Tag Archive | "congress"

Meet the Five Korean American Candidates Running for Congress in 2020

By Sonia Kim

Throughout the course of roughly a century since Koreans’ initial migration to the United States, only two Koreans were elected into the U.S. House of Representatives. In 1992, Jay Kim became the very first Korean American to serve in Congress. Almost three decades later in 2018, incumbent Andy Kim became the second Korean American to serve. This year, for the first time in history, a record number of five Korean Americans are vying for seats in the 117th Congress.

Among the Korean American hopefuls in the 2020 election cycle include Andy Kim, who is running for re-election in New Jersey’s 3rd Congressional District; David Kim, candidate for California’s 34th Congressional District; Young Kim, candidate for California’s 39th Congressional District; Michelle Park Steel, candidate for California’s 48th Congressional District; and Marilyn Strickland, candidate for Washington’s 10th Congressional District.

Much like the Korean American community as a whole, these five candidates come from diverse backgrounds and experiences, and they represent a wide range of political views. Yet in spite of their differences, common themes that cut across each of the candidates’ campaigns are their immigrant histories and commitment to public service.

Read more about the five Korean American candidates below.

Andy Kim, Congressman, New Jersey 3rd Congressional District.

Andy Kim grew up in South Jersey and spent his entire career in public service. In 2018, he narrowly won a swing district, becoming one of the few Democrats over the past century to hold the seat. Prior to serving as Congressman, he worked as a State Department advisor and later at the National Security Council under President Obama. In his re-election campaign, he is focusing on affordable healthcare, veterans issues, and supporting small businesses. A proud son of Korean immigrants, Andy Kim remains optimistic about what the Korean American community will achieve.



David Kim, Candidate for California 34th Congressional District.

David Kim is an attorney and activist who is now among a new crop of progressive, first-time candidates running for Congress. He was born and raised in the U.S. as a 2nd generation Korean American to immigrant parents. After graduating law school, he worked at the LA County District Attorney’s office on many corruption cases. He also worked as an entertainment attorney to help Asian American and Korean pop artists navigate the U.S. music industry. As a lawyer-turned political candidate, David Kim is fighting for equal access to education, healthcare, and housing for all.




Young Kim, Candidate for California 39th Congressional District.

Young Kim’s bid for Congress has been two decades in the making. She is a first-generation Korean American who became the first Korean American Republican woman elected to California’s Assembly. Before her time in office, she worked in finance and started her own small business in the women’s clothing industry. In 2018, she ran an unsuccessful campaign as the Republican Party candidate for CA-39. If elected this time around, Young Kim pledges to address homelessness, reform the immigration system, and lower regulations for businesses.




Michelle Park Steel, Candidate for California 48th Congressional District.

Born in South Korea, Michelle Park Steel is an American government official. After moving to the U.S., she continued her studies and became active in Republican Party politics. She is currently Chairman of the Orange County Board of Supervisors. Previously, she was elected to the California State Board of Equalization and served on various commissions in the George W. Bush administration. Her campaign platforms revolve around lowering taxes and securing the border. As an immigrant, Michelle Park Steel shares how she has been fortunate to live the American Dream.



Marilyn Strickland, Candidate for Washington 10th Congressional District.

Marilyn Strickland is a Democratic politician and businesswoman. In the past, she served on the Tacoma City Council for two years before being elected mayor. Having the lens of local government, she hopes to bring a unique perspective to Congress. Her campaign focuses on returning economic prosperity to Tacoma through investment in jobs, infrastructure and education. As an African American and Korean American, Marilyn Strickland embraces both identities and seeks to use her different cultures and experiences to build coalitions across the aisle.



All headshots courtesy of Korean Americans for Political Action.

Sonia Kim is an intern at the Korea Economic Institute of America. She is a recent graduate from Harvard College with a degree in Government and East Asian Studies. The views expressed here are the author’s alone.

Picture from Wikimedia Commons user Bjoertvedt

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Growing Congressional Assertiveness on U.S. Foreign Policy: Implications for Korea

By Phil Eskeland

Yesterday, the U.S. Senate voted by a wide bipartisan margin for an amendment expressing opposition to a precipitous withdrawal of U.S. forces from Syria and Afghanistan.  Nearly every Republican Senator and more than half of the Senate Democratic Conference supported this amendment.  This vote comes after confusing pronouncements from the Trump Administration that U.S. troops would soon be leaving Syria and Afghanistan.  It also comes just one week after another legislative effort, offered by Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-NY), to oppose the lifting of sanctions against a Russian oligarch close to Russian President Vladimir Putin, which garnered the support of not just every Senate Democrat, but also 11 Senate Republicans.  What was notable about yesterday’s vote was the author of the amendment:  Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), who sets the legislative agenda for Senate Republicans and, by practical effect, for President Donald Trump.

