Sunday, July 26, 2009
by David Seifman
From The New York Post, July 26, 2009
A COUNCIL candidate hoping to become the city's first Korean-American legislator is calling for the removal of American troops from South Korea, and admits he made a speech three years ago denouncing US "imperialism."
The comments of John Choe, one of six candidates trying to succeed Councilman John Liu in Flushing, were reported in the Workers World newspaper.
"Korea is at the front line of the liberation struggles against imperialism," Choe was quoted as telling a conference here in May 2006 on "Preparing for the Rebirth of the Global Struggle for Socialism."
"From the very beginning, when the US intervened and occupied Korea, the Korean people have been resisting and struggling. And I urge all of you here to help us in our dark days trying to win back freedom and independence from the United States and its military."
Choe allies claim he's the victim of a smear campaign and say he never uttered those words.
But Choe admitted that he pretty much did.
"I may have said something like that," he said.
"Korea, I believe like any other country, should be given the right to self-determination and independence and not have the military of other countries on their soil," he told The Post.
Choe's position poses something of a problem for Liu and the Queens Democratic Party, which has endorsed him.
Liu, now running for comptroller, insisted Choe, his former chief of staff, was being stigmatized by "McCarthyism."
"There's no way he made those comments, no way," declared Liu, not aware of Choe's admission.
Thursday, July 23, 2009
Speaking At Socialist Conference, John Choe Says "I Hope You Can Help Me Bring Down [U.S.] Imperialism" (Listen to Audio of Choe's Speech)
Describing the Washington D.C. protests, which Choe stated would “bring the war against imperialism to the belly of the beast”, Choe struck a personal note: “Our comrade, Yoomi Jeong is down in D.C. right now organizing a week of protests… I urge all of you to join us in this very important struggle. Myself as an immigrant and a byproduct of U.S. imperialism I hope you can help me bring down imperialism through this event and many other events in the future.”
Choe, who referred to the audience as his "brothers and sisters", also slammed the American film industry, "Finally, the FTA [Free Trade Agreement] would also destroy the social fabric of South Korea, opening up Korean culture to the mercies of the monstrosity we call Hollywood.”
To read a partial transcript of Choe's remarks and LISTEN TO THE COMPLETE AUDIO of John Choe's address, click on this link to the Workers World Party website.
Nodutol’s anti-Israel advocacy is consistent with the official policies of the North Korean government. North Korea does not recognize Israel as a state, instead recognizing the Palestinian National Authority, and Israeli citizens who are Jewish are barred from visiting North Korea.
In a January 2009 announcement on its website, Nodutol encouraged its members to sign a petition against Israel’s military action in Gaza, exclaiming, “Act now before it’s too late! Protest against the Israel genocide against Palestinians! Stop U.S. Support to Israel!”
Together with Yoomi Jeong, who Choe has referred to as his "comrade" (click here to hear Choe's own words), Choe gave a speak entitled "Korea and the Struggle Against U.S. Imperialism".
To read about Choe and Jeong's speech in the Workers World Party's newspaper, click here. WorkersWorld.org has since removed the audio and video of Choe's address, though there are still links to them on their website here.
Korean-American Youth Reports On Her Nodutdol-Sponsored Trip to North Korea: "I Finally Have a Homeland"
Sanctions on citizens of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea who have been repatriated from abroad, such as treating their departure as treason leading to punishments of internment, torture, inhuman or degrading treatment or the death penalty;
Editor of Korea Times Newspaper: "Nodutdol Organizes Trips To North Korea Where Young People Are Indoctrinated"
by Marcin Szczepanski
Excerpted from Nowy Dzeinnik/Polish Daily News, April 6, 2003
In Korean, “nodutdol” means “springboard”; a springboard that shoots toward a new life of wealth and freedom—including the freedom of speech. Nodutdol is also the name of an organization which in recent weeks has flared the tempers of many Korean immigrants. And in the foreground of the entire affair stood Korea Times New York—one of the most distinguished Korean newspapers in New York City.
The storm started with a front page article in the Korea Times: “The Anti-American Meeting at the Korean-American Association.” The article was re-printed in the New York Times and Newsday. On Mar. 13, 2003, Yong Il Chin, one of the main editors of the Korean newspaper, wrote that at the association’s headquarters, built and maintained by immigrants, a meeting of “anti-war protestors and enemies of America will take place.” The “enemy of America” label referred to the group Nodutdol (the springboard) for Korean Community Development. The group has about 50 members and its headquarters are in Woods, Queens. Nodutdol consists of young, Western educated leftist activists, whose sympathies lean toward communist North Korea. The group members were scheduled to meet at the association’s headquarters for a so-called anti-war teach in.
