PIIE Blog | North Korea: Witness to Transformation
The Peterson Institute for International Economics is a private, nonprofit, nonpartisan
research institution devoted to the study of international economic policy. More › ›
Subscribe to North Korea: Witness to Transformation Search
North Korea: Witness to Transformation

A Forward-Looking Proposal

by | October 25th, 2012 | 06:11 am
|

When I first moved to Washington in the mid-1980s, Logan Circle was a scruffy neighborhood of street prostiution and drug dealing. Residents used to complain about waking up in the morning and finding on their lawns used hypodermic needles and the detritus of the sex trade. A decade of gentrification has changed that picture however, and now the neighborhood might be described as mildly bohemian bourgeois, if that is not an oxymoron.

Logan Circle made the Korean papers recently, when the South Korean government purchased the townhouse that from 1891 to 1905 housed the Korean legation. After Korea’s annexation by Japan, the Korean government was forced to surrender the building to the Japanese for a nominal fee.  The building subsequently passed through a variety of hands and most recently has been used as a private residence.  Some in Korea claim that the South Korean government paid too much to obtain the building, but knowing even less about urban real estate than the North Korean economy, I will not venture into that controversy.

Some in Korea believe that the building should be turned into a museum of Korean independence. I have a different proposal. Instead of looking backward, let’s look forward. At some point, the US and North Korea will begin a process of normalizing diplomatic relations. The North Koreans will need office space in Washington.  They are always complaining about being short on funds. Why not let them use the Logan Circle space? After all, it was previously used as a diplomatic facility for all of Korea, including what is now North Korea.

Of course, I do not know how the property is currently zoned (and neither do those proposing to use the site as a museum as far as I can tell), and the local neighborhood advisory council is likely to oppose its use for diplomatic purposes (embassies have a reputation for being bad neighbors).  But this would be a symbolic yet concrete way that the government of South Korea could contribute to an improvement of relations between the US and North Korea.