About 14,000 of the unredacted U.S. diplomatic cables published by WikiLeaks last Friday concern the Korean Peninsula. They are expected to cause ripples throughout South Korea's political and business circles.
◆ New Information
Some of the cables reveal interesting new information. They show, for instance, that prior to U.S. Special Representative for North Korea Policy Stephen Bosworth's visit to Pyongyang in 2009, the presidential secretary for national security strategy Kim Tae-hyo, a reputed hardliner, asked the U.S. to avoid abstract discussions with the North but focus on issues whose solutions could be found.
A cable from Seoul dated Dec. 3, 2009 quotes Kim as making the remarks in a meeting with U.S. Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Joseph Donovan the previous day. Kim said the North would goad Bosworth by demanding to be recognized as a nuclear state and try to conclude a peace treaty with the U.S.
Kim asked Washington to focus on concrete issues that can be solved and warn the North that its economy would suffer a serious blow unless it returns to the six-party nuclear disarmament talks.
◆ Frank Opinions
Other cables contain frank assessments of Koreans. During the Grand National Party's presidential nomination process in 2007, the U.S. Embassy in Seoul commented in a cable on the party's presidential hopefuls Park Geun-hye, Lee Myung-bak, and Sohn Hak-kyu.
In a cable on Jan. 12, 2007, the embassy speculated that Park's status as the daughter of the autocratic president Park Chung-hee could play in her favor, because South Korea's economic success in the 1960s-70s is still remembered fondly, but her gender could turn out to be a weakness.
It said South Korean voters believe they need a male president to deal with North Korean leader Kim Jong-il's recklessness. Then GNP presidential contender Sohn Hak-kyu, now chairman of the main opposition Democratic Party, is favored by intellectuals and shares positive qualities with both Lee Myung-bak and Park Geun-hye, it added.
In a cable to Washington on Aug. 20 that year, after Lee was nominated, the U.S. Embassy sounded as if it had predicted conflict between pro-Lee and pro-Park factions.
Joseph Yun, the then minister-counselor for political affairs at the U.S. Embassy, said Lee tended to be indifferent to reconciliation with Park, because of his experience as a former corporate CEO.
◆ Wide-Ranging Contacts
The embassy gathered wide-ranging information from Cheong Wa Dae, senior government officials, lawmakers, and businessmen.
On Feb. 16, 2010, it reported to the State Department that embassy staff gathered information by meeting academics, pollsters, and journalists, as well as 11 ruling and opposition lawmakers, on Feb. 5-16 to hear their opinions on the handover of full operational control of South Korean troops to Seoul.
Kathleen Stephens, the U.S. ambassador to Seoul, regularly met senior South Korean officials for dinner.