Monday Interview: Pop Goes the Peninsula…
Written by Bwog Staff
Nothing like a volatile region pushed to the brink of nuclear conflict to make onstage riots seem like academic minutiae. For perspective on the Korean peninsula’s unfolding crisis, Bwog’s Nicholas Frisch turned to Joseph Hong, SEAS’07, a Korean-American student, and a human rights activist.
On a personal level, how has this affected you in terms of friends or family in Korea?
Actually all my family is in South Korea right now, so it does cause great concern for me. But this isn’t the first time this has happened, especially this past summer, North Korea tested the seven missiles, in 1994 there was a nuclear scare, and what came out of that was the Agreed Framework with Bill Clinton, so this nuclear crisis, brinksmanship, nuclear proliferation has always been something at the forefront. What really worries me is that although this is important for the international community, it’s something that eclipses human rights crisis that’s also going on there, so I’m worried that those within the US government who are backing regime change would only take the human rights crisis as a further vehicle for the regime change alongside the nuclear crisis.
So have you talked with your family yet?
How do you think either the ongoing human rights crisis or this recent nuclear crisis is affecting Korean communities in the United States? Or just at Columbia even? Has there been any direct affect on how youï¿½ve been thinking or communicating on campus?
Honestly speaking, people are sentimental, Korean-Americans are sentimental. I think it’s good in a way, the nuclear crisis impending right now, because it brings the attention back towards what we’re working on. Not our finance careers or our MDs, but really addressing the lack of political activism in the Korean-American community.
Has the Korean community been organizing or discussing it cohesively? There are many Korean groups on campus: KSA, KCCC, KCSA, LiNK…
The way it is right now, there’s just the broad special-interest groups, whether it’s culture or activism in different areas. But no, it’s not very cohesive. Anyway, I understand that the AAA (Asian American Alliance) seeks to be an umbrella group for larger Asian interests, but I cannot speak for them.
Now obviously in that part of the world, there are other countries that are prominently concerned, notably China and Japan. Are you part of any student organizations that encompass larger Asian interests, or has there been any concerned discussion between you and Chinese and Japanese groups on campus?
I know in the past we would show certain documentaries which would demonize Chinese officials for repatriating refugees without providing them to the UNHCR [United Nations High Commission on Refugees] to process them, they would just send them back automatically; so there has been a disconnect between some Chinese students and us. But no, in terms of broader regional issues, we choose not to affiliate ourselves with [other groups], because we are a human rights group and want to be seen as a human rights group, not a cultural group or another kind.
In South Korea, military service is mandatory for males of a certain age. Do you have any family or friends who are currently serving in the military?
I have a cousin, but I haven’t spoken with him yet.
There may have been some news reports of preparations for a second test, or other accounts suggesting the explosion was unusually small, perhaps not even really nuclear. Do you see any of the news developments as pushing the debate one way or the other, or affecting human rights organizations or you personally, or your family and friends in Korea?
Well for the past fifty years and especially the past decade, North Korea has been using the nuclear card to push its own agenda to have the US bilaterally talk with them, so I hope that officials see that economic sanctions and having no talks at all is not necessarily a good road to take. That being said, maybe things will change with the US’s policy. But that’s my opinion, and I can’t speak for the organization.
Do you have any future ambitions in human rights in North Korea or that part of Asia? How do you see them possibly being affected by developments now? Do you feel more compelled to, say, go into diplomacy or a similar line of work? Or is it just focusing on the extracurricular group at Columbia here and now?
Well, the reason I got active is because I see it as a human rights crisis that humans, if they have a conscience, should be touched by. But since I am a Korean American, I do recognize that if the Korean American community does not stand for this first, then no one else will, somewhat like the Latin American community and the border crisis there. So I do continue to work with this NGO, I’m still undecided what I’m going to do
Thanks very much. I hope your family and friends stay safe.