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[Opinion] Yun Hyung-mook

Posted August. 22, 2002 22:26,   


Seeing foreign press coverage on North Korean leader Kim Jung-il’s current visit to Russia, we often find a familiar face, a good-looking man of sturdy build shadowing Kim everywhere. And it’s not hard to guess that he is a close aide to the North’s great leader. He is Yun Hyung-mook, National Defense Committee member and communist party secretary general in north Jagang province. Although he is known to be 77 years old this year, judging from his well-made suit and straight posture he is not like an old man who will soon turn 80.

▷ Yun became a quite well known figure here in the South after he visited Seoul in the early 1990s leading a group of high-ranking officials. From the first round talks held in Seoul in September 1990 through the final eighth round, the chief negotiator caught the media spotlight. “He was a man of rationality, bureaucrat who has a down-to-earth attitude,” Kang Young-hoon, former Prime Minister who was Yun’s counterpart during the first three rounds of talks, recalled his encounter with Yun. “When I first met him, I felt relieved about having a partner whom I can have discussions with.”

▷ Something unusual about Yun is that he has become what he is today against odds. As the inter-Korean relationship went wry and the talks broke down, he lost his premiership and was demoted to secretary general of Jagang province in December 1992.

At that time, diplomatic sources in Beijing said, “Through his four times visits to Seoul he saw the more affluent South, then he proposed Kim Il-sung and Kim Jung-il that Pyongyang open its door in part to the outside world. But they didn’t like the idea and sent him away.” The father and son were reportedly so furious about his idea that they decided to sack him in less than 5 hours. He vowed out of the main stage and that’s it – it was supposed to end that way. But he made a comeback.

▷ After his visit to Jagang province in January 1998, Kim Jung-il extolled Yun calling him ‘a hardworking hero.’ The same year, he became one of the powerful defense committee members who supervise the defense industry, and was elevated to the 8th rank within the party last year. It might bear little significance whoever stays near the boss in a country like North Korea. It is not bad news, however, that we can somehow have a predictable discussion partner, not a man of mystery.

Yun showed us flexibility through the early 1990s talks. With him, we realized that there are North Korean officials who know to make compromises and concessions. It will be even more encouraging if Kim’s trust in him is a sign that the reclusive country is moving towards the right direction.

Bang Hyung-nam, editorial writer, hnbhang@donga.com