“These people are beginning to penetrate the very core of Korean culture and they might cause Americans to regard the entire Korean community as anti-war supporters,” warns Yong Il Chin in an interview with the New York Times.
On Apr. 2, in an interview with Nowy Dziennik (Polish Daily News), Chin added,“The group Nodutdol organizes trips to North Korea, where young people are indoctrinated, after which they return to the United States and spread their dangerous beliefs.”
To read the rest of the article, click here.
by Denny Lee
From New York Times, March 23, 2003
To hear some Koreans tell it, an Axis of Evil was forming in Chelsea two weeks ago.
The source of the fear was a group known as Nodutdol, which was planning an antiwar teach-in at the Korean American Association of Greater New York, a major community center on West 24th Street.
The group, Nodutdol for Korean Community Development -- nodutdol means ''steppingstone'' in Korean -- is a 50-member advocacy group in Woodside, Queens, that has been a vocal opponent of war in Iraq.
But although the group has met previously at the association's offices, this particular event provoked an outcry. This is in part because of the nuclear crisis in North Korea and the delicate issue it poses for Korean New Yorkers.
''Anti-U.S. Meeting at Korean American Association,'' read the headline on the front page of the Mar. 13 edition of The Korea Times, the city's largest Korean-language daily. The article, written by a reporter named Yongil Shin, created an uproar.
''These antiwar, anti-U.S. people were penetrating the mainstream of Korean culture,'' Mr. Shin said the other day. ''It would give the impression that the Korean American community, as a whole, supports such a movement.''
Members of Nodutdol, who are mostly younger, Western-educated activists who cut their teeth on progressive politics, tried to explain to the association's president that being antiwar was not necessarily the same as being anti-American. But it was too late.
The article led to a flood of angry calls to the center, including one from a representative of the South Korean consulate in New York, who suggested that Washington could misconstrue the meeting as a sign of hostility. ''Nodutdol is kind of a pro-North Korean group,'' said a consulate official, who insisted on anonymity.
Hours before the meeting was to take place, the center rescinded its invitation.
''That's typical McCarthyism and misplaced fear,'' said John Choe, 32, a founder of Nodutdol, which also provides social services to immigrants. ''People who have any kind of opposition to the U.S. military's policy are being marginalized as anti-American. It's censorship.''
While mainstream America may not equate antiwar protests with acts of treason, newer immigrant groups often do.
''Immigrant groups feel a great deal of pressure to display their loyalty to America,'' said Richard Alba, a distinguished professor of sociology at the State University at Albany. ''Community leaders, in the interest of the group, try to discourage dissent.''
And similar tensions have arisen in other Asian communities. ''For a lot of people-of-color immigrants, it is an expression of survival,'' said Sung E Bai, executive director for the Committee Against Anti-Asian Violence, a nonprofit group. ''They really want to be seen as part of the American identity.''
Andrew Kim, president of the Korean American Association, which represents 190 groups, said he regretted the controversy but felt that he had little choice.
''We got tons of calls,'' Mr. Kim said. ''I have no problem to lend them my space, if they are not doing anything anti-American. But everyone here is concerned about America and Korea. We don't want people to hate us. We are not fully Americanized yet.''
There is much misinformation among the U.S. public when it comes to North Korea. The U.S. mainstream media paints a picture of a reclusive society controlled by a totalitarian dictator and a renegade state that threatens world peace. North Korea’s announcement of a nuclear test was received with horror and shock; Bush called it a threat to U.S. national security. However, to understand the current situation, it is important for us to know the history of events that led up to North Korea’s nuclear test. Many people don’t know what happened in 1994 or what has happened since. In 1994, the U.S. and North Korea signed an agreement called the Geneva Agreed Framework. In it, the U.S. agreed to provide to North Korea two light water reactors to generate energy. In exchange, North Korea agreed to abandon its nuclear program. The two countries also agreed to normalize diplomatic relations and move towards finally ending over 50 years of hostility.
Now, let’s look at what has happened since then. The U.S. never delivered on its promise to provide light water reactors. Instead, the Bush administration has; 1. called North Korea part of the “axis of evil”, 2. Issued threats of preemptive strikes, 3. Proposed to build a nuclear bunker buster aimed at North Korea, 4. Continued to conduct military exercises that simulate real war situations in which the U.S. aim is regime change, 5. Continued to enforce sanctions imposed just after the Korean War Armistice was signed, and 5. Forced foreign banks to freeze North Korean assets. Now it is pursuing a policy of “strategic flexibility,” turning South Korea into its base of operations for U.S. military offensives in the region.
