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Wednesday, 11 May 1994
Page: 608

Senator TEAGUE (1.13 p.m.) —One month ago I was able to visit the Republic of Korea for several days and I wish to reflect upon some of my observations and evaluations of my visit. Whilst I have visited all of the regional countries about the Korean peninsula—a number of them many times—this was, in fact, my first visit to the Korean peninsula.

  I was very happy for the intensive days of discussion I had in Seoul. My objectives were three. Firstly, I wanted to observe first-hand the growing economic relationship between Australia and Korea and to have a clearer picture of how to give that focus and shape so that it may prosper. Secondly, I wished to have a clearer picture of the way in which the Republic of Korea and Australia will cooperate in regional forums, especially APEC. We have a very good basis for working together closely, in being two of the honest brokers within this very important economic association in the Asia-Pacific area. Thirdly, I went to make some first-hand security assessments, not least with the headlines of that week in my ears about the nuclear problem in Pyongyang.

  I wish to thank Ambassador Byong Hyon Kwon, who is currently the Korean ambassador in Canberra, for his briefing to me before I left and for the arrangements he made for me. I would also like to thank his predecessor, Ambassador Lee, who started that process. I first met Ambassador Kwon on the day before he was accredited. I have been very happy to meet with him again—today, in fact—to discuss some of my observations in more detail than I can here. I regard him as one of the most experienced Asian diplomats ever to serve in Canberra. That is a mark of the high regard that Korea has for its developing relationship with Australia and the priority it is given. I look forward to the contribution he will make in discussions with every element of the parliament and government of Australia for the mutual benefit of our two countries.

  I wish to thank Ambassador Mack Williams, an old friend who is currently serving as ambassador in Seoul, and his staff—Neal Davis, Elizabeth Toohey and Carol Allnutt—and the defence attache, Colonel Gerry McCormack, who accompanied me to the DMZ. They made very careful arrangements for my days in the country, and I am grateful for the care with which they did that. I also thank the officers of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, the East Asia Analytical Unit and the Department of Defence, who also briefed me before I made the visit.

  In Seoul I met with a number of academics, with whom I had some very considered discussions, at the Chung-Ang University, the Kyung-Hee University and the Korea University. They were mainly political scientists and economists, and some were involved in Australian studies, interest in which is growing in Seoul. I was also able to visit the National Assembly, Korea's parliament, and to meet with the Foreign Affairs and National Unification Committee.

  I met with officials from the Ministry of Education, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Korean Institute for Defence Analyses and the Institute of Foreign Affairs and National Security. The last of these was especially of great value to me, and I know it has been of great value in the past to the Australian foreign minister, Senator Gareth Evans. I also met with economic analysts, including those in the Economic Research Institute. I was not able to fit in meeting directly with individual business people, but I certainly gained some insights from meeting with these hands-on economic consultants.

  One evening, I went to Oh Tae-Suk's play Why did Shimchong plunge herself into the Indang Sea twice, which refers to a legend that is well understood in Korea. It talks about the innocence of Korea being in jeopardy, at the hands of autocratic government to some extent, but more especially because of the invasion of media and plastic internationalisation that subverts cultures in every country. It was a graphic play. I was delighted afterwards to meet the writer, who directed that performance. He introduced me to all of the cast. I was able to give them my impressions of the play, even though I did not understand one word that they said. They were actually quite warmed—maybe they were just being kind to me—by my brief analysis of what I saw as the innocence of Korea being in jeopardy because of these pressures and the suffering that is associated with trying to do something about injustice.

  I also went to the national museum for several hours and looked at all the historical elements displayed there. I stayed in a traditional Korean hotel—when I go to Japan I like to sleep on the floor, as well. I ate traditional Korean food, including kimchi, which is a distinctive element in all of their meals.

  I was impressed by the statue of Admiral Yi, a 15th century leader of Korea, that is prominently displayed in the National Assembly and also in the main street of Seoul. He was a very successful and winning Korean naval commander, with a new technique that time does not allow me to describe now.

  I went to Panmunjom and was carefully briefed there by the American army officers who had also, as it happened, been the ones that had briefed President Clinton when he visited there some months ago. In the negotiations building, in which there is an imaginary line, I actually stepped inside North Korea. I gained a great deal for my personal sense of geography from visiting that area only 30 kilometres north of Seoul. I will make some observations, and if I do not finish I will continue in the adjournment tonight, for which I am already listed. I will try to be as brief as I can.