Last year, there were a few examples of the Republican-led Congress blazing its own trail in setting some aspects of U.S. foreign policy apart from the Trump Administration such as a rare prohibition on the ability of the President to waive sanctions against Russia.  However, with the departure of some key national security advisers and Cabinet officials during the past year who were thought to be the “adults” in the room to manage President Trump divergence from traditional Republican orthodoxy on foreign policy and with the gains Democrats made in the 2018 elections, many Republican national security “hawks” are coming to the conclusion that they need to differentiate themselves from President Trump on several fronts.

This may have implications for U.S. policy towards North Korea.  Last December, the President signed into law the Asia Reassurance Initiative Act (P.L. 115-409), which makes clear that the policy of the United States with regard to North Korea’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs is the “complete, verifiable, and irreversible dismantlement of such programs.”  The new law also states that “it is the policy of the United States to continue to impose sanctions” on North Korea until it “is no longer engaged in the illicit activities described” in various U.S. Executive Orders and United National Security Council resolutions.

In addition, earlier this week, Representative Mike Gallagher (WI-8th) introduced bipartisan legislation (H.R.889) with three other Republicans and four other Democrats to renew the restrictions on the ability for the President to reduce the number of U.S. troops on the Korean peninsula below 22,000 personnel.

These legislative efforts may complicate negotiations with North Korea, particularly if the upcoming summit meeting between President Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un leads to a relaxation of sanctions without a clear path towards dismantling the existing stockpile.  If defense “hawks” in the U.S. conclude that North Korea continues to engage in various illicit activities, then implementing any agreement would be very problematic.  Recall that the Agreed Framework of 1994 did not succeed, in part, because of Congressional reluctance and resistance to fulfilling the American side of the bargain by slow-walking the provision to provide aid to North Korea.  This did not allow the completion of the light-water reactor and delayed the delivery of heavy fuel oil on several occasions.  From 1995 until 2006 (excepting 18 months from 2001 until 2002, Democrats controlled the Senate), Republicans controlled Congress.  Thus, it is of the utmost importance for the Trump Administration to continuously brief and inform Members of Congress regarding U.S. policy towards North Korea to garner their support and to avoid a repetition of previous failed diplomatic efforts to end weapons of mass destruction threat from the DPRK.

Phil Eskeland is Executive Director for Operations and Policy at the Korea Economic Institute of America. The views expressed here are his own.

Picture taken by Lance Corporal Zachery Laning, U.S. Marine Corps via Wikimedia Commons

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Impact of the 2018 Congressional Elections on American Policy Toward Korea

By Robert R. King

Final results on the 2018 U.S. Congressional elections are still being tallied, and as of November 15 two U.S. Senate races and eleven House races have still not been “called.”  The outcome of the congressional elections, however, is clear.  Republicans retained control of the U.S. Senate with a net gain of one or two seats.  On the other side of Capitol Hill, control of the House of Representatives has changed hands.  Democrats have picked up 32 seats giving them a majority of 227-199 in elections that have been decided.  Of the 11 races that have not been called, a majority appear to be leaning Democratic.

The changes brought by the election may result in changes in U.S. foreign policy.  This post attempts to see what might change in policy toward Northeast Asia over the next two years.

Senate Still in Republican Hands, but . . .

During the first two years of his presidential term, President Donald Trump has been able to get most of what he really cared about from both the Senate and the House.  In the Senate, most Republican lawmakers supported the President.  Two Republican critics who publicly voiced disagreement with Trump—Senators Bob Corker (Tennessee) and Jeff Flake (Arizona)—chose not to run for reelection.  The next Congress, however, is likely to have different dynamics.

In the Senate, Trump’s invincibility may be waning.  The President’s failure to achieve an electoral success in the House of Representatives and his serious weakness in suburban areas and with women and ethnic minorities, may well encourage some Republican senators to consider Trump a liability in their own upcoming reelection efforts.  After this election, some senators may well be willing to speak up and vote against the president on some issues.

There was no single national candidate for any office in this election.  Senate contests took place in about two-thirds of the states.  Senate votes are less reliable as a measure of national attitudes and feelings.  Votes for Representatives in Congress were held in every corner of the United States and that vote is a much better measure of national American attitudes and particular attitudes toward the President, since Trump made the election about himself.

The total number of votes cast in the mid-term election for representatives in Congress shows that some 5 million voters chose Democratic representatives over Republican representatives.  The popular vote in the 2016 Presidential Election gave 3 million votes more to Hillary Clinton than Donald Trump.  This suggests that support for Trump is declining, not growing.  Senators are less likely to be intimidated by or to support a president who may soon be a lame-duck.

Another element could influence Trump’s influence with the Senate.  One of the incoming Republican Senators, Mitt Romney (Utah), who was one of the harshest Republican critics of Trump during the Republican primary in 2016.  Romney is a “freshman” Senator and Senate decorum requires deference to elders and new upstarts are frowned upon in the Senate’s clubby ethos.  Romney, however, was the Republican Presidential candidate in the 2012 presidential election.  He knows the Republican members of the Senate and worked with them in the 2012 election and in other political contexts.

