On Thursdays in May/June, COMCAST 21 (VERIZON FIOS 47) will be running an informative panel discussion putting the current conditions in South Korea, North Korea, and U.S. relationships in perspective. It will air at 9 pm.

This discussion originally occurred at the Church of the Redeemer, Squirrel Hill, on February 18, against the background of increased tension between US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, related to North Korea’s recent bomb testing. The panel began with some historical background by Dan Simpson, of the Post-Gazette editorial board, formerly US ambassador to the Central African Republic, Somali, and the Democratic Republic of Congo, formerly Zaire. Mr. Simpson raised the question of whether reunification of North and South Korea was in the interest of the US.

The first panelist, Prof. Samuel S. Stanton, Jr., a political scientist from Grove City College, said that most states would prefer to see Korea maintain current status quo, and not to unify. Although the Soviets helped North Korea move toward nuclear empowerment, the dissolution of the Soviet Union, left North Korea without aid or support. And once the U.S. labeled North Korea as a member of the “Axis of Evil,” the possibility of meaningful discourse was further impeded.

Next, Prof. Ryan D. Grauer, from the Graduate School of Public & International Affairs at the University of Pittsburgh, discussed the efficacy of deterrent threats vs. persuasion, coercion and compellence. He said that focusing on deterrents and sanctions, rather than insisting upon full disarmament, is most likely to be effective, given the current situation.

The third panelist, Elise Antel, of the Council on East Asian Studies at Yale University, graduate of the University of Pittsburgh, said that at a time when diplomatic relations need to be strengthened with South Korea in order to address the issue of North Korea, choosing to renegotiate South Korea’s trade agreement, after many years of open trade, creates additional dissonance and tensions.

Last, Prof. Seung-Hwan Shin, of the Department of East Asian Languages and Literatures at Pitt, emphasized that the South Korean people have never fully accepted the Colonial-like relationship, with the U.S. being in control. They have never been treated by the U.S. as a sovereign nation capable of managing their own foreign affairs and their relationship with North Korea. He pointed out that North Korea is a product of U.S. cold war policy. Finally, he asked whether Trump “deserves full credit” for current diplomacy between the North and South.

To understand the panel and the situation, it is useful to know more background. After World War II, in order to prevent communists from taking over all of Korea, the U.S. divided Korea into two parts, leaving the North to the Soviet Union, and keeping the South under U.S. rule, with the goal of containment.

The Korean War began when North Korea invaded South Korea during a period when the Soviet Union was pushing against borders in Europe. The U.N. voted to send troops to stop the aggression. However, when MacArthur sent U.S. troops all the way to the Yalu River border of China, the Chinese entered the war and pushed Americans back to the 38th parallel. In the meantime, the U.S. carpet bombed North Korea to utter destruction.

The fight ended, but there was never a peace treaty and the U.S. has kept approximately 30,000 troops in South Korea.

For years, the U.S. tolerated military dictatorships, until the 1988 Olympic games gave South Koreans an opportunity to press for elections for the first time. Meanwhile North Korea has had several communist dictators, and more recently has become a nuclear power and has tested bombs and demonstrated their ability to fire missiles in Asian waters.

Carlana Rhoten is the Community Producer of the Progressive Pgh Notebook TV Series.

(Rich Fishkin is a Videographer/ Editor. The program can also be seen at YouTube: richfishpgh)

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