Instead of moving towards normalization, the U.S. has maintained a policy of permanent war against North Korea. In fact, the U.S. never meant to follow through on the Agreed Framework because it never thought that North Korea would survive this long. After the Soviet Union collapsed, the U.S. believed North Korea would soon be wiped out – either due to a famine, an energy crisis, or a mass rebellion. But none of these things happened. And today, North Korea is even more resolved to oust the U.S. from the Korean peninsula.
So now, after years of trying to get the U.S. government to recognize its national sovereignty, follow through on the Agreed Framework, and negotiate in good faith, North Korea announced a nuclear test. Let’s think for a moment –
Which country has the most nuclear warheads in the world? The U.S.
Which country spends the most money on its military? The U.S.
Which country has killed the greatest number of people on foreign soil? The U.S.
So when you’re dealing with a country like the U.S., and you know your name appears on its hit list, and you’ve been following what the U.S. did in Iraq – where diplomacy and appeals to the international community didn’t stop the U.S. from fabricating lies and bombing innocent civilians - what would you do? What options do you have to defend your people?
It is a double standard for the U.S. – which owns the most nuclear warheads – to call for disarmament in North Korea.
Let us be clear – Nodutdol for Korean Community Development stands for peace and non-proliferation. Non-proliferation must begin with the U.S. Its calls for disarmament can only be taken seriously when it leads by example.
We call on the U.S. government to change its course in Northeast Asia by moving away from a policy of permanent war against North Korea to one of establishing permanent peace. We call on the U.S. government to enter into bilateral talks with North Korea, sign a peace treaty to end over 50-year-long Korean War, and finally to withdraw its troops from the Korean peninsula.
U.S. hands off the Middle East!
U.S. hands off North Korea!
Choe's Nodutdol "Brainwashes" Youths To Be Pro-North Korea Says President of Korean Group; Nodutol Coordinator: "I Like Marx"
by Niall Stanage
From The New York Observer, November 26, 2006
The dapper middle-aged man in suit and tie lifted his hands from the table, locked them together and then, very loudly, imitated the sound of gunfire.
“ Tuh-tuh-tuh-tuh-tuh!” shouted Byung Sun Soh, startling the children at nearby tables in a Burger King in Flushing, Queens, on a quiet Sunday morning. Mr. Soh, a 66-year-old with a kindly face, was recounting his family’s experiences at the hands of North Korean soldiers during the Korean War. His family only just escaped death. He said he has long feared that “the Korean community would be drenched by communism.” And, today, in his eyes, there are communists everywhere.
Mr. Soh has plunged into a local fight that is roiling the Korean-American community. The conflict pits those like him, who are virulently anti-communist and give no quarter in their hatred of North Korean dictator Kim Jong Il, against other, usually younger members of the Korean-American community, who are fierce critics of U.S. policy in East Asia and who sometimes sound like de facto supporters of Mr. Kim. “I don’t think there is a decisive majority either way,” explained Taehyo Park, executive director for Korean American League for Civic Action. “Among the first generation of Korean-Americans, there is a deep emotional hatred of communism. The younger generation doesn’t have experience of the [Korean] War, and they would tend to argue, ‘Harsh treatment—what good does that do?’”
The rhetorical struggle between the two sides has reached new levels of vitriol since Oct. 9, when North Korea stunned the international community with the announcement that it had tested its first nuclear weapon. The arguments currently taking place in New York and elsewhere are among the most extreme manifestations of a fundamental split in the two-million-strong Korean-American community. (About 100,000 Korean-Americans live in New York.) Mr. Park defines that split as between those of the “war generation,” who often insist that only the harshest action will bring North Korea to heel, and other, generally younger people who believe in a “long, patient engagement” with Pyongyang. “The consensus is that there should be a peaceful resolution,” he said. “How to achieve that is where people differ.”
Mr. Soh, a Manhattan-based musician who has organized several benefit concerts to aid North Korean refugees in China, is adamant about the scale of the danger that he believes is festering in some quarters of Korean America. Left-leaning Korean-American groups, he claimed, are fronts for Mr. Kim’s regime: “They keep it secret when they talk to people …. They have support. There are a lot of communists.” One high-profile leftist group in New York is, he alleged, “on the communist side. They are captured by communism.”