Trump nurtures grudges, and Romney’s criticism obviously still rankled him.  After the presidential election in 2016, Trump had at a much-publicized dinner with Romney to discuss the position of Secretary of State.  Shortly after the dinner, Trump appointed Rex Tillerson to the position in what was seen as a deliberate snub of Romney.  (Vanity Fair titled its story about the meal “Mitt Romney Eats Crow at Three Star Dinner with Trump.”)  Throughout Romney’s Senatorial campaign he studiously avoided commenting on Trump or his policies, and Trump stayed away from Utah during the campaign.  Nevertheless, just a few months before the mid-term election Romney spoke out and discussed differences with Trump during the campaign.  Romney may well be a high-profile Senator willing to challenge the President’s policies when he disagrees.

The Democratic-Controlled House will Not Be Friendly to Trump

In the House of Representatives, the swing of votes from the Republican to the Democratic column is the largest such Democratic “wave” in the House since the 1974 election which came just three months after Richard Nixon resigned the Presidency in the aftermath of the Watergate scandal.

House Democrats have not supported the Trump agenda on ideological grounds, but the petty bullying and taunting tactics Trump has used to criticize and mock Democrats have left him with a hostile House majority.  The Republicans who lost their seats in the recent elections largely represented politically more moderate constituents and whom the President has ignored or criticized.  Political moderate, women (particularly college educated women), and minorities turned from Trump.  In a post-election speech Trump blamed these Republican Members of Congress who lost for failing to embrace him, while the constituents saw them as too close to Trump.  The result is that the House of Representatives will be even more sharply divided on Trump and issues he champions.  With the need for both House and Senate to approve legislation, the divided Congress is likely to do less than the do-little congressional session just ending.

Foreign Policy Played a Minimal Role in the Mid-Term Election

Foreign policy issues, including Northeast Asia, received minimal attention in the U.S. election.  Foreign policy seldom is a key political issue in American elections, so this was not unusual.  The only campaign issue with tangential international implications was immigration, but this was an issue primarily intended to energize the Republican base.  Clearly the focus was not American relations with Mexico and Central America.  Fear was stoked with a military mobilization and overheated rhetoric, but we have seen little or no mention of sending U.S. military forces to the U.S.-Mexico border since the election took place.

Issues pressed by Democratic candidates were largely domestic American problems—health care, women’s rights, and the Donald Trump’s  divisiveness and lack of civility.  There has been considerable criticism of some of Trump’s foreign policy actions, but that was not an election issue.

Tariffs and trade was an international issue raised in the campaign, but the principal concern was not foreign policy, but American jobs.  Trump unilaterally imposed tariffs which he said was necessary to preserve American jobs.  The irony is that Republicans have traditionally led the opposition to tariffs and advocated for freer and more open trade.  But Democrats, who have been less supportive of free trade in the past, criticized the negative impact of tariffs on American jobs because of counter-tariffs and the impact on American farmers.  As the election rhetoric intensified, however, tariffs declined in importance.

Implications of the Electoral Change for U.S. Policy in Northeast Asia

Democratic control of the House of Representatives gives Congressional Democrats the ability to investigate, demand documentation, and question publicly or in closed session senior Administration officials on Administration policies.  Democratic leaders are already discussing their plans for “Congressional oversight” to investigate Trump administration policies.

But House Democrats will likely give higher priority to a number of controversial domestic issues—budget priorities, health care, environmental protection, climate change and energy policy, gun control, and women’s rights, including sexual harassment.  These issues more directly impact their constituents, and they will provoke disagreements with the White House.

Most of the key foreign policy and national security issues are not Northeast Asia.  The main issue for Democrats will be President Trump’s involvement in Russian efforts to influence American elections, and protecting the integrity of the Muller FBI investigation.  There could also be investigations into Trump’s business dealings with Russian oligarchs and possible Saudi business connections which may be influencing Administration policy.  The Middle East is always a major problem and a number of issues will be key—the murder of Saudi Arabian journalist Jamal Kashoggi by Saudi officials in Turkey, and the implications for U.S.-Saudi ties; the humanitarian crisis in Yemen and the ongoing internal Yemeni conflict; the thus-far ineffective White House effort to re-impose sanctions on Iran; the continuing conflict in Syria; and the complex issues involving U.S. relations with Israel.

Northeast Asia Issues will also engage House Democratic attention.  The most important of those will be the North Korean Security threat and denuclearization.  The House Committees on Foreign Affairs, Armed Services, and Intelligence are likely to hold both public and classified hearings on North Korean nuclear capabilities and the Administration unsuccessful efforts deal with the problem.  The much-publicized Singapore Summit has led to no discernable progress in denuclearization, and recent reports that North Korea is moving ahead secretly with nuclear and missile facilities while publicly dismantling with great fanfare a few older and well-known bases.

Democrats have openly questioned the value and achievements of Trump’s summitry with Kim Jong-un.  Democrats viewed the Trump-Kim Singapore Summit as largely a press event with little, if any, substance on denuclearization or improving regional stability and security.  Trump is clearly anxious for a follow-up summit—despite Kim Jong-un’s hard ball tactics in cancelling the preliminary meeting to lay the groundwork that was previously scheduled to take place in early November.  The House Foreign Affairs Committee will likely hold well-publicized hearings focusing attention on these concerns with North Korea policy.  The House Armed Services Committee is also likely to hold public and classified hearings on North Korean nuclear capabilities and policies for coping with them.  The fact that up to now Democrats were in the minority in both houses of Congress, however, gave their concerns and cautions little attention.  Now with control of the House agenda, their views will be given considerably more media attention.

