OMINOUS RED SHADOW OF SOUTH KOREAN SPY CHIEF
Turbulence in international politics inevitably prompts shady forces to sinister maneuvers, usually covert, in many parts of the globe. That is the way the world goes.
A notable case in point is Park Jie-in, head of the South Korean National Intelligence Service (NIS) who visited Japan November 8-11 as the proxy of President Moon Jae-in to call on two Japanese political leaders—Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga and Toshihiro Nikai, Secretary General of the ruling Liberal-Democratic Party (LDP).
The NIS is South Korea’s top intelligence outfit. All of its past heads are known to have chosen to enter the offices of national leaders through the back door. This time, Park preferred to enter Suga’s official residence through the main gate, although Suga’s staff had expected Park would use the back door. The spy chief even agreed to meet newsmen after his talk with Suga (morning edition of The Mainichi Shimbun, November 12).
Who is Park Jae-in? Professor Tsutomu Nishioka, an expert on the Korean Peninsula and a senior researcher at the Japan Institute for National Fundamentals (JINF), a privately-financed think tank that I head, filled me in on his background on my regular weekly “Genron” Internet TV news show on November 20.
Nishioka explained that Park, who hails from Jeolla Province in southwestern Korea, was a political ally of the late President Kim Dae-jung. As minister of tourism in the Kim administration in the late 1990s, Park reportedly struck up a friendship with Nikai, who was transportation minister at that time.
As Kim’s secret envoy, Park engaged in a series of behind-the-scenes negotiations with North Korea, which led to the first summit between his boss and Kim Jong-il in June 2000. At the time, Dae-jung presented US$450 million in cash and US$50 million worth of relief goods as tribute to the North Korean dictator.
Nishioka further explained:
“Park’s negotiating partner was believed be the United Front Department of the Workers’ Party of North Korea, the central intelligence outfit tasked with targeting the South. Footage of a South mission entering Pyongyang captured Jong-il whispering in Park’s ear. The secret operation Park had conducted involved sending money and goods to the Party’s ‘Room 39’ーJong-il’s core anti-South intelligence apparatus that had been launching a relentless series of offensives over the years against the South. Clearly, Park’s action was a betrayal of the South. His blatant wrongdoing eventually came to light. He was convicted and imprisoned.”
Incidentally, in his April 22, 2008 blog entitled I’m Holding On, Nikai writes that he visited Park in a Seoul hospital after his sentence was waived due to illness and that they became “sworn brothers” then.
True to this brotherhood, Park managed to confer with Nikai for more than five hours in Osaka when he visited Japan last August 19 as an emissary of Moon Hee-sang, the speaker of the Korean National Assembly (morning edition of The Yomiuri Shimbun, August 21, 2019).
Secret Document Committing US$2.5 Billion to North
Although an ally of Kim Dae-jung, Park was at odds with Moon Jae-jin and his colleagues in the Democratic Party of Korea. The reason: when Park was held accountable for a slush fund operation and got locked up, President Roh Moo-hung would not protect him and Moon tried to take over Park’s support base while he was in jail. But in July, Moon abruptly pushed aside Suh Hoon, who headed the NIS, begging Park to assume the post.
Explained Hong Hyung, a former minister at the South Korean Embassy in Tokyo who now serves as editor-in-chief of The Unification Daily, a bi-weekly Japanese-language newspaper for pro-Seoul Korean residents in Japan:
“Park has lived a complicated life. His father and his father’s brothers had been members of the South Korea Labor Party, a communist revolutionary party created in Korea during Japanese rule under Stalin’s directives. When American forces poured into the Korean Peninsula following Japan’s defeat in 1945, they released all communists from jail. The following year, all of Park’s own family joined the Workers’ Party of South Korea—a merger between the Communist Party of Korea and the Labor Party. When the Korean War broke out in 1950, Park’s father and uncles were executed by the South Korean military. I believe Park holds deep a grudge against South Korea because of this.”
Park later left Korea for the US, where he got to know Kim Dae-jung, who was effectively in exile during the Chun Doo-hwan administration. I have earlier mentioned how their lives evolved after that.
