Select Committee on Foreign Affairs Written Evidence

Submission from Dr J E Hoare

  I am J E Hoare. I received my PhD in Japanese history at the School of Oriental and African Studies in 1971. By then, I was a member of what is now Research Analysts of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, which I joined in 1969. For most of the following 33 years in the Diplomatic Service, I worked on matters relating to East Asia, apart from a spell between 1977-81, when I worked on South and South East Asia. I served as HM Consul and Head of Chancery in Seoul, Republic of Korea 1981-85, and did a short spell there as Head of the Political Section in 1997, HM Consul-General and Head of Chancery in Beijing, People's Republic of China 1988-91, and I was Chargé d'Affaires and HM Consul-General in Pyongyang, Democratic People's Republic of Korea 2001-02. I spent a year at the International Institute for Strategic Studies 1992-93. Since I retired in January 2003, I have been engaged in occasional teaching, broadcasting and writing about East Asia—mainly but not exclusively about the DPRK. I have authored or edited numerous books on the area, including several with my wife, Susan Pares, who is also a former member of the Research Analysts, and who served in the Beijing Embassy in 1975-76. We last visited the ROK in 2003, and the DPRK and the PRC in 2004.


  So all my adult life I have worked on East Asia both professionally and as a hobby. My original work for my PhD was on Japan in the nineteenth century. At that point and up until the mid-1930s, Britain was still the main Western power in East Asia, with extensive economic and security interests in China and Japan, although not in Korea, which had always been something of a backwater as far as Britain was concerned. Even in the 1930s, however, Britain's position as the leading Western country in East Asia was steadily giving way to the US, while Japan, with Korea as a colony, was increasingly dominating the China. Post World War II, Britain's influence waned. Japan and South Korea were firmly in the US orbit. Although the absence of US diplomatic relations with China until the 1970s, and the British presence in Hong Kong, appeared to make Britain important in East Asia, this was largely illusory. Britain never had more than a subordinate role in Japan or Korea. Even in Hong Kong, British firms lost ground to their US counterparts and agencies of the US government ignored British rules about not using Hong Kong as a base for operations against China. Well-qualified diplomats and active British Council programmes could not compensate for the lack of political or, relatively speaking, economic power. In Britain itself, East Asia generally faded from view, except at times of crisis such as the Korean War and the Cultural Revolution in China, and from the 1970s onwards, the issue of prisoners of war of the Japanese. Academic coverage was limited. Reasonable on China and Japan, especially after the Scarborough and Hayter reports, it was limited to one post on Korea at SOAS until the late 1980s.

  In East Asia, Britain was seen as close to the US politically, not very successful as a trading nation and not very interested in Asia—the closure of university departments of East Asian Studies and the decline of resident journalists in recent years have tended to confirm this lack of interest. There was—and often still is—a sentimental picture of a country shrouded in Dickensian fog, populated by gentlemen (ladies rarely featured) who maintained high standards of dress and were always courteous; North Korean school and university students were still repeating such views four years ago.

  Efforts are of course were and are made to counter these somewhat old-fashioned perspectives. British culture in all its aspects is promoted by the FCO and the British Council, as well as by enterprising entrepreneurs. Strenuous efforts are made to promote Britain as a trading partner and as a source of innovation and design.

  At the same time, "British imperialism", rapidly forgotten at home, was still remembered in Asia. Hong Kong was one reminder, and the Chinese had not forgotten how Hong Kong was acquired—as late as 1990 a young Chinese official in Beijing, on whom I had called seeking support for a British initiative on drugs, responded to my presentation "Ah yes, Dr Hoare, the Chinese and the British have long had a special relationship over drugs!", at which we both grinned. In the 1960s, South Korea's then president, Park Chung Hee, made speeches in which he blamed the Anglo-Japanese Alliance and the British for Japan's takeover of Korea. That alliance was remembered with more affection in Japan but even there, the manner of its ending in the early 1920s was remembered with distaste. Yet in Britain I would be surprised if, outside of specialist circles, any of these events are remembered at all.

