[REPORTER'S DIARY]Inconsistency Fills Hwang Case

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[REPORTER'S DIARY]Inconsistency Fills Hwang Case

Now that the U.S. Congress has returned from its Independence Day recess, the dispute over Washington's invitation to Hwang Jang-yop to give testimony at U.S. Congressional hearings is likely to grow. Hwang Jang-yop, a former secretary of the North Korean Workers' Party, defected to South Korea in 1997.

In Washington, it is said that the three Republican lawmakers who invited Mr. Hwang are reviewing the possibility of a formal protest if the South Korean government bars Mr. Hwang from making the trip to the United States. In Seoul, Mr. Hwang's aide, Kim Duk-hong, said that Mr. Hwang might face a "major decision" if the government continues to block his proposed trip.

It is most important to consider whether Mr. Hwang's giving testimony at the U.S. Congressional hearings will serve the interest of South Korea in the short term as well as in the longer term. Each can make his own judgment on this according to how he believes inter-Korean relations and North Korea-United States relations should develop.

But there are two points that most Koreans in Washington agree on: the arrogance of the United States and the inconsistency of South Korea that have been exposed through this dispute.

Mr. Hwang is the highest-ranking North Korean to defect to the South since the division of the Korean Peninsula and is naturally under the special protection of the South Korean government. From its point of view, he is as good as a national treasure.

When a country seeks to borrow a cultural relic of the national treasure level from a foreign nation, it should show courtesy and take the proper formalities. The three Republicans, Representative Henry Hyde, Senator Jesse Helms and Representative Christopher Cox, have not formally asked for Seoul's help, despite inviting the most prominent defector from North Korea. Those sent to Seoul to deliver the invitation directly to Mr. Hwang, as if they were special envoys, were no more than aides. And, Mr. Cox, the Republican Policy Committee chairman, criticized the South Korean government, saying that freedom of movement is a basic human right.

"If Korean lawmakers wanted to invite a high-ranking Cuban defector under the protection of Washington, would they be able to show such an attitude?" a high-ranking official at Korean Embassy at Washington asked. "It is another example of the arrogance of this superpower."

But some people have pointed out that this arrogance might have been caused by Seoul's inconsistency in its treatment of defectors to South Korea.

The previous Kim Young-sam administration allowed Mr. Hwang virtual freedom of movement and high visibility as a snub to North Korea, but the current Kim Dae-jung administration has restricted his activities. When Mr. Hwang protested this last December, the government told him, "If you think so, then leave your safehouse."

People ask, "Can such a government tell a defector to leave his safehouse, then bar him from going to Washington on account of his security?"

The writer is a Washington correspondent of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Kim Jin

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