The rhetoric seems to belong to another era, that of McCarthyism and Red-baiting. But the claims made by Mr. Soh seem less absurd when one witnesses some of the meetings at which the Korean-American far left makes its presence felt. A so-called Korea Crisis Forum was organized at the start of this month by two Korean-American groups, the Korea Truth Commission and Korean Americans Against War and Neoliberalism (KAWAN). The International Action Center, the U.S. activist group founded by former U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Clark, was the other co-sponsor. The meeting was held in a characterless room at the United Nations Church Center opposite the world body’s headquarters. Posters blaming the U.S. for the problems of the Korean peninsula lined the walls: “North Korean hunger problems and food crises are due from the US economic sanctions,” one proclaimed.
About 70 people attended, with white Americans outnumbering those of Korean heritage. The gathering seemed to fulfill every cartoonish stereotype of the leftist fringe. A man with a luxuriant gray beard and a T-shirt bearing the legend “Cuba is Our Neighbor” wandered through the crowd. A woman handed out copies of Workers World, the newspaper of a U.S.-based socialist party. In the general hubbub of conversation before the meeting began, the name of Daniel Ortega, the Sandinista and one-time bête noire of the U.S. who would a few days later be elected president of Nicaragua, drifted up repeatedly. Mr. Clark himself was one of three speakers to address the meeting and—judging from the way the crowd thinned out after he’d finished—he seemed to be the main attraction. Mr Clark served as U.S. Attorney General during the Johnson administration, but since then has become better known for providing legal service to controversial figures, including Saddam Hussein. Now 78, his tall frame has become stooped. Never one to shy away from embracing unpopular causes, he informed the crowd that the North Koreans are “a beautiful and good people, and they are greatly endangered by the United States.”
Though silent on the subject of human-rights violations by the North Korean regime, Mr. Clark was positively gushing about his visit to the People’s Library in Pyongyang. “The whole structure oozes with the desire for knowledge,” he said happily. He received his loudest burst of applause when raising the specter of military action by the Bush administration against North Korea, insisting that “[we] should do everything in our power to prevent that happening.”
The two other speakers, Hwa Young Lee of the Korea Truth Commission and Kwan Ho Choi of the Congress for Korean Reunification, couldn’t match Mr. Clark’s rhetorical sparkle, but their views were cut from the same cloth. At no point during the speech, or in a Q&A session afterwards, was there any hint of criticism of the North Korean regime. Ms. Lee asserted that Kim Jong Il was “greatly admired and respected by his people.”
Asked specifically about human-rights abuses, she asked rhetorically, “Is the United States in a position to condemn human-rights abuses? I don’t think there is a real human-rights issue. I cannot say, because I have never lived there.” (Amnesty International’s most recent report on North Korea stated that “fundamental rights including freedom of expression, association and movement continued to be denied. There were reports of public executions, widespread political imprisonment, torture and ill-treatment.”)
In 2003, Mr. Choi’s group was accused by the South Korean Consulate General of being a front for Kim Jong Il’s regime. Approached by this reporter after the meeting, he declined to give an interview, saying he was in a hurry to leave. He also declined to give a phone number at which he could be contacted, instead offering an e-mail address. Two messages to that address went without reply.
The scene was much the same at an event hosted by a group called Nodutdol last Saturday at Hunter College. Nodutdol—the word has multiple meanings, including “stepping-stone”—has one of the highest profiles of all the left-leaning Korean-American groups, in part because it has previously clashed with older, more conservative organizations. Among other activities, it arranges trips to North Korea for young Korean-Americans. One of the purposes of Saturday evening’s event was to enable those who had traveled on (and paid for) the last trip, in August, to talk about their experiences. One woman, Maggie Kim, reminisced from the stage about how “no one I knew [in America] worked towards anything besides their own personal gain, whether it be wealth, fame, happiness, enlightenment. Yet here was an entire country devoted to their great and dear leaders.”
Given such sentiments, it’s no surprise that conservative Korean-Americans consider Nodutdol as wayward at best, and allege that its trips are little more than exercises in indoctrination. “The young people are only there for a few days, and they trust what they are told,” said John Park, president of the Korean American Empowerment Council. “They brainwash them.”
To Mr. Soh, the musician, Nodutdol is “insane” and the trips are simply “wrong.” “If someone has a good spirit, they cannot go there,” he said. Nodutdol’s Solidarity Committee coordinator, Cheehyung Kim, disagrees that his group is anti-American or a North Korean front: “We certainly do not support everything about North Korea, and we do not criticize everything about the U.S. either. We are like hundreds of other progressive groups—we criticize both countries,” he said. Mr. Kim, though, is upfront about his own political philosophy. Arguing about the damage caused by “the dominance of U.S. capital,” he adds, “I have read Marx and I like Marx. Capital is a work of genius.”