  Efforts are of course were and are made to counter these somewhat old-fashioned and mistaken perspectives. British culture in all its aspects is promoted by the FCO and the British Council, as well as by enterprising entrepreneurs. Strenuous efforts are made to promote Britain as a trading partner and as a source of innovation and design. World Service radio and television broadcasts are beamed to East Asia, although the only vernacular broadcasts are in Chinese. I do not think that I met one person, outside the expatriate community, in South Korea who admitted listening to the BBC, though things may have changed since the 1980s. The impact was greater in China, probably because of the vernacular broadcasts; few seemed to listen to the English-language broadcasts, although there may have been a small audience among those who studied abroad. In North Korea, only those with a very strict need to know clearance could have official access to foreign broadcasts. Several of the officials that I dealt with in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Foreign Trade clearly could listen, but few seemed to choose the BBC. As one MFA vice minister put it—despite the hostility between North Korea and the US—"Voice of America has so much more about Korea". In North Korea, British newspapers and journals, especially technical papers, were willingly taken. We gave The Times to the European Division of MFA, and The Guardian to the Association for Friendship with Foreign Countries. The MFA asked us to send the paper wrapped not because they should not be receiving it but because if other officials saw it, they would take it for their own use. We even gave the MFA Private Eye, but nobody ever commented on that. In both Koreas, British films, videos and DVDs could also be used to good effect. In North Korea, of course, audiences were carefully chosen, but the effect was still there.

  The most successful of all ways of combating old-fashioned views of Britain is scholarships and training in the UK. Here one is always up against the greater financial power of the US, and the fact that generally US institutions are better known that British ones—Oxford and Cambridge excepted. There was also in both South Korea and China a lingering negative effect from the heavy increases in student fees in the early 1980s, an effect which persisted despite scholarship schemes and other forms of assistance. Nevertheless, schemes like the Chevening scholarships have had a very strong impact.

  Generally, Britain is now thought of as part of the European Union. Some realise that in certain areas, EU members act independently but others are confused by this. I think, for example, that the North Koreans have been confused by the strange mix of unity and diversity that has marked policy towards the DPRK. Some countries, including Britain, established relations in 2000 and others soon after, but Ireland not until 2003, and France not yet—where is the Common Foreign and Security Policy? Both Koreas thought that these diplomatic moves were the sign of a policy developing policy on Korea independently of that of the US, and both had been disappointed that this has not proved the case as far as supporting the developing rapport between the two on the Korean peninsula.

Japan and South Korea's contribution to international security and peacekeeping

  Japan's constitution has been regarded as inhibiting any action that went beyond strict self-defence, and this was used until very recently to justify not sending Japanese forces overseas to protect international security and peacekeeping. While some politicians have wished to see changes, arguing that the 1947 Constitution which contains Article 9 limiting Japanese forces to self defence was imposed by the US and is inappropriate in the contemporary world, there seems to be still a popular groundswell of support for maintaining the constitution—in the words of one mother at a proposal to send SDF forces abroad in the early 1990s, "My son did not join the Self-Defence Forces to get killed". There is also considerable regional objection to Japan becoming a "normal country", with regular armed forces. However Japan has moved towards involvement in peace keeping while trying to avoid combat involvement, resenting the assumption that Japan would pay rather than fight. This trend will continue.

  South Korea has sent forces overseas on several occasions, including the Vietnam War—it was a common, if inaccurate, comment that both President Chun Doo Hwan (1980-88) and President Roh Tae Woo (1988-1993) had made most of their foreign contacts down the barrels of guns in Vietnam. Such involvement has had less to do to a commitment to internationalism than a desire to keep in with US wishes and those increase the US commitment to South Korea. Thus the immediate past president, Roh Moo Hyun, has indicated that while he did not really want to send South Korean forces to Iraq, he felt that he should do so because of the ROK-US alliance. One argument against the overseas deployment of ROK forces has been that they are needed because of the immediate threat to posed by the DPRK. However, as relations between North and South have improved, this argument in less and less prominent. That said, in South Korea there remains among many people a sense of obligation towards the United Nations because of the role that the United Nations played in saving the country from defeat during the Korean War. While the role of the US has perhaps been blurred by the problems arising from the continued presence of US forces in South Korea and the attendant problems, the broader UN role has not been forgotten, and South Koreans were pleased when the country finally entered the UN in 1992. This sense of obligation towards the UN perhaps influences South Koreans positively towards involvement in peacekeeping and related projects.