  I recognise the careful work of the Australian government's East Asia Analytical Unit in DFAT. Its publication on Korea is invaluable. It was given to me by the department, and I took it with me. I believe that there is also a number of other good publications. We need these publications because Korea is in a relationship with Australia that will stay; and we must understand not only China and Japan, but Korea, Indonesia and all the ASEAN countries in our own region.

  The Korean language initiatives within Australia are important. It is essential that there is a body of Australians with a knowledge of Korean. We need to extend the overseas student exchanges both ways between Korea and Australia, particularly at the postgraduate level.

  I wish to refer to three areas: the ones I mentioned at the very outset. First of all there is the bilateral economic relationship. Thirty years ago this was negligible; now it is $US4.5 billion worth of trade each year. Korea is the third biggest market for Australian goods, and it is quite possible it will become second to Japan, supplanting the United States.

  The Republic of Korea is very prosperous, and very soon it will equate with Australia in per capita GNP. The Koreans clearly have a very advanced economy and very advanced technologies. We need to continue to build a very complex, flexible and growing economic relationship at the bilateral level. Australia at the moment has a three to one advantage, in that our exports to Korea are three times greater than our imports from Korea.

  The second area is regional cooperation. I am now all the more convinced that Korea and Australia are honest brokers, independent and agreeable countries within APEC. Both of us want APEC to succeed to the fullest limit; and I believe that we can work together very carefully, not least in the coming summit in Jakarta. I believe that we can work together to strengthen open regionalism. It may be a little controversial, but I actually support the statement of the Minister for Trade (Senator McMullan) that Australia will not join the East Asia Economic Caucus even if we are invited.

  I know that not every parliamentarian has expressed that view. I support it for two reasons. I do not agree with Greg Sheridan's article in the Australian the other day; that is a bit of journalese that is not convincing to me, particularly his references to the United States. I believe that we need to encourage Korea and Japan not to join the caucus. We need to encourage Indonesia, and the others who may join it, to the view that it should be basically an ASEAN discussion group without enormous consequence. We need in Australia to remain as an independent member of APEC. I believe Korea has that aspiration, and we should encourage Japan to adopt that position as well.

  That is one of the reasons why I support the statement by the trade minister. Another is that Australia has a reputation for being fair dinkum; we are not just warm and friendly to every idea that comes along. I believe our credibility is increased if, occasionally when we mean no, we say `no'. I see no merit nor, in four years of discussion, has anyone on either side of parliament or government seen any particular merit in Australia being a part of that caucus. Whilst I wish the caucus well if its members choose to meet—and it is largely an ASEAN body—I believe that Australia, Korea and Japan should not be part of it. We can work together as independent members within the 18-member APEC community. We must see open regionalism; we want to see international competitiveness; we want to see freer trade in the whole region. That is the way Australia will prosper.

  My final comment is the most important. It relates to the Korean peninsula: the resolution of the nuclear issue in Pyongyang and the question of the reunification of the peninsula. I only have two minutes left at this stage of the day so I will speak about this more particularly on the adjournment. I will just give a couple of bottom lines. I believe that the way to resolve this matter is to focus the whole world, as it is largely focused at the moment, on the fact that the IAEA inspection must happen in Pyongyang and in other parts of North Korea. The best way to achieve that is by dialogue: dialogue that involves the Republic of Korea, the United States, China, all the members of the IAEA and all the members of the UN Security Council.

  It is the case that North Korea is not meeting its actual commitments. It has signed the IAEA treaty to allow inspection of its nuclear facilities and it is not living up to it. The rest of the world, including Australia, must impress upon North Korea that it has to live up to the agreement it has made. Along with all nations in the world with nuclear facilities, it has to allow an international inspectorate to audit what is happening with the plutonium generated by nuclear facilities. There is a danger of nuclear brinkmanship. This could have a chain reaction and it must be avoided at all costs. The best way is to maximise dialogue on the basis of fact and on the basis of reason and not to be too quick or impatient to talk about sanctions which are in the quiver of the international community down the track. It might take many months. In two weeks time, there is a quite crucial juncture and we may see some resolution of that.

  With regard to unification, I will not be surprised if in two to five years time there is a unification of Korea. North Korea is near to economic collapse; it is not economically viable and it may well be united by dialogue with the south.