Former South Korean Prime Minister Nakyon Lee Shares Insights on Achieving Long-Lasting Peace in East Asia
HOUSTON, March 29, 2023 — Asia Society Texas welcomed former South Korean Prime Minister Nakyon Lee for a program to share his insights on security, cooperation, and competition in East Asia and how realistic and pragmatic policies can promote peace in the region. Following a lecture by Lee, Casey Youn, President of the Korean American Association and Community Center of Houston, moderated a discussion on the topic.
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Lee shared a timeline of historical events that, according to him, makes North Korean denuclearization an improbable scenario. In this regard, Lee said he believes the United States underestimated the importance of nuclear weapons to North Korea's survival and thus missed the opportunity for effective negotiations during the 1990s. Lee noted this failure as ultimately leading to North Korea's withdrawal from the Non-Proliferation Treaty in 2003.
Drawing on his experience in working towards peaceful inter-Korean relations, Lee underlined the need to reverse the policies and strategies that have caused negotiations to fail in the past. As an example, he highlighted the ineffectiveness that resulted from isolating North Korea. A new and pragmatic approach, Lee elaborated, would involve incremental, reciprocal, and simultaneous concessions between the United States and North Korea as part of a well-defined, long-term road map for mutually reducing threats and improving relations. He added that the denuclearization process would take at least 10 years to complete.
Lee emphasized the twofold importance of resuming dialogue with North Korea and rebuilding trust to make negotiations possible. From his perspective, the U.S. and North Korea pose a mutual threat to each other, and to achieve a restart in dialogue, Lee said the path to long-lasting peace would require acknowledging North Korea's desire for survival, not underestimating its capacities, and implementing an incremental approach.
During the discussion, the former prime minister reflected on the importance of the trilateral relationship between the U.S., South Korea, and Japan in balancing China and North Korea. He also reflected on the significance of economic growth and trade and expressed his hope for peace and prosperity in East Asia.
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Asia Society Texas believes in the strength and beauty of diverse perspectives and people. As an educational institution, we advance cultural exchange by celebrating the vibrant diversity of Asia, inspiring empathy, and fostering a better understanding of our interconnected world. Spanning the fields of arts, business, culture, education, and policy, our programming is rooted in the educational and cultural development of our community — trusting in the power of art, dialogue, and ideas to combat bias and build a more inclusive society.