The arguments at both extremes of New York’s Korean-American community are strident and often bitter. But do they matter? Some observers believe that a moderate majority has remained largely silent, leaving the field open to more dogmatic voices. Professor Charles Armstrong, a Korea expert at Columbia University, said that, aside from the more extreme groups, “There really is not a lot of discussion about North Korea near the surface.” He added that, for many Korean-Americans, “I think there is a sense that there is not much they can do.”
Yong Il Shin, the U.N. correspondent of the Korea Times newspaper, cautions against overestimating the support that the far-left groups in particular receive: “These groups are virtually ostracized within the community, so they have almost no influence.” Political representatives of the Korean-American community who offer a nuanced view seem to be in short supply, however. In their absence, the enmity between right and left surges on unconstrained. Mr. Kim of Nodutdol insists that North Korea has the right to develop nuclear weapons “to gain political clout.” Mr. Soh, the musician, says of such activists: “We must destroy them.” “Nobody is afraid to speak out,” Mr. Park of KALCA said dryly of the two sides in this new, local Korean War. “They just don’t want to talk to each other.”
Excerpted from: Workers World Newspaper, February 28, 2002
"Another member of Nodutdol, John Choe, said the Korean community is reaching out to others who have suffered from U.S. policy.
'We had a community forum recently with two goals. One was to showcase the fact that many members of the Korean community in New York have been opposed to the use of military forces in Afghan. The second was to build solidarity with people in the Middle East, including Palestine, making comparisons with the way the U.S. has acted with its allies in Korea and Palestine, dividing and occupying these two countries.
We also spoke of the significance of the diaspora in both our struggles. The Korean community is here today because of what the U.S. and its allies did in Korea 50 years ago. We shouldn't feel we're just victims. This is an opportunity to critique U.S. policy around the world.'"
To read full article, click here.
"[John] Choe said "the ever-intensifying U.S. hostile policy and the clandestine nuclear-related experiments recently revealed in South Korea are constituting big stumbling blocks" and make it impossible for North Korea to participate in the continuation of six-nation talks on its nuclear program."
To read the full article, click here.
By Larry Hales
From: Workers World, October 19, 2006
Protests were held on both U.S. coasts from Oct. 11-12 in support of the people of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and against sanctions being championed in the U.N. by the U.S.
A press conference was held on Oct. 12 at the federal building in downtown Los Angeles, initiated by Korean Americans for Peace, Korea Truth Commission (KTC), International Action Center (IAC) and Bayan USA.
Leaders from the Korean community plus a member of the FMLN of El Salvador who was tortured by U.S.-supported death squads and members of the Los Angeles IAC all spoke.
Each speaker affirmed the right of the DPRK to self-defense in the face of a history of aggression, constant threats of sanctions, military assault and the threat of a nuclear assault from the U.S.
Later in the day there was a spirited rally demanding “Hands Off Korea!” The protesters joined with others who mount a weekly protest denouncing the war in Iraq.
In New York, a demonstration organized by Nodutdol for Korean Community Development, KTC and the IAC was held near the United Nations building on Oct. 11.
David Sole, a Green Party candidate in Michigan for the U.S. Senate and a Workers World Party member, issued a statement demanding the U.S. respect North Korea’s sovereignty, stating, “The present crisis arises directly out of the implacable hostility of the U.S. imperialist government to the socialist government of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.” The full statement can be read at www.stopthewarslate.org.
June 13, 2009: http://www.workers.org/2009/us/peoples_summit_0618/April 9, 2009: http://www.workers.org/2009/world/koreans_0423/index.html
October 4, 2008: http://www.workers.org/2008/world/nepal_1009/index.htmlAugust 6, 2008: http://www.workers.org/2008/us/iran_0814/index.html
June 12, 2008: http://www.workers.org/2008/world/koreans_0619/index.htmlApril 27, 2008: http://www.workers.org/2008/world/korea_0501/index.html
December 5th, 2006: http://www.workers.org/2006/world/fta-1214/index.htmlOctober 19, 2006: http://www.workers.org/2006/world/korea-protest-1026/index.html
May 26, 2006: http://www.workers.org/2006/us/korea-0601/index.htmlMay 19, 2006: http://www.workers.org/2006/us/conference-0525/index.html
May 15, 2006: http://www.workers.org/conf2006/index.html
January 13, 2006: http://www.workers.org/2006/world/korea-0119/index.htmlMay 19, 2005: http://www.workers.org/2005/world/gwangju-0526/
October 7, 2004: http://www.workers.org/ww/2004/edit1007.phpMay 15, 2003: http://www.workers.org/ww/2003/lgbt0515.php
February 28, 2002: http://www.workers.org/ww/2002/korea0228.phpJuly 6, 2000: http://www.workers.org/ww/2000/korea0706.php
April 13, 2000: http://www.workers.org/ww/2000/korea0706.php
Former Queens Councilwoman Concerned John Choe Will "Sell" Young People On North Korean Dictatorship
By Vladic Ravich
John Choe officially announced his candidacy for the 20th Council District on Monday and promptly won the endorsement of the Queens County Democratic Organization the next day.
