Miller, Military Advisor in the Office of Korean Affairs
Lieutenant Commander Adam Miller spoke from his perspective as a member of the U.S. Navy. He spoke about what is called the “then and now comparison” in regards to North Korea. North Korea used to be at a very low point—Americans were contained, they were testing nuclear weapons, and were in frequent talks of various operations. Now, however, there have been no tests and a summit in Singapore. Miller believes that we are in a much better place now, but there is still work to do. He stated that there have been strides in safety and there is a chance of denuclearization. He also said that where we are now is a result of a global pressure campaign. They’ve seen more cooperation from China and that although the major players in the Korean Peninsula (U.S., China, and South Korea) have different priorities, they have a common goal of safety and denuclearization.
Dohwan Kim, Economic Secretary, Embassy of the Republic of Korea
Economic Officer Dohwan Kim began with a presentation about the peace process and the history of what is going on currently in the Korean Peninsula. He went through the various parts of the peace process, addressing important key points for each part of the process along the way. He put an emphasis on the existence of a lack of trust and that trust needs to be built in order for change to occur.
During the panel, the audience got the opportunity to ask the expert panelists various questions. The questions ranged from being able to trust Kim Jong-un, what could go wrong in the Peninsula, pressure for North Korea to become a part of the global economy, and more. The panelists answered with how they think North Korea doesn’t need to be trusted, they just need to do what they say they are going to do. It was also said that North Korea does want to develop their economy especially because there is awareness that they’re isolated and that South Korea is richer. They ended with stating that the current relationship could deteriorate, and we could go back to the days of threats and real fear, however, every member involved fully understands what could happen if this does go wrong.