Economic issues are important for the relationship with South Korea, Japan, and China.  Democrats have been critical over Trump’s unilateral imposition of tariffs, abandoning previous trade and economic agreements because they did not have the Trump name on them.  The KORUS FTA changes by Trump were not particularly welcomed by Congress, which has always been jealous of its primacy under the U.S. Constitution on trade matters.

The House Democratic majority is likely to support backing away from the Trump trade policies.  Republicans in the Senate are as uncomfortable and skeptical of the Trump trade agenda as are House Democrats.  Traditionally Republicans have been leading advocates for freer and more open trade, and Trump trade policies reflect a departure from that traditional Republican position.  If the Democratic House stands up to Trump’s trade policies, it may give the Republican leadership in the Senate more backbone to push against policies that they ideologically oppose.

On the issue of North Korea Human Rights,  both political parties in both House and Senate have supported pressing for changes on North Korea’s deplorable human rights record.  Trump used human rights as a stick to encourage North Korea to engage with the United States (see his UN Speech in September 2017 and the lengthy discussion of North Korean human rights in his State of the Union Speech in January 2018).  Once the Singapore Summit was on the horizon, however, the Trump administration and the President in particular did not give further attention to human rights.

Congress, however, has a stronger commitment to the human rights issue.  The fact that the North Korea Human Rights Act was extended after the Singapore Summit indicates Congress’ strong interest in the human rights issue.  This legislation is one of the few bipartisan pieces of legislation to pass the Congress in the first two years of the Trump era.  That bipartisan interest will continue and will likely be given additional emphasis by Democratic House committees.

Expectations for a Change with Democratic Control of Congress

The American constitution gives the President considerable latitude in the conduct of American foreign policy.  The Congressional role is limited to allocating and controlling funding for the conduct of that policy.  The House shares that authority with the Senate, which still remains in Republican hands.  It is important not to raise expectations of any legislative limitation or roll back of policies affecting Northeast Asia.

It is also important to keep in mind that the House and the Senate are not particularly disciplined.  There is no Democratic phalanx of loyal Members of Congress that will follow their leaders in lockstep into battle.  As American humorist Will Rogers famously said: “I’m not a member of any organized political party.  I’m a Democrat.”  Howard Baker, the Republican leader of the U.S. Senate for several years, said that trying to be the Republican leader of the Senate is “like herding cats.”  Cooperation in congress requires cajoling and convincing, unlike the Commander-in-Chief, who can give orders and expect they will be followed.

Initiative in foreign policy is with the President.  He has the largest bull horn, the loudest voice in the American government.  Trump, the former reality-TV personality, has shown a willingness and skill in using the media to dominate the conversation.  Thus far, however, he has faced no competitors who have real authority or who get serious attention from the media.  The Congressional Republicans have quictly acquiesced in his policies.  Few voices of disagreement have spoken out from Republicans in either house of Congress.

The House, with its newly-energized Democratic majority, can and will conduct hearings and investigations of President Trump and his policies.  His and his Administration’s actions will be criticized, and the media will give the Democratic leaders greater attention because they hold a majority in the House and their action and views do have consequences.  This will irritate the President, and his counter-responses will make for more interesting news stories for journalists.

The disruptive, erratic actions from the Administration are likely to continue.  The President in his press conference the day after the election made a few conciliatory remarks about working with Democrats, if they accepted his terms.  But even before the end of the press conference he was back to campaign mode criticizing Democratic leaders by name.  The next two years are likely to be more tempestuous and volatile than the last two have been as President Trump begins to gear up for his own reelection bid in 2020.

Robert R. King is a Non-Resident Fellow at the Korea Economic Institute of America. He is former U.S. Special Envoy for North Korea Human Rights.  The views expressed here are his own.

Image of Mitch McConnell credited to Gage Skidmore. Image of Nancy Pelosi credited to Jason Pier.

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Target of New North Korea Sanctions Bill: Finances

By Phil Eskeland

(“That’s Where the Money Is.”[1])

Last week, the House of Representatives and the Senate overwhelming passed and sent to President Trump’s desk a new sanctions bill for his expected signature. The bill originally focused on Russia and Iran when it was first adopted by the Senate, but was expanded after bipartisan, bicameral negotiations to include sanctions provisions against North Korea as well.  With all the talk in Washington about the inability of different sides to work together, few issues unite more U.S. public policymakers on both sides of the political spectrum than getting tougher on North Korea.  Last May, the House of Representatives passed the Korea Interdiction and Modernization of Sanctions Act (H.R. 1644) by another overwhelming bipartisan vote of 419 to 1.  Essentially, this new sanctions bill – Countering America’s Adversaries through Sanctions Act (H.R. 3364) – takes almost every word from the House-passed North Korea sanctions bill to include it as part of Title III.