The endorsement gave a boost to former Chief of Staff for Councilman John Liu – who currently holds the seat, but it was the most hotly contested of all the endorsements made that day. Choe faced a strong challenge from District Leader James Wu for the endorsement, but following the abstention votes by District Leaders Julia Harrison and Martha Flores Vasquez, Wu relinquished his votes to Choe “for the sake of party unity.”
“I’m totally happy with the situation,” said Wu. “Of course I would’ve liked the endorsement, but the will of the voters is more important.” Wu emphasized that he still supported John Liu for Comptroller, explaining that he understood why Liu would back one of his former staffers. “Having Liu running strong citywide will still help me on the ballot,” said Wu.
Wu said that while he could have tried to force a deadlock and move on to more rounds of voting, the two abstentions made it impossible for him to win, because even assuming he won the plurality of the votes, he would still lack a majority. So the choice became a stalemate from Liu’s district, which Wu said would look bad for everyone, or Wu would have to switch his votes to his opponent.
“I do think abstention is a huge cop out,” said Wu.
Vasquez said she and Harrison made a “mutual decision” to leave the decision to the voting community. Vasquez said she wanted a candidate to represent the whole district, “not just the Asian district.”
“In this district we go one of two ways: we want an Asian candidate or a qualified candidate. I think this is the year for a qualified candidate,” said Vasquez. She also said that Wu changed his vote out of “anger and retaliation.”
Harrison said she did not appreciate U.S. Rep. Joe Crowley (D-Jackson Heights), the county Democratic Chairman, dictating which candidate would be endorsed. “There is a united front in the community to not have someone shoved down our throats – let it be a free election and let the community decide for itself.”
She also said “I don’t know how John Choe can possibly win with three Korean people in the race.” She then said her sources tell her that Choe is “perceived as an advocate of a North Korean government […] The anxiety is very strong about John Choe proselytizing to the young people of immigrant parents selling them on the philosophy of the North Korean government.”
To read the rest of this article, click here.
by Chris Bragg
From: City Hall, June 22nd, 2009
When John Choe entered the Council race to replace Council Member John Liu (D-Queens) a few weeks ago, there were two immediate opposite reactions.
The Queens Democratic Party jumped at the chance to endorse Liu’s longtime chief of staff, even though Choe had declared his candidacy only a day before the county’s endorsement meeting.
At the same time, a faction of the Korean-American population in the Flushing district strongly denounced him, even though Choe appears to have a good shot at becoming the first Korean-American elected to the Council.
The county support for Choe is easy to explain: he has the backing of the popular Liu, and Rep. Joseph Crowley (D-Queens/Bronx), the Queens County chair. Similarly, Choe said that the promise of county support was one of the main factors in his decision to finally go public with his candidacy.
The big controversy, though, is not over this political maneuvering, but over a foreign policy issue half a world away.
In 1999, Choe founded a group called Nodutdol, whose stated aim is the reunification of North and South Korea. Some in Flushing, however, have labeled Choe a Communist sympathizer, since the group has arranged numerous trips to North Korea for members, and because the group’s website has featured glowing accounts of North Korea and its communist dictator.
In a district where the Falun Gong has for years protested Liu at every turn for what they believe are the councilman’s own alleged Communist leanings, Choe said similar forces are now marshalling support against him among Korean-Americans.
John Hong, of the Korean American Association of Flushing, said Koreans are likely to instead support S.J. Jung, a community organizer, who has also received the backing of the Working Families Party and 32 BJ.
Hong said he did not know what to think about Choe.“I have heard the rumors about North Korea,” Hong said. “I don’t know if they are true. But I have heard them.”
Choe, however dismissed the whole controversy as irrelevant to his candidacy.
“I’m not running for secretary of state—I’m running to represent the 20th district in the City Council,” Choe said.
Some outsiders are also getting involved. Former Council Member Julia Harrison, who is white and preceded Liu on the Council, has been strongly expressing her concerns about Choe’s candidacy.
