Former Korean-American Congressman offers monorail DMZ tour

By Kim Tae-gyu

The first ethnic Korean who was elected to the United States Congress has proposed a mega-sized tourism project involving the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ), or the heavily-fortified border that separates the two Koreas.

Jay Kim, the 71-year-old first-generation Korean American who was elected to the House of Representatives in 1992 and re-elected twice more through 1999, said that he had made the proposal to Gyeonggi Province.

“At the request of Gyeonggi Province, I examined the DMZ this week in order to come up with plausible plans of converting the unique zone into a tourism attraction,’’ Kim told The Korea Times in an interview on Thursday.

“I think that we will be able to set up an elevated monorail just outside the DMZ so that tourists can overlook the buffer zone between the two Koreas. Many would love to see the sights.’’

Kim said that the monorail-based train could start at Imgingak, the scenic resort with a pavilion situated in Paju, Gyeonggi Province, about an hour from Seoul.

“The project would not cost that much. The monorail system would be constructed above ground and six trains would be sufficient to run the course every 30 minutes,’’ said Kim who immigrated to the U.S. in 1961.

“Toward that end, we need the support of the central government since this project may have something to do with national security. I already met a high-ranking official of Cheong Wa Dae to ask for cooperation.’’

Kim expected that the DMZ tour would become one of the foremost tourism assets of Korea down the road.

Asked about the ongoing negotiations on the Korea-U.S. free trade agreement (FTA), Kim contended that both sides should compromise to ratify the trade deal, which was signed in 2006.

Currently, the two countries are at odds over the issues of vehicles and beef _ the U.S. complains that Korea does not import enough U.S. vehicles and wants Korea to import American beef regardless of the age of cattle.

South Korea, Asia’s fourth-largest economy, imports U.S. beef products from cattle less than 30 months old due to concerns about mad cow disease.

“Both will be able to find a happy medium in the beef case. For example, Korea may import U.S. beef from just young cattle for the time being until its consumption of U.S. beef reaches a preset benchmark,’’ Kim said.

“Also, the Seoul administration may purchase approximately 3,000 U.S. vehicles, let’s say from Ford, to use them as official cars. The proposal would be too good an offer for the U.S. to refuse.’’


(7) My emotional oath ceremony

By Jay Kim

“Do you solemnly swear that you will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that you will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that you take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that you will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which you am about to enter?” “I do.” “So help you God.”

It was a moving moment full of emotion. As I answered “yes” to House Speaker Thomas Foley’s reading of the Congressional Oath of Office, my official term as a House Representative started. It was Jan. 4, 1993, two months after my win in a fierce contest, when the 103rd U.S. Congress went into session and I stepped onto the House floor for the first time as a Congressman.

Not only was this a day of personal glory, but it was also a new chapter in the history of Korean immigration. Exactly 32 years had passed since I first arrived in America with $200 in my pocket from Korea, then one of the poorest nations in the world.

My mind was full of excitement and pride as I walked toward the Capitol Hall, not as a tourist but as a Congressman. There were 110 first-term Congressmen (including myself) sworn in at that ceremony, the highest number since World War II.

The grandeur of the U.S. Capitol draws the admiration of everyone who visits. There is a big dome in the center of the building, flanked on either side by two smaller domes. These domes sit atop the House Chamber (on the southern side) and the Senate Chamber (on the northern side).

Under the larger dome is a rotunda, which ceiling and walls are covered with paintings depicting events in U.S. history. The smaller rotundas are full of statues of famous historical figures. I was amazed to learn that this incredible building was built in 1846. It’s hard to believe that this grand building was constructed with horses and ropes, in a time with no electricity, cell phones, or computers.

One street over to the south, there are three House office buildings; to the north, there are three Senate office buildings. To the east, there is the U.S. Supreme Court, and to the west, there are two Libraries of Congress.

All these buildings are connected underground, and the underground walls are built so thick and sturdy that they can withstand a nuclear bomb attack. The underground passages are also so complicated that a great many tourists get lost there.

For the first three months of my term, I would get lost as well. The Senate and House office buildings are all connected by the Capitol’s subway system.

As long as there is no vote in the Capitol, tourists can also ride this subway, and there are always long lines waiting for this famous historical subway ride, as the Capitol is usually full of tourists. Whenever I would walk through the building, Asian tourists would stop me and ask me to take pictures with them.

On the first day of my term, I slowly walked into the House Chamber, welcomed by Republican lawmakers. The chamber was full of people, even in the audience balcony on the second floor. What really surprised me was that many lawmakers had brought their young children with them to the chamber.

Most children stood with their fathers, but some were carried by them. Some of them were bored and could not help yawning, some were fussy due to probably being hungry, and others were shouting to their families on the second floor.

There were even infants crying loudly. It reminded me of a traditional Korean market. I was surprised at this, since I’d expected a solemn opening ceremony, and got something akin to an entrance ceremony at an elementary school.