Much of the attention to this legislation has been directed at the first title of the bill affecting Russia.  The debate has primarily focused Congressional limitations on the flexibility given to the Executive Branch to implement the bill.  In the past, most sanctions-related legislation grants the President some discretion to waive or delay the imposition of sanctions, because the U.S. government may need flexibility in diplomacy and cannot wait for Congress to pass a bill to amend or end sanctions.  If there was any constraints on the Executive Branch, it was usually done when there was divided government (i.e., the Republican Congress passed the Helms-Burton Act in 1996, when Democrat President Bill Clinton was in office, that placed into statutory law many of the presidential Executive Orders affecting U.S. trade with Cuba, and thus cannot be unilaterally lifted or altered by the President without the consent of Congress).  It is interesting to observe a Republican Congress reasserting itself as a co-equal branch of government by imposing a series of constraints on the ability of a Republican president to unilaterally waive part of the sanctions against Russia.

However, any additional Congressional limitations on the President’s ability to waive or delay the imposition of these new sanctions do not affect the provisions of the bill dealing with North Korea, despite a last-minute effort by some Senate Republicans.  Nonetheless, the primary purpose of Title III of H.R. 3364 is to close loopholes and target new areas to deprive the North Korean regime of the money it needs to operate.  The fundamental philosophy behind the effort is to “cut off the Kim Jong Un regime’s access to hard cash” and “to restrict North Korea’s ability to engage in illicit trade.”

How does this bill accomplish these goals?  First, the legislation mandates sanctions against foreign persons who engage in five activities that have been identified as major revenue-generating activities for the North Korean regime – high-value metals or minerals, such as gold and “rare earths;” military-use fuel; vessel services; insurance for these vessels; and correspondent accounts, which are used in foreign currency exchanges to convert U.S. dollars into North Korean won.

Second, H.R. 3364 increases the discretionary authority of the U.S. government to impose sanctions on persons who engage in one or more of 11 different activities that generate revenue for North Korea, including those who import North Korean coal, iron, or iron ore above the limits set by the United Nations (U.N.) Security Council resolutions; who buys textiles or fishing rights from North Korea; who transfers bulk cash or precious metals or gemstones to North Korea; who facilitates the on-line commercial activities of North Korea, such as on-line gambling; who purchases agricultural products from North Korea; and who are engaged in the use of overseas North Korean laborers.

Third, there is a provision closing one loophole in the international financial system that would prohibit North Korea’s use of indirect correspondent accounts.  These accounts temporarily use U.S. dollars when converting one foreign currency into another, such as North Korean won.  The aim of this provision is to further cut off North Korea from the U.S. financial system and restrict the ability of the DPRK to conduct business with other nations.

Fourth, the legislation curtails certain types of foreign aid to countries that buy or sell North Korea military equipment in the effort to dry up another source of revenue to the regime.  Nations will have a choice: buy North Korean conventional weapons or receive U.S. foreign aid to help their people.

Fifth, H.R. 3364 augments sanctions that target revenue generated from North Korea overseas laborers who work under inhumane conditions.  It would ban the importation into the U.S. of any product made by these laborers.  The bill would also sanction foreign individuals who employ North Korean laborers.

The legislation also ensures that humanitarian aid destined for North Korea is not affected by heightened U.S. sanctions.  However, H.R. 3364 did not retain a provision in the original House version that contained an exemption for planning family reunification meetings with relatives in North Korea, including those from the Korean-American community meaning that family reunions will still be subject to sanctions.  In addition, the bill contains a reward for informants who report violations of financial sanctions on North Korea, in the hopes of increasing the government’s ability to enforce these sanctions.  Finally, it requires a report from the Administration within 90 days after the bill becomes law on the efficacy of putting North Korea back on the State Sponsors of Terrorism list. The debate over reinstating North Korea on the list was revitalized in light of the assassination of King Jong Nam, the exiled half-brother of the ruling leader of North Korea, at the Kuala Lumpur international airport in Malaysia using the VX nerve agent, a banned chemical weapon.

H.R. 3364 should not be seen as an end-goal, but as part of a continuing process of ratcheting up pressure on North Korea to denuclearize.  As this bill is implemented, North Korea will find new ways to evade sanctions.  Further legislation or action by other nations and the U.N. Security Council may be required to further clamp down on these loopholes.  However, the question remains unresolved if heightened sanctions from both the U.S. and the international community will produce the desired outcome – a nuclear-free Korean Peninsula – particularly before North Korea acquires the ability to launch a nuclear warhead on top of an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) capable of reaching the mainland of the United States.   Sanctions are only as strong as its weakest link.  Thus, North Korea’s main trading partner, China, needs to do much more if it is to live up to its rhetoric that “they will strive for the complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.”

Phil Eskeland is Executive Director for Operations and Policy at the Korea Economic Institute of America. The views expressed here are his own.

Image from Shawn Clover’s photostream on flickr Creative Commons.      
[1] Response by bank robber Willie Sutton to the question as to why he robbed banks, January 20, 1951, edition of the Saturday Evening Post, “Someday, They’ll Get Slick Willie Sutton.”

