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Cumings Explores Evolution of U.S.-North Korea Relations

Heights Editor

Published: Sunday, April 1, 2012

Updated: Wednesday, January 9, 2013 19:01

cummings 4/2/12

Daniel Lee / Heights Editor

Since Kim Jong-Il, the supreme leader of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), died on Dec. 17, 2012, numerous scholars, including Bruce Cumings, have argued about the stability of the regime. On Mar. 29, the Asian Studies and Asian American Studies departments co-sponsored a lecture by Cumings, a history professor at the University of Chicago. The lecture, titled “The Kims’ Three Bodies: How Dynastic Succession Works in North Korea,” discussed the time around the death of Kim Jong-Il and the diplomatic history between North Korea and the United States.

Before the lecture, Cumings had a small discussion session with a few students and Boston College professors. In the session, he shared his experience getting into the area of Asian Studies, although the field is not the most popular. “I did have to chart my own way,” he said.

Cumings admitted he could have worked for the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). Nonetheless, he said one should not mix being a scholar and working for the CIA.

“My father was a Germanic professor and was asked to join the CIA as an analyst,” Cumings said. “Next thing he knew, he was taken to a safe house where Hitler’s agents were being interrogated.”

At the lecture, Cumings emphasized how Kim Jong-Un, the current leader of DPRK, and Kim Il-Sung, grandfather of Kim Jong-Un and the founder of DPRK, are strategically alike—from their haircuts to their public appearance—because political legitimacy matters in North Korea. Cumings also made a differentiation in the succession of Kim Jong-Il and Kim Jong-Un. The new regime is less stable with the inexperienced 28-year-old leader surrounded by military generals, who are from the Korean War generation.

The professor explained the diplomacy change from the Clinton Administration to the Bush Administration. The introduction of the Bush Doctrine, Cumings implied, seems to have only aggravated the peninsula situation. The Bush Doctrine enhanced the alliance among North Korea, Pakistan, and Iran. “The Iranian long-distance missiles are the exact same models as the North’s Rhodong missile,” Cumings said.

During the Clinton Administration, according to the professor, there were some positive talks with North Koreans that no one seems to remember today. Finally, by making successful deals and talks with North Korea, he said that the Obama Administration can say, “Hey, Iran. Let’s make a deal.”

Cumings quoted from William Perry in 1999. “‘We might have to accept North Korea as it is rather than as we would like it to be.’ [The statement] was a watershed, quickly forgotten after the Bush Administration came in, that lead to North Korean general Cho Myung-Rok visiting the Oval Office in 2000.”

Answering a question about the new impact of the 2012 presidential elections around the world, including the U.S. and South Korean elections, Cumings said, “Kim Jong-Un will lay low until the results come out, and we will have to wait until April 15, which is the century anniversary of the birth of Kim Il-Sung.”

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