“I am very concerned about the perception in the community that the North Korean government has a spokesperson,” said Harrison.
To read the rest of the article, click here.
By Vladic Ravich
From: The Queens Tribune, June 5th, 2009
John Choe would rather not talk about North Korea.
“This issue is of very little relevance to District 20,” said Choe, responding to claims made last week by District Leader Julia Harrison, who said her sources were wary of Choe’s alleged connections to North Korea.
“The main issues of working families in this district are good schools for their children, jobs, health care, police protection, the basics. […] This story is old news. It’s been covered since 2003, with accusation that somehow I am a spy or a representative of North Korea. I’ve been very clear in my answer; I have not taken sides, I don’t represent or speak on behalf of either the South or the North Korean government. I am Korean American and my focus is as a community organizer to make people’s lives better right here.”
Choe did agree to a lengthy interview to dispel the rumors and past allegations that his role in founding a group called Nodutdol (nodutdol.com) somehow branded him unpatriotic or worse. He made no secret of his advocacy for peace on the Korean peninsula and explained his positions on the issues that have gotten North Korea in headlines around the world.
Choe said he has taken several trips to South Korea and is very familiar with how the country works. He was particularly interested in “the way its health care, feminist movements, and very active workers movement” operate. He said he has “very limited information on the other half of the peninsula,” but he did take two trips there, once in 2000 and again in 2008.
“Yes, I did go there on my honeymoon,” said Choe. “We spent a few days in North Korea to learn about the society. We spent the other part of the honeymoon in Yosemite Park, enjoying the beauty of one of America’s greatest parks.”
Nodutdol sponsors trips by American Koreans to visit the country and the blog posts they write are overwhelmingly positive, describing the new found pride they feel in their heritage and the warm welcome they received. Nodutdol has been criticized for not presenting the negatives of North Korea, but Choe says that is not the purpose of the group. Instead, the group wants to foster cultural exchange and understanding, traits that Choe considers prerequisites for peace.
“I believe in productive and constructive criticism. There is also criticism that is meant to undermine a peaceful process. I believe if you’re gonna build a relationship you have to engage in constructive criticism.[…] You can’t be holier than thou, saying why aren’t you fixing this, or fixing that?[…] That part of U.S. policy is currently being reviewed by the Obama administration. The unilateralism that the U.S. has pushed around the world hasn’t been very productive,” said Choe.
When asked about the issue of missiles and nuclear weapons, Choe said “Frankly, I don’t support their test on nuclear weapons. My hope is for peaceful negotiations and the importance of non violence.” He said North Korea had the right to withdraw from the Nuclear Non-proliferation Act, just as any country can withdraw or not sign a treaty. He cited the example of the U.S. refusing the sign the international ban on land mines, which results in tremendous human suffering around the world.
Choe said North Korea, like every nation, is entitled to test rockets for civilian purposes. When asked if he believe the rockets recently tested are for satellites or weapons, he said is not aware of any evidence one way or the other.
In regards to human rights violations, Choe criticized the former military government of South Korea, especially their National Security Law, which he said led to the “restricted free speech and freedom of conscience, [and] allowed the authorities to detain, torture and sometimes kill their political opponents whether they were professors, poetry, labor activists.” “If a similar system is in place in North Korea, I would also oppose it,” said Choe.
To read reactions to this article from the readers of the Queens Crap blog, click here.
New York Times: Korean-American Community Says John Choe's Pro-North Korea Agenda Makes Him "A Dangerous Man"
By ROBERT F. WORTH
From: New York Times, November 5th, 2003
A few months ago, John Choe says, his parents began receiving strange and frightening phone calls at their home on Staten Island. ''Why is your son being paid by the government of North Korea?'' one anonymous caller asked. ''Did you know the F.B.I. is doing surveillance of your son?'' asked another.
Mr. Choe, 33, a community organizer from Queens, says he is not a spy. But to some in the city's large Korean community, he is something just as bad: a ''sympathizer'' who helped found a group that arranges trips to North Korea and features on its Web site a glowingly positive account of that country and its communist dictator.
There have been whispered accusations of North Korean influence in Queens for years. They grew louder last winter when Pyongyang provoked a crisis after it announced its plan to build nuclear weapons. Early last month, Korean-language newspapers in New York dropped their own rhetorical bombs: the South Korean Consulate General, they reported, had announced that three New York organizations -- including one that Mr. Choe helped found -- were controlled by North Korea.