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A Conversation with Charlie Rangel, Former Congressman and Korean War Veteran

KEI President Donald Manzullo, a former member of the House of Representatives, recently interviewed Charlie Rangel, a former Congressman from New York and a Korean War Veteran, for the KEI podcast. Rangel was one of three current and former members of Congress who KEI recently honored for their service in the Korean War. The two former members discussed Rangel’s experiences during the war, his journey after returning from Korea, and his time in Congress.

The following is a partial transcript of that conversation. The rest of the episode can be found here.

Donald Manzullo: Charlie, we thank you for your service. You wrote a book called “And I Haven’t Had a Bad Day Since,” after the battle of Kunu-Ri – tell us about that battle.

Charlie Rangel: We got to Korea in August of 1950, and one way or another fought our way up past Pyongyang, and the Yalu River separated North Korea from Manchuria. General MacArthur had actually cut off the North Koreans, victory was ours, home was in our minds, and in September, October we were waiting to be home for Thanksgiving and Christmas. We waited September, we waited October, we waited November. The weather changed, our clothes didn’t. We were just waiting for that ship to call, to get there.

And we had heard that one of our guys … was captured by the Chinese. I started a rumor, it never entered my mind that there were really Chinese there. And for three days the entire 8th Army, including my outfit – the Chinese had crossed the Yalu River, they were talking to us with loudspeakers in broken English, telling us to surrender. Don, it was a nightmare, the trumpets would be blowing … and at nighttime, they would start their blasts.

That very day all hell broke loose, as tens of thousands of Chinese surrounded us and international troops, the screaming, the yelling, the killing. And I don’t know, I got shot and I got out of there. And like I said, I haven’t had a bad day since because so many … we had 90 percent casualties between those that were captured, killed, wounded.

And in telling this story, I just can’t see how I could be in love with anything that sounds like Korea except the Korea that’s there now. To believe that I had any part of creating a miracle for people I never knew, never heard of, a country I never thought was there – it makes me proud to be an American, and even prouder to see human beings like South Koreans who can come out of the ashes and become a world power economically.

Donald Manzullo: Charlie, your modesty – it’s always been a part of your life, even though you were one of the flashiest dressers in Congress. But during your time in Korea, you earned a Purple Heart, Bronze Star, Presidential Unit Citation, Republic of Korea Presidential Unit Citation, and three Battle Stars …. Your personal life is absolutely fascinating. Former Congressman, but you’re always a Congressman, high school dropout enrolls in the Army, goes to Korea, comes back home, trying to figure out what to do. The next thing you do is you go back and get your GED. Tell us about the march from the GED to the halls of Congress, Charlie.

Charlie Rangel: I never knew just how ignorant I was until I came out of the Army. I thought a couple of stripes made the difference the same way people get a couple of degrees. When I came out of the Army with all these medals you mentioned, pocket full of money, starched uniform, a couple of stripes, I must have felt like I was 10 feet tall until I went to get a job. They asked what could I do and I start talking about the M1 rife, the automatic carbine…and they said “next.” I was crushed.

And my brother was older, smarter, and so encouraging. He kept me from re-enlisting in the Army, which is what I was going to do. He got me a job at the garment center. I don’t know whether in your part of the country if you have hand trucks – two wheels, carry loads. And I’m carrying a load of lace – wasn’t heavy, just awkward – in the rain, and it slipped out of my hand in Manhattan in the rain, and cop’s cursing me out for blocking the traffic … I went straight to the VA, I told them “I don’t know what the hell’s going on, but I know I need some help.”

And I didn’t know how much help I really needed, I hadn’t completed high school. And the only reason I said I wanted to become a lawyer, which everyone thought was impossible, was because of my grandfather. I wanted to impress him, he was an elevator operator at the criminal court building of New York. He liked me, but he loved judges, he loved lawyers, and he loved the court system.

And I don’t know who laughed the loudest, the people at the Veterans Administration or my grandfather. But somehow we were able to work it out and I became an assistant U.S. attorney. And I got married to the most wonderful, understanding woman in the world – she had finished college while I was in high school.

Donald Manzullo: Well Charlie, I want to thank you for spending the day with us, for talking about old times.

Charlie Rangel: Well let me thank you Don. Like I said, Korea is a small country geographically, but it’s a country with a big, big heart in terms of giving hope to so many people whose countries historically have lived in poverty and never gotten out of it.

Image from KEI’s reception honoring Korean War Veterans in Congress. You can view the video of the event here


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Congress Wants to Up the Pressure on North Korean Human Rights Violators

By Jenna Gibson

Earlier this month, three U.S. senators took on North Korea (DPRK) by introducing a broad sanctions bill aimed at addressing concerns about cyberwarfare and the North’s continued nuclear ambitions. Known as the North Korean Sanctions and Policy Enhancement Act (S. 2144), this bill would codify the sanctions put in place by presidential Executive Orders after previous North Korean provocations, including the Sony hacking incident last year, and impose additional sanctions on the North, including penalizing any financial institution that conducts business with the DPRK. S. 2144 mirrors many of the provisions in a similar North Korea sanctions bill (H.R. 757) that passed the Foreign Affairs Committee of the U.S. House of Representatives last February. But while these bills are sold as a response to cyber and nuclear provocations from the North, the Senate and House versions also contain additional steps to address the issue of human rights and accountability in the DPRK, building on the previously enacted North Korean Human Rights Act of 2004.

