Event report: Ambassador Hyon Hak-bong at Chatham House

by Philip Gowman on 1 October, 2015

in Chatham House, Conference reports, DPRK, Event reports and reviews, Inter-Korea relations

Hyon Hak-bong

Image credit: screenshot from Chatham House video

Yesterday the DPRK Ambassador HE Hyon Hak-bong gave an on-the-record talk at Chatham House followed by Q&A. Fuller accounts of the talk will no doubt appear. NK News, the Guardian and the Telegraph have already posted theirs. Here are the messages that LKL registered. Obviously, this is not intended to be a transcript – more a flavour of the matters discussed. A full recording of the event is available on the Chatham House website.

Ambassador Hyon started the hour-long session with some opening remarks, in which he noted that the situation on the Korean peninsula could prompt a world war or be the catalyst for global economic growth, depending on how the situation was resolved. He noted that the division of the Korean peninsula was because of the Americans (no mention was made of the Soviet agreement to the division) and stressed that the continued provocation from the South and the US increased tensions.

A point frequently made by Ambassador Hyon during his introductory remarks and in the subsequent Q&A session was that the joint military exercises by US and South Korean forces are offensive rather than defensive in nature: according to the Ambassador, they simulate an amphibious landing with the objective of seizing Pyongyang. He noted that one year when the exercises did not take place a lot of diplomatic progress was made.

The following topics were discussed in the Q&A session (again, not intended to be read as a verbatim account):

Q) How is the narrative that it’s the ROK and the US that are being provocative consistent with the recent landmine incident?
A) The South has the area covered by CCTV (proved by the video footage of the explosion) but failed to come up with any evidence that the DPRK laid those mines. We didn’t, though the deaths were “unfortunate”. It’s not in the DPRK’s interest to injure South Korean soldiers when the world is watching. We offered a joint investigation, and were the first to suggest the high level talks which ultimately resolved the issue, but the South responded with psychological warfare (the leaflets floated over the DMZ on balloons).

Q) Is the DPRK concerned that a missile launch slated for 10 October could result in more sanctions?
A) We are entitled to launch a satellite to improve our people’s living standards. Any sanctions in response would be a provocation, but bring ’em on.

Q) Why hasn’t the DPRK signed up to the convention against chemical weapons?
A) We learned our lesson when signing up to nuclear non-proliferation. We didn’t like the inspections and won’t fall for that one again. If the US abandons its hostile stance progress can be made.

Q) How do you justify “military first” when your economy is poor compared with the ROK?
A) The South has a “bubble economy” whereas ours is self-reliant. I’m proud of our achievements and people are constantly surprised at the improvements being made.

Q) Why is the DPRK taking so long to compile its report on the Japanese abduction issue?
A) We’re making progress on that but I’m not close to what’s happening. But you should note that the abductions were not state-sanctioned. They were the work of “military adventurists”.1

Continuing on the subject of Japan, the Ambassador said that their revised constitution permitting a more active use of the military was “not helpful”, and that they should stop discriminating against the Chongryon.

On the subject of the DPRK’s nuclear deterrent, the ambassador ominously said “we are prepared”, and refused to rule out first use.

In a rare moment of humour in a rather grim session, the Telegraph asked the Ambassador what he thought of the new UK Labour party leader’s commitment to nuclear disarmament. The Ambassador smiled, refusing to be drawn, saying it was inappropriate to comment in public. “But ask me in private” he laughed.

Thanks to Chatham House for hosting the event.

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  1. I seem to remember that Jang Jin-sung says in his book that the abductions were the initiative of Kim Jong-il. If true, it’s interesting that it can now be spun that Kim Jong-il was a rogue element during the reign of his father… []

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