Distant Korean Resolution Hits Home
Korean divide resonates with SF State students.
September 9, 2003 3:07 PM
When the six-way talks aimed at resolving the crisis over North Korea's alleged nuclear program adjourned on August 29th, repercussions were felt in the corridors of power in world capitals and the halls of San Francisco State.
While this may seem like a distant issue for Americans, and particularly students, the North Korean crisis does affect a small aspect of the San Francisco State community, Korean-Americans, and Korean students who have come to the United States to study.
Returning from the summit in Beijing, Secretary of State Colin Powell said that the North Korean delegation had threatened to test a nuclear device in the near future, a statement denied by Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov, also a participant in the talks. Seemingly lost in the war of words between Washington, Moscow, and Pyongyang was the voice of South Korea, which has the most to gain or lose, depending on the outcome of the crisis.
Although opinions vary, many in the Korean community feel that President Bush's labeling of North Korea as a central figure in the "axis of evil" after the terrorist attacks of September 11th, 2001 only provided a further excuse for the reclusive regime to further its nuclear ambitions, and pushed back any chances for reunification.
"I don't think most American people realize the danger because they're so far away," says Paul Kim, a 23-year-old Korean-American studying at City College. The Americans are cornering North Korea, so they feel like they have no choice but to develop nuclear weapons. As long as [North Korean leader] Kim Jong-Il is in power he'll want to protect himself."
According to Dr. Chunghee Soh, a professor of Anthropology at SF State, and an expert on Korean culture, there is no single opinion on how best to resolve the crisis, and move towards an eventual reunification.
"Korean politics are divided into 2 extreme positions- in between is the silent majority," says Dr. Soh. "On one hand are the Progressives, the supporters of the 'Sunshine Policy [A policy of engaging the North, rather than isolating it],'under [former South Korean President] Kim Dae-Jung who felt that it was best to promote dialogue with North Korea. The Conservatives feel that nothing has changed, and they disagree with this approach."
Wonik Chang, 24, graduated from SF State in May 2003 with a degree in Computer Science. He plans to return to complete his Masters degree at SF State, but will first return to South Korea in December for his 2-year compulsory military service.
Like all Koreans of his generation, Chang has never known a world without the divided peninsula, but still feels a deep connection to the North Koreans. Chang believes that that the nuclear crisis, and the ongoing North/South conflict is not important for most Korean-Americans, particularly people his age. As a native Korean, Chang is not able to have the same distance.
"The North Koreans are similar, but they just live in communism. Korean people in the US think of the North as not 'us', not connected. For me, they're still one country," Chang says.
This being said, Chang is also realistic about the danger that the government of North Korea poses to his homeland. His parents, and almost his entire family still remain in the South, which the North has pledged to cover in a 'sea of fire' if provoked.
"As South Koreans we can't forget that we are still technically at war, the North Koreans are still our enemy, and that nuclear weapons could someday be used against us," says Chang.
According to Dr. Soh, like many immigrant populations, Korean-Americans do not necessarily try to stay close with their native land after arriving in America. She does point out that this is not the case in every Korean-American home, perspectives vary widely, and the San Francisco community is not nearly as homogenous as others in Los Angeles or New York. The common perspective among many Korean-Americans is simply that they want to end the struggle.
"Because of the distance I'm not sure whether it [the conflict] directly affects Korean-American lives unless they have jobs that are based on Korean companies, or other connections," Soh states.
Steve Lee, 19, is an Asian-American Studies sophomore at SF State, and a Korean-American. He was born in the United States, but lived in South Korea for 6 years as a child and teenager. Unlike many of his generation, he has strong opinions about the conflict in his homeland.
"Because I'm young maybe I have something more to say," he says. "It's a touchy subject though. My parents say 'why do we have to care, it'll just create more arguments."
"In my family it was never discussed," says Paul Kim.
Wonik Chang concurs.
"Both my father and grandfather went through the Korean War, and before that the Japanese colonization," remembers Chang.
"My grandfather was in the South Korean Navy during the war, but we never talked about it. He had some of his family in the North. Actually, my mother's father was married in North Korea, but had to move because his family was murdered."
News and information from the South Korean government
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