Along with its enhanced sanctions provisions, Title III of this the new bill asks for concrete plans on how the U.S. Government can more effectively promote human rights in North Korea. If passed, the president would be required to submit a classified report to Congress on how to make “unrestricted, unmonitored, and inexpensive electronic mass communications available to the people of North Korea.”  In addition, the bill requires the State Department to submit another report to Congress to delineate a strategy on how to “promote international awareness of the human rights situation in North Korea.”

Further, S. 2144 takes on the issue of forced overseas labor of North Korean citizens. Interestingly, this is one of the few sections unique to the Senate bill – perhaps as a result of the increased attention put on this subject since the House bill passed committee in February. In fact, this issue was the subject of a program KEI hosted earlier this year in collaboration with the Database Center for Human Rights in North Korea, which raised awareness about the plight of North Koreans sent abroad in to work in terrible conditions to raise money for the Kim regime. To address the issue, the Senate bill would require an annual report that includes a list of countries that forcibly repatriate North Korean refugees,  a list of countries where North Korean laborers work, and a diplomatic strategy to end repatriation of North Korean refugees and forced labor and slavery of North Koreans overseas.

One other difference between S. 2144 and H.R. 757 is that the Senate bill creates a North Korea Enforcement and Human Rights fund, which would take fines for violating sanctions and redirect the money toward human rights promotion, such as radio broadcasting into the DPRK.

Public understanding of the North Korean human rights issue has risen exponentially since the release of the United Nation’s Commission of Inquiry report in February 2014. Up until that point, in the mind of the general public, the DPRK was a strange, mysterious place where bad things probably happen. The COI report, with its thorough and detailed descriptions of exactly what the Kim regime has done to the people of North Korea, changed all that, and has allowed a discussion of North Korean human rights to make its way into the media in an unprecedented way. In a similar way, producing official documentation and creating concrete strategies to combat the gross human rights violations occurring within North Korea and in countries where North Korean forced laborers work could keep this important issue in the news, and hopefully up the pressure on this regime to make some changes.

One word of caution, however – these new reports must stick to the facts and not become hyperbolic in order to be viewed as credible in the eyes of the global community. The harsh truth about North Korea’s deplorable human rights violations is already so startling that there is no need to exaggerate.  This has been a problem for some North Korean defectors who reportedly feel pressured to attract more attention by exaggerating their harrowing escape stories.

If done correctly, these new American publications could serve a similar function as the COI report. The State Department’s annual Human Rights Report and International Religious Freedom Report are the gold standard for tracking these issues around the world, and should serve as models for this new North Korea-focused report. Similar to the COI report, the annual release of these State Department reports garners a lot of attention from foreign governments and from the general public. While these bills have not become law yet, Title III of H.R. 757 and S. 2144 legislation could be one of the few items that can easily pass Congress because of the commonality between the two bills, and this provision would not be viewed as objectionable by the Executive Branch. Hopefully, this provision will be signed into law and this new publication can become a similarly authoritative source that will keep the discussion going about this important issue.

Jenna Gibson is the Associate Director for Communication Technology and Programs at the Korea Economic Institute of America. The views expressed here are the author’s alone.

Photo from Phil Roeder’s photostream on flickr Creative Commons.

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Why Does the U.S. Hesitate to Enforce Its Laws?

This is the first in a 2 part series looking at the North Korea Sanctions Enforcement Act of 2014 (H.R. 1771). Second piece in the series is available here.

By Bruce Klingner

Former Assistant Secretary of State Kurt Campbell recently observed that North Korea was not the most heavily sanctioned country in the world as so often depicted by pundits. While still at the State Department, Campbell realized that “Burma had much more in the way of sanctions” than North Korea and correctly, if belatedly, concluded that “Clearly we have not been successful at putting substantial pressure on North Korea [and] it would be possible for us to put more financial pressure on North Korea.”

He is absolutely right about this.  And he’s not alone among Obama Administration officials acknowledging that there is far more it could do.   In 2009, the State Department’s sanctions czar commented that the administration was considering additional measures against North Korea. U.S. Six Party Talks negotiator Glynn Davies said in 2013, “I think that there are always more sanctions we could put in place if needed.”  President Barack Obama promised in 2013 a “significant, serious enforcement of sanctions” and a year later that the U.S. would consider “further sanctions that have even more bite.” A U.S. official said recently that Washington was considering a “list of blood curdling sanctions.”

The obvious question is why the Administration has not followed through.

Washington has targeted a mere 62 North Korean entities, primarily for illicit activities and weapons of mass destruction. By comparison, the United States has imposed more comprehensive sanctions against the Balkans (231 entities), Burma (164), Cuba (397), Iran (several hundred), and Zimbabwe (161).