Relations between the two Koreas

  I have already submitted a short paper that appears in the March 2008 issue of Asian Affairs, the journal of the Royal Society of Asian Affairs, in which I argue that, despite the recent change of presidents in South Korea, the engagement policy which is now some 10 years old will continue, although the rhetoric may change. Despite the more strident claims of some South Korean and international media as well as some in the academic world, the policy has been a success. It has of course been unequal in some ways; the South's economic contributions can be measured, but some of what has come back is inevitably intangible. Yet South Korea has gained over family contacts—still limited but once non-existent; knows far more about the North now than it ever did—books and other materials about North Korea, once locked away, are now freely available—people visit the North, and so on. The North is viewed far more realistically now than it was in the 1980s. By insisting on keeping open some channels to the North even after the missile and nuclear tests of 2006, South Korea helped create a climate which allowed the Six Party Talks to resume. The wish to engage the North is not a policy alien to South Korean conservatives; it can be traced back to Park Chung Hee and the 1972 Joint Communiqué. The new president and his team can build on this, and have already given signs of doing so.

  The North has obviously gained by the supply of food and other commodities, but the engagement policy has created groups within North Korea who wish such benefits to continue—ie there is now, I believe, though I cannot prove it, a pro-South Korean constituency in the North, which will not willingly see the benefits it receives thrown away. There will be a period of watching and assessing the new South Korean government—and also of course the US presidential election—but I expect that contacts will continue somewhat below the parapet.

The North Korean nuclear programme

  We are now reaping the harvest of wishful thinking and a dogmatic approach which destroyed the 1994 US-North Korea Agreed Framework and pushed North Korea into testing—probably not very successfully—a nuclear device in 2006. North Korea feels and is threatened by nuclear weapons, and believes that the only way to counter that threat is to make it costly for any attacker. The 1994 Agreement was not perfect—neither is any agreement—but it provided a process whereby both US and North Korean concerns could be addressed as well as meeting North Korean needs for energy. The decision to abandon the agreement awakened all North Korean fears about hostility and at the same time allowed them the breathing space to work on the development of a nuclear device. Attempts to get back to where we were in 2002 before the present crisis was created have been hampered by the wish to bring in other issues such as human rights, conventional forces, the Japanese abductees and allegations of counterfeiting and money laundering; all matter but they have distracted from what we are told is the main issue.

  The decision by the US administration to engage in direct talks with North Korea got the process of negotiations moving again in 2007. However, the wish for a speedy settlement and attempts to be as comprehensive as possible have hampered the success of the negotiations. The unwillingness to settle for less than total demands could well mean no settlement at all, especially as the North Koreans may not be able to deliver what is demanded. If they do not have—or no longer have—a highly enriched uranium programme, how can they prove that they do not? If the US administration is sure that no treaty guaranteeing not to attack North Korea would get through Congress, what is the value of presidential assurances that, as was shown in 2001, can be torn up as soon as the next president is in office?

  We may therefore have to live with the fact that North Korea has some sort of nuclear device. This should not lead to panic. Other countries have more sophisticated devices which do not seem to have caused the same worry or the claims that such a development is bound to lead to others following their lead. Indeed, the US treatment of India after it acquired a nuclear capability may have been a factor in the North Korean decision. Whatever was tested in October 2006 was hardly a resounding success. The North Korean may continue working on the project but they are clearly not as advanced as sometimes claimed. They also lack the ability to deliver a nuclear weapon except in their immediate neighbourhood, where they already have plenty of conventional military capability. The tests of a long range rocket carried out in 1998 and 2006 appear to show a regression rather than an advance.

  If we are to continue to press for an end to the North Korean nuclear programme, we must accept that North Korea has genuine worries about the threat that it faces and about the wish by some to oust the present regime. Imposing sanctions is unlikely to have much effect on a country that does relatively little international trade. The way to change North Korea is that followed by South Korea in recent years—engage and continue to engage even when it there are difficulties.

7 March 2008

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