Let us return to Park’s appointment as head of the NIS. During a pubic hearing at the National Assembly, it was revealed that Park had signed, prior to the historic North-South summit, a secret document committing South Korea to extending North Korea US$2.5 billion in economic aid—separate from the US$450 million in cash that had been publicly promised. Nishioka explained:
“The handwritten signature on the document was verified as Park’s own, but he pleaded ignorance throughout the hearing. In late July, Moon appointed him as head of the NIS, replacing Suh. What happened then? The North-South relationship improved dramatically all of a sudden.”
Here is an example. When Moon sent Kim a letter expressing sympathy over the enormous damage the North suffered from four devastating typhoons in September, a reply arrived four days letter, addressed to “President Moon Jae-in of the Republic of Korea.”
The North, which refuses to recognize the South, persistently calls it just “South Korea.” On his first visit to the North in September 2018, Moon in fact humbly introduced himself as “President of the South.” But this year Kim showed the courtesy of addressing Moon properly. It was a dramatic change.
On September 22, North Korean troops fatally shot a 47-year-old South Korean fisheries official. His burnt body was found adrift in the Yellow Sea near the South’s Yeonpyeong Island. (He was allegedly attempting to defect to the North.) Three days later, Park received from the North Korean dictator a letter of apology addressed to Moon.
Why has Kim changed his posture so suddenly? I presume it is because Kim thinks he will be able to lead South Korea around by the nose by utilizing Park, who has access to all confidential information as the South’s spy chief. One should bear in mind that practically every move Park makes is for the benefit of the North and the actions he takes will significantly influence Pyongyang’s policy toward Japan. The United Front Department of the Workers’ Party of North Korea, believed to be the force behind Park, is the entity controlling the Tokyo-headquartered General Association of Korean Residents in Japan (known as Chongryon). It is a matter of deep concern that executives of the pro-Pyongyang Chongryon are known to frequent Nikai’s office.
Most Dangerous Connection in North Korea
“Former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe took full charge of Japan’s policy toward North Korea. What will happen if Nikai’s influence increases within the ruling party? I wonder what Nikai recently discussed with Park, the South Korean spy chief described as his sworn brother. I really don’t know, but The Chosun Ilbo, a major South Korean daily, has reported that they agreed on a scheme to prepare for a four-nation summit in Tokyo among the leaders of Japan, the US, and the two Koreas next year to coincide with the Olympic Games.”
Like his predecessor, Suga regards a safe return of all Japanese abductees from North Korea as the top priority on his agenda, and is reportedly considering an “unconditional” face-to-face talk with Jong-un. Should Park approach Suga claiming to have a “strong connection” to the North Korean dictator, Suga may be tempted to take him up on his offer. That would be the “most dangerous connection,” warns Nishioka, observing:
“The United Front Department, to which Park is closely connected, is that very entity which brazenly lied in 2002 that Megumi Yokota and other Japanese abductees had died, sending to Japan her fake remains as ‘proof’ of her death. Negotiations to obtain a release of all the abductees can only work if conducted directly between the two leaders, completely cutting off the Department. If the Department should be allowed to take the initiative, it will without fail claim once again that the abductees have died. If the Japanese side is not convinced, the Department will propose, as it did before, that liaison offices be set up in Tokyo and Pyongyang to pursue the matter. We shouldn’t repeat the same mistake.”
There is a possibility that Kim Jong-un, hard-pressed and worn down by the international economic sanctions, would attempt to get Nikai involved in line with the Department’s strategy, plotting to use Japan as a ploy to ease the tight circle of international sanctions. In light of Kim’s ulterior motive as regards World War II reparations from Japan, the abduction issue may possibly be brought to the table. But in order not to repeat the prior mistake of giving away economic assistance with nothing in return, Prime Minister Suga will need to be a clever and tough negotiator. In return for assistance from Japan, we must see our abducted citizens returned, and we must see an end to the North’s nuclear program. And as part of this process, the government will need to more strictly screen people of Park’s kind.
(Translated from “Renaissance Japan” column no. 928 in the December 3, 2020 issue of The Weekly Shincho)