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'North Korea has come out of its shell': Creighton professor optimistic on diplomatic possibilities

Creighton political science professor Maorong Jiang, PhD, at left, during a trip to North Korea when he was a student in China.Whatever shenanigans have transpired in the ongoing saga to foster a summit between North Korea and the United States, Creighton University political science professor Maorong Jiang, PhD, is certain what’s happened lately has been for the best.

“This is a breakthrough,” said Jiang, who directs Creighton’s Asian World Center and has studied and worked with North Korea for three decades. “A door is open and we have to go in. The thing is, though, not to go in expecting everything right away. Don’t give up all the goodwill gained in opening this door just because there’s one crisis.”

Jiang said there are bound to be many more crises because the reality of diplomacy in the vast, interconnected, global world is a study in patience, timing and nurturing that most difficult of all beasts: human relationships on a vast, international scale.

That includes not just the relationships between the U.S. and North Korea, but among those nations and the other key players in the region, including China, Russia, Japan and South Korea. Before a fruitful summit can be had, Jiang said the U.S. and North Korea need to be better prepared in order not to alienate neighbors and allies.

China and North Korea have been making overtures at better relations between their countries, he said. A sudden embrace between North Korea and the U.S. might leave China feeling jilted and threatened.

“More people need to be brought together in this whole process,” Jiang said. “More dialogue is needed. There’s animosity between the U.S. and China right now that will be escalated if North Korea just jumps into talks with the U.S. International relations takes time. You don’t just go 65 years without meeting and then suddenly turn everything around.”

The content of the summit also needs some refinement, Jiang said. If it’s all about denuclearization on the part of North Korea, talks are unlikely to go anywhere.

“It needs to be tempered to fit the will of the U.S. and the region,” he said. “Talk about trade. Talk economics. Talk about ending the Korean War and normalizing relations, all the while developing relations with China and Russia, so they don’t feel left out. Diplomacy is best done in quiet reflection and conversation. Right now, there’s been too much talk of what will be done. Only say what you have done after you have done it.”

Creighton political science professor Maorong Jiang, PhD, back row, third from left, on a visit to North Korea in 2013.Jiang, a native of China, first visited North Korea as a student in 1987 and his tenure at Creighton came out of a lecture he gave about North Korea in 2003. As an official with China’s State Religious Affairs Bureau, he had some dealings with North Korean officials who were curious about China’s rules on clergy. Jiang also participated in the Conference on the Transition of Power: Democratic Enlargement in Asia in 1997 and the International Game on Korea Reconciliation and Asian Security in 1998.

Since coming to the U.S., in the early 1990s, Jiang’s counsel has been sought by several government agencies interested in engagement with both China and North Korea. He said optimism is at the heart of any advice he gives in the realm of diplomacy and he has many reasons to be optimistic about what’s happening between the U.S. and North Korea. He last traveled to the country in 2013.

“North Korea has come out of its shell,” Jiang said. “That is a major step in itself. Think about 65 years of North Koreans waking up every morning and saying to themselves, ‘I hate America.’ Now they’re saying, ‘The President of the United States wants to meet with our Dearest Leader?’ That alone is easing anger, anxiety and hatred. And if the U.S. can push any kind of economic or trade help and hold off on discussing denuclearization for the moment, think about how much further we could take that relationship. Again, it’s not something that will happen overnight, but even as window-dressing, it’s good for people to see some progress being made. We need the North Koreans to get to know us first. Hatred in the heart is worse than any nuclear weapon.”

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