The U.S. has targeted Zimbabwe, Congo, and Burma for human rights violations yet has not taken action against North Korea seven months after the UN Commission of Inquiry accused Pyongyang of human rights violations so egregious as to qualify as crimes against humanity. Nor has Washington designated North Korea as a primary money-laundering concern as it did Iran and Burma.

By contrast, the U.S., EU, and UN have imposed far more pervasive and compelling measures against Iran, yet it is Pyongyang, not Tehran, that has withdrawn from the Non-Proliferation Treaty, tested nuclear weapons, and repeatedly threatened nuclear attacks on the United States and its allies.

Unilateral US actions against Iran, combined with diplomatic pressure, led other nations to impose their own financial and regulatory measures against Tehran. Collectively, the international sanctions have isolated Iran from the international banking system, targeted critical Iranian economic sectors, and forced countries to restrict purchases of Iranian oil and gas, Tehran’s largest export.

Just as strong measures induced Iran back to the negotiating table, more robust measures are needed to leverage North Korea. The United States should use its action against Iran as a model for imposing the same severity of targeted financial measures against North Korea.

Targeted financial measures are directed against entities that violate U.S. laws by exploiting their need to access the global financial network. Even the most isolated regime is vulnerable given the centrality of the U.S. financial system. The U.S. dollar is the global currency of choice for international trade, and the requirement that any dollar-denominated transaction anywhere in the world must go through a U.S. Treasury Department-regulated bank give Treasury the power to exclude North Korea and its third country enablers from the U.S. financial system.

Compared with trade sanctions, targeted financial measures are precision guided munitions against violators, rather than economic carpet bombing against a population. For banks, wire services, and insurance companies, there are catastrophic risks to facilitating – even unknowingly — illicit transactions. The British bank HSBC was fined $1.9 billion for money-laundering and sanctions violations, including financial dealings with Iran. French bank BNP Paribas agreed to pay an $8.97 billion fine for processing banned transactions with Sudan, Iran and Cuba.

Tougher measures against North Korea were effective when applied in the past, such as the Treasury Department 2005 designation of the Macau-based Banco Delta Asia (BDA) as a money laundering concern. In conjunction with other sub rosa U.S. actions, “two dozen financial institutions voluntarily cut back or terminated their business with North Korea, including institutions in China, Japan, Vietnam, Mongolia, and Singapore.”

A North Korean negotiator admitted to a senior White House official, “you finally found a way to hurt us.” Obama Administration officials retroactively commented that the BDA initiative was “very effective” and it was “a mistake” for the Bush Administration to have rescinded it. The Obama administration now “hopes to recreate the financial pressure that North Korea endured back in 2005.”

Yet by subsequently pursuing a policy of timid incrementalism of pulling our legal punches but always promising to be tougher “the next time,” Washington squandered the opportunity to more effectively impede progress on North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs and coerce compliance with U.N. resolutions.

The U.S. Congress lost confidence in the Obama Administration’s half-hearted enforcement of U.S. laws and regulations against Pyongyang and the House of Representatives passed the North Korea Sanctions Enforcement Act in part to spur the Obama Administration out of its torpor. Rather than waiting for another North Korean provocation or violation to incrementally enforce U.S. law, the proposed legislation would apply the power of the U.S. financial system against North Korean proliferation, arms trafficking, money laundering, censorship, and human rights violations.

The Act allows the administration to find and block the offshore proceeds of Kim Jong-un’s kleptocracy and applies U.S. law to third-party enablers which help North Korea finance and facilitate these illegal acts. It would demand a fundamental change in North Korea’s resistance to transparency, and progress on issues important to our regional partners, before the sanctions could be relaxed or lifted.

Similarly, the Senate also showed its impatience with President Obama’s strategic patience policy through its Intelligence Authorization Act which would require the administration to “describe the actions the United States is taking to support implementation of the recommendations of the United Nations Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights” in North Korea.

Neither sanctions nor diplomacy alone is a panacea, both are essential and mutually supporting elements of a comprehensive integrated strategy utilizing all the instruments of national power. The U.S. has strong tools,  it has just lacked the resolve to use them. Why, then, should the United States hesitate to impose the same legal measures against North Korea that it has already used with success against other countries for far less egregious violations of U.S. and international law?

Bruce Klingner is a senior research fellow for Northeast Asia at The Heritage Foundation. He previously served 20 years in the U.S. Intelligence Community, including as CIA’s Deputy Division Chief for Korea. The views expressed here are the author’s alone.

Photo from Stefan Krasowski’s photostream on flickr Creative Commons.

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The Peninsula blog is a project of the Korea Economic Institute. It is designed to provide a wide ranging forum for discussion of the foreign policy, economic, and social issues that impact the Korean peninsula. The views expressed on The Peninsula are those of the authors alone, and should not be taken to represent the views of either the editors or the Korea Economic Institute. For questions, comments, or to submit a post to The Peninsula, please contact us at ts@keia.org.