Mr. Choe dismisses the accusation as ludicrous. The group he helped found, Nodutdol for Korean Community Development, is not pro-North, he says. It advocates peaceful reunification of the Koreas, like the two other groups, the Korean American National Coordinating Council (whose president also denied the consulate general's accusations) and the Congress for Korean Unification (whose spokesman would not comment).
The South Korean Consulate also would not comment on the matter, and calls to North Korea's United Nations office were not returned.
Mr. Choe acknowledges that Nodutdol arranges educational trips to North Korea, but only because its 50 or so members want to see what is really happening there.
The controversy, he says, was manufactured by conservative Korean-Americans. ''It's a lot like what's going on in the Cuban community,'' he said. ''The younger generation is starting to challenge the old anticommunist way of thinking, and the older generation doesn't like it.''
New York City Council member John C. Liu, who represents Flushing and employed Mr. Choe as legislative director until the end of August, says his former aide has been unjustly maligned. ''There's a pretty mean streak of McCarthyism out there,'' Mr. Liu said. Mr. Choe left the position to take two yearlong fellowships, Mr. Liu added, not, as many Korean-Americans in Queens say, because of the controversy over Nodutdol.
But to some in the community, Mr. Choe is a dangerous man. ''If we don't speak up,'' said Ellen Kang, a postal worker from Woodside who orchestrated much of the campaign against Mr. Choe, ''these people will influence our children.''
Mrs. Kang was so outraged when she discovered in March that Mr. Choe worked for her own city councilman that she formed Korean American Defenders of Freedom and began organizing rallies to demand that Mr. Liu either fire Mr. Choe or force him to cut his ties to Nodutdol (the word means ''steppingstone'' in Korean).
Mrs. Kang knows that she has been labeled a wild-eyed conservative, and she deeply resents it. ''Some people are against war and love America, and that's O.K.,'' she said. ''These people are against the war and hate America.''
Others feel the same. In March, the Korean American Association of Greater New York was deluged with angry phone calls and letters, including one from the South Korean Consulate, after it offered to rent office space to Nodutdol for a meeting to protest the Iraq war. Finally, the group was forced to rescind its offer. Andrew Kim, who was the association's president at the time, said he would have preferred to allow the meeting in the name of free speech.
It is not hard to see the worries. Nodutdol's Web site, which is in English at www.nodutdol.com, includes a journal and photographs by Yul San Liem, 24, who presents North Korea as a harmonious place, full of happy people free of Western advertising. There is plenty of praise for the former dictator Kim Il Sung.
North Koreans, Ms. Liem writes, ''have built a nation from nothing when the Western Imperialists would have had them fall, have constructed a society in which people actually desire what is best of each other, rather than what is best for the individual self, who resist the clutches of global capitalism, who have survived such hardships and risen up alive, united and strong.''
The site doesn't mention that North Korean citizens can reportedly be sent to the gulag for watching television. There is only a passing reference to the famine that killed an estimated 2.5 million North Koreans in the mid-1990's, a result, many observers say, of the government's policies.
North Korea boosterism may sound bizarre to Americans who remember that President Bush included the country in his ''axis of evil.'' But the boosterism has been increasingly common in South Korea ever since it adopted its conciliatory ''sunshine policy'' toward the North several years ago, said Victor Cha, a professor of international relations at Georgetown University.
''There's a strange kind of infatuation with North Korea,'' Professor Cha said. ''They see it as, at worst, a decrepit regime, or a crazy uncle in the attic; either way, not very threatening. Many people would argue there is great naïeveté in that view.''
The two other groups accused of being controlled by North Korea, the Congress for Korean Unification and the Korean American National Coordinating Council, have Web sites that offer selections from the writings of the Great Leader, as Kim Il Sung is known, and his son, Kim Jong Il, the Dear Leader.
The Rev. Michael Hahm, president of the Korean American National Coordinating Council, says he is not happy with the site, which is run independently out of the group's Washington office. (A call to that office was not returned.)
''We are trying to be a bridge between North Korea and the Korean community,'' Mr. Hahm said. ''If we don't know anything about the other side, we are not going to have a good dialogue.''
Mr. Choe agrees. ''I think there's a deeply felt need to say, just looking at South Korea is half our heritage,'' he said. ''We can't just lie down and be silent when the U.S. is about to launch a war.''
Mr. Choe seems almost amused by the controversy that has risen up around him. He volunteers the fact that he spent his honeymoon in North Korea three years ago and does not doubt that his government minders in the North showed him only what they wanted him to see. But he also says North Korea has been unjustly vilified in the Western media.
In the end, he said with a wry smile, all the bad publicity may have helped his cause. ''Ironically,'' he said, ''our higher profile has helped us recruit people.''