Seven years to that day, I visited the Capitol as a tourist while in DC on business. It felt like yesterday that I looked down on the House Chamber from the public balcony, but now I was looking up at the balcony for my family and friends.

Suddenly, I remembered my first arrival in the U.S., when my cheap travel bag broke open at the LA airport and all my stuff fell out. A bottle of red pepper sauce my mother painstakingly made for me had broken.

Seaweed flew everywhere, and I had to pick them up one by one. I vividly remembered that shameful moment, like it was yesterday. I told myself I was going to be the best Congressman in U.S. history.

After the oath, House Republican leader Newt Gingrich suggested I become the first speaker to the 103rd Congress. Just 40 minutes after the oath, I stood at the podium on the Congressional floor and gave a brief speech.

In those days it was unprecedented for a first-term lawmaker to speak first on the opening day of term. Since then, it has become a custom to give the floor to a first-term lawmaker at the opening ceremony.

My speech was a strong opposition to the opinion that the delegates from five U.S. territories should be given the same voting rights as U.S. Congressman. Because of this, I was hated by five delegates and Democratic lawmakers on my first day as a Congressman.

In retrospect, I realize I’d made a fool of myself with my ill-advised brashness for no good reason, making hundreds of enemies right out of the gate. I even considered the idea that I’d been taken advantage of by my own party. But isn’t it the case that politicians should have thick skin? From that first day, I could feel my skin thickening rapidly.

Jay Kim is a former U.S. congressman. He serves as chairman of the Washington Korean-American Forum. For more information, visit Kim’s website (

(6) Visiting Taiwan and Hong Kong

By Jay Kim

The second Tuesday of November 1992 was Election Day in America. Polling stations in the U.S. are usually open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m., and are set up in public places that can be easily found and accessed, such as schools or private homes.

Campaigning usually stops on the day of election, since it’s forbidden to disseminate campaign materials within a quarter mile (402 meters) of a polling station.

My campaign for a seat in the House was over. All I had left to do was to wait. Early that morning, I went to church alone and prayed quietly to myself. Now all I could do was to wait for the results of the election between myself, the Republican candidate, and the Democratic candidate Bob Baker.

I won that day by a decisive margin (60 percent to 30 percent). Suddenly, in front of hundreds of volunteers and numerous reporters, I had become a hero in the history of American politics. More than two dozen reporters representing Korea, China, Japan, and Taiwan had come to report on my election.

But when they asked me for my thoughts, I found myself at a loss for words. Had I really become a U.S. Congressman? The thought hadn’t really hit me yet. I managed to thank my campaign staff and volunteers for their devotion to my cause, but couldn’t think of anything else to say.

The following story comes from while I was still a Congressman-elect, waiting until the new session of Congress on Jan. 3 of the following year to take my oath of office and become an official Congressman.

There are three groups of Chinese in the U.S. ― those from the China mainland, those from Taiwan, and those from Hong Kong. A translator is needed for communication from the Taiwanese and the Hong Kong folk, since Mandarin is spoken in Taiwan and Cantonese is spoken in Hong Kong. At the time, mainlanders did not have much presence in the U.S.

Those from Hong Kong were concentrated in northern California (near San Francisco), and those from Taiwan were concentrated in southern California, where I lived. There is a Taiwanese town next to Diamond Bar (where I had been mayor), where many successful Taiwanese businessmen had taken residence.

One day, five Taiwanese-Chinese who had helped my campaign visited me and suggested I visit Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Beijing with them, on the invitation of then-Taiwan President Lee Teng-hui.

They brought an invitation from Lee with them. I accepted the invitation, and a week later I was in Taiwan with half a dozen of my Chinese supporters. It was the first time in my life that I’d received such great red-carpet hospitality.

I felt like a superstar, surrounded by scores of welcoming dignitaries and reporters in the airport. I soon learned that there’s hardly a country that lobbies as much as Taiwan does in the U.S., second only to Israel. On my way to a restaurant for dinner, I was ushered to my destination by a police escort. That is the level at which Taiwan treats foreign dignitaries.

Neither Korea nor the U.S. recognizes Taiwan as an independent nation, treating it instead as a part of China. Taiwan, for this reason, clings to the U.S. diplomatically, allowing its people to lead economically comfortable lives.

During that time, there was a major conflict between those who wanted Taiwan recognized as part of China and those who wanted to claim Taiwan’s independence. This was a serious conflict, occasionally literally becoming a life-or-death scenario when one Taiwanese American was beaten to death in San Francisco over a particularly heated debate.

Even in my district of California, there was a violent incident between the two sides. I became distressed over which side I should be on, knowing that whichever side I took I would instantly create a host of enemies.

Because it’s the U.S.’s policy to acknowledge a unified China, I took the pro-China side. I also figured that Taiwan would be absorbed by China eventually, and that it would be politically wise to side with the larger power.

As expected, on one hand, the “Taiwan Independence Newspaper” attacked me constantly; on the other, I became liked in China for my stance.

