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On Eve of Meeting, Korean Americans Press for Peace in Their Homeland

August 27, 2003|K. Connie Kang | Times Staff Writer

As diplomats from six nations meet in Beijing today to take up the subject of North Korea's nuclear program, many Korean Americans are urging the United States to pursue a course that would ensure peace in their homeland.

"There must not be another war on the Korean peninsula," said Suk-Hee Kang, chairman of the Korean American Coalition's Orange County chapter. "The protection and well-being of the Korean people must be the first priority."

On the eve of the sensitive talks on East Asia's most urgent security concern, more than 100 Korean Americans, many of them supporters of South Korean President Roh Myoo-Hyun, met this week at the Oxford Palace Hotel in Los Angeles' Koreatown.

Visiting South Korean National Assemblyman Kim Won-Wung, a Roh ally who attended the meeting, called on Korean Americans to help foster a better understanding of their homeland. South Korea is no longer subservient to the U.S., he said, and it demands to be treated on an equal footing.

Currently, it is a misnomer to call South Korea a U.S. ally, he said, because the American president could take military action against North Korea without consulting South Korea. Last October, U.S. officials said North Korea had acknowledged having a secret nuclear program. That admission began the standoff and harsh rhetoric between Washington and Pyongyang that led to today's talks. South Korea, Japan, China and Russia are also parties to the meeting, which is scheduled to conclude Friday in the Chinese capital

American officials have said North Korea has one or two nuclear weapons and could produce five or six more in a few months. In recent months, North Korea has abandoned several international agreements, including the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.

Pyongyang contends that Washington must change its "hostile policy" toward North Korea and ensure that nation's sovereignty for the talks to produce any results. Kang and others at the Koreatown meeting also said they hoped the Bush administration would soften its stance on North Korea and extend the acceptance that the Stalinist state seeks.

They said Bush's declaration last year that North Korea was part of an "axis of evil" alienated the isolated nation.

"Our role [as Korean Americans] in this process is communicating with the White House and lawmakers who will be involved that it is very important that the United States come together and talk about the peace process," Kang said.

Jean Chung, a historian and Korean American community activist, said Korean Americans also have a responsibility to inform both U.S. policymakers and the American public about the role this nation played in dividing the Korean peninsula.

The fate of modern Korea was determined by President Theodore Roosevelt in critical decisions he made in 1905, Chung said. In a secret treaty with Japan, he agreed to give Japan control over Korea and Manchuria in exchange for Japan's promise not to interfere with the U.S. presence in the Philippines, she added.

Had the United States not allowed Japan to take over the Korean peninsula, there would have been no need to partition it, she said, adding that the United States has a responsibility to right a past wrong that has affected the fate of the Korean people for a century.

The Rev. Sang-Eui Kim, associate pastor of Grace First Presbyterian Church in Long Beach, said, "The achievement of peace in the Korean peninsula is what the six-nation conference should aim at. You cannot, of course, separate peace from human rights, but if you are forced to choose one, I think you should take peace over human rights."

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