Hee-Eun Kim Interview – Joong Ang Daily, Korea
In the summer of 2019, Mrs. Kim travelled to the United States initially intending to write a book and ended up becoming the first non-American founder of a multinational think tank, the Center for Asia Pacific Strategy. The goal of the Center is to craft pragmatic foreign and security policy recommendations for governments within the Asia Pacific region. Mrs. Kim, who worked at the Office of Foreign Affairs and National Security at the Blue House (equivalent to White House) from 2011 to 2012, also served as the first Korean Chief of United Nations Command Logistics at Headquarters United Nations Command/Combined Forces Command/US Forces Korea. Mrs. Kim followed that assignment as the Deputy Director of Political-Military Engagement for the United Nations Command/Combined Forces Command/United States Forces Korea Commander’s Strategic Group from 2017 to 2019.
On the topic of the recent stalemate of the ROK-US Special Measures Agreement on defense cost-sharing (SMA), she commented, “I had an opportunity to observe the negotiation process as an insider. The issue of deployment, reduction and rotation of American troops throughout the world has been around for several decades.” She emphasized that “the current SMA negotiation issue is still underway and it is to be solved as one of many issues to be found among Alliance partners. What is really needed is for both parties and citizens keep a cool head and refrain from being reactive to every single move without considering the full context.”
She also underlined the need for a more practical approach to foreign policy strategies for the Republic of Korea. “We need to step up our collaboration with not only the United States, Australia and the United Kingdom, but also expand our scope to include other Asia-Pacific neighbors, such as Vietnam, Singapore, and so on” said Mrs. Kim. “The Republic of Korea is not the only country struggling with a political divide and polarization today. Now, more than ever, is the time to work with countries who share our values to strive to protect the international norm of democracy.”
On Korea-Japan relations, Kim said, “First, we need to work internally on constructive solutions of historical issues.” She emphasized that “While Korea and Japan need to address a long list of emotional issues that may look impossible to untangle, Japan is still an indispensable ally to Korea.”
Regarding ROK-US combined military exercises, she said, “Not allowing troops to participate in training and exercises is like depriving medical school students of classes to practice surgery.” Mrs. Kim further stressed that “It is unwise to associate the ROK-US combined exercises with the issue of Wartime Operational Control Transition or national sovereignty matters.” While she was serving in ROK-US Combined Forces Command, she donned the uniform and actively participated in many ROK-US combined military exercises, like Key Resolve and Ulchi Freedom Guardian.
As for some negative voices who even call for the dismantling of the ROK-US working group, Mrs. Kim said, “This working group is a communication channel that enables two governments to have more effective and frequent working-level discussions on North Korea policy and issues. We need allow them the time they will need to make good use of it.” She added, “The presence of the working group alone sends a hugely positive signal.” She pointed out “If people want faster or better solutions from this group, the best way to get them is to not intervene from the outside so that they can work things out without additional pressure on them.”
When asked about the direction of Seoul’s DPRK policy, Mrs. Kim stressed that “There needs to be a cool-headed examination of whether we are seeing the DPRK as it is, or are we seeing the DPRK as we want to believe it is?” She added, “Two messages we need to send to North Korea is that Seoul has powerful allies and will strongly respond to Pyongyang’s provocations and threats. However, as we are originally one people, it should be only natural for both strive for peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula.