Thursday, July 23, 2009

John Choe Reluctant To Admit North Korea Violates Human Rights: Queens Tribune

"Choe Speaks Frankly On His Korea Position"
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 ( 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.

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