Donald Kirk

Donald Kirk

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In 2000, then President Kim Dae-Jung became the first Korean to receive a Nobel Prize, for his life’s work dedicated to democracy and, to quote the Nobel Committee: “peace and reconciliation with North Korea in particular.” The award was granted shortly after the first North-South Korean summit in June of the same year, and in recognition of the merits of the Sunshine Policy in general. Yet fifteen years later, Kim Dae-Jung’s legacy remains controversial: not only is the success of the policy debatable, but some have also criticized the costs he was willing to pay in the name of reconciliation.

An outspoken critic of Kim Dae-Jung’s approach to North Korea is journalist and author Donald Kirk, who published in 2010 a biography of the late president with a focus on his political career and the Sunshine Policy entitled: Korea Betrayed: Kim Dae Jung and Sunshine. In this episode we spoke to him about Kim’s priorities when dealing with North Korea and his lifelong quest for the Nobel Peace Prize.

Donald Kirk is a veteran journalist and correspondent in the Asia-Pacific. He has reported from many of the conflicts and hotspots in the region since 1965 and covered the Vietnam, Gulf and Iraq wars. He has also extensively reported on Korean affairs, including the assassination of President Park Chung-hee in 1979, the Gwangju Uprising in 1980, the nuclear crisis of 1994 and the 2000 Inter-Korean Summit. He is the author of several publications, among them an unauthorized biography of Chung Ju-yung, the founder of Hyundai.

Donald Kirk is a graduate of Princeton University and the University of Chicago. He has received numerous awards, including the Overseas Press Club of America Award, the George Polk Award for foreign reporting and the Chicago Tribune’s Edward Scott Beck award. He was also a Ford fellow at Columbia University, a Fulbright Scholar in India during the sixties and in the Philippines during the nineties, and the recipient of a National Endowment for the Humanities grant at MIT among many others.

One theme of [Kim Dae-jung], which was particularly disquieting, was his quest for the Nobel Peace Prize. For years before he even had this Inter-Korean Summit, he was campaigning for the Nobel and after the Summit he revved up the campaign […] Korean embassies were deputized to work for the Nobel. The embassies in [Norway and Sweden] gave receptions, made contacts with Nobel people, had dinners, lunches, anything they could do to push [Kim Dae-jung] for the Nobel […] There was nothing that he would leave to chance.

The interview was recorded on October 7th in Seoul.