I did not think at the time that China would become the economic power as it is today; after all, at the time there were rumors that China would be divided into five independent nations (China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Tibet, and Kwantung). Now that I think about it, this was sheer nonsense.

I visited Taiwan for a second time the following year, this time with House Speaker Newt Gingrich. I still remember President Lee’s look of disappointment as he said that it was Korea, the first nation recognized Taiwan as a part of China, severing their diplomatic ties with Taiwan.

This was during a time when this small island country dominated world trade and products stamped with “Made in Taiwan” were virtually everywhere. After two days in Taiwan, where I found that the island had very few places for sightseeing, I arrived in Hong Kong, in those days still a British colony.

In 1997, 155 years after England annexed Hong Kong in 1842, I was invited as a representative of the U.S. Congress with Gingrich to the ceremony for the transfer of Hong Kong’s sovereignty from the U.K. to China.

The British attending the ceremony cried as they sang “God Save the Queen” and the British flag was slowly lowered, and there were cheers outside from the Chinese welcoming the independence of Hong Kong.

It was agreed that Hong Kong would have a certain degree of autonomy from China as “one country, two systems” for 50 years, until 2047. Every influential man in Hong Kong was at the ceremony. It was strange in that these men distinguished people mainly by their wealth (i.e. their monetary assets, how many buildings they owned, etc.) when they introduced themselves to me.

After a long period of colonization, it seemed as though they could not help doing this, because there was no way for them to move up in the colony’s government. I thought this was a shame.

In fact, I could feel their envy in the way they looked at me, a foreign student from Korea that became a U.S. Congressman. They may as well have thought it was the same as if they’d moved to the U.K. and become a member of the British Parliament.

Somehow, I felt flattered by this idea. I spent two dreamy days in Hong Kong, feeling like I was floating above the clouds.

Jay Kim is a former U.S. congressman. He serves as chairman of the Washington Korean-American Forum. For more information, visit Kim’s website (

(5) Highly competitive campaigns in US

I’ve been watching the general elections unfold in Korea, and other than the party nominations and defections resulting from those, the campaign battles there seem much more fun than their American counterparts.

Shaking hands with storekeepers in traditional open grocery markets, dancing on a stage to appeal for votes, making a political speech on a roadside through a megaphone wearing an armband with a picture of the candidate, bowing along with beautiful actresses to passersby ― these scenes are never found in U.S. election campaigns.

Koreans have a quick temper. If we get angry, we quarrel as though we want to kill each other. However, these quarrels can also lead to a closer bond after a night of talking over a few drinks. Americans, however, are different. Though they smile in front of you, they’re always ready to stab you in the back. And because they all smiles, there is no way to know who is a friend and who is a foe.

In many cases, private investigators are hired in U.S. election campaigns. I also hired a private investigator and started to investigate the background of my most threatening challenger. These background checks are generally in reference to their past tax records, any instances of drunkenness or womanizing, or any other criminal record regardless of its seriousness.

After ranking any negative aspects, there is a close study to determine whether it’s politically correct to reveal their weaknesses. Sometimes revealing them can backfire; other times, it pays dividends. About a week before the election, candidates begin real serious personal attacks.

Sometimes these attacks are found to be totally untrue, but by then the election would be over. If defeated, a candidate has the right to take legal action against the winner for defamation of character; however, this seldom changes the outcome of the vote and leads to enormous legal fees.

The voters in the U.S. don’t pay much attention to general elections until a week before the vote is to take place. Therefore, that last week is generally the most critical and effective period of any campaign. Winning or losing the race is often determined by how well you can smile at your opponent while stealthily stabbing them in the back.

If any candidate decides to attack, they have to land a hard blow to completely knock out their opponent. I have seen many cases of a candidate suffering from counterattacks from his opponents after weakly attacking them. Usually, though, candidates will move on after an election. During my own campaign, I could not sleep at all during the final week from worrying what kind of low blow I could expect.

Unlike in Korea, where the campaign period is limited to 20 days, American candidates can literally start their campaign any time they wish. There are, however, certain basic rules that need to be followed ― for instance, using loudspeakers are not allowed in public spaces without a permit.

A Korean-style campaign with candidates bowing to passersby or actresses dancing on stage would not be seen in American campaigns. So how are American campaigns conducted? They are carried out through mailings, placards, and advertisements on buses, TV and radio.

Candidates hold about four television discussions and about three or four town hall discussions in various cities. They also make policy speeches at various influential civic and social organizations and other various business associations.

I’ve never forgotten the difficult experience of delivering my first political speech in front of a thousand people, all anxious to find out who I was. The atmosphere was tense, with reporters on hand and camera lights flashing. All candidates received instructions from the facilitator, who told us that each candidate had exactly two minutes to introduce himself, without a prepared script.

The first presenter was a lawyer sitting next to me, who worked for the Department of Commerce. His introductory speech was done so impressively that even I could not help being so impressed by his eloquent oratory.

The state senator was next, and he was even more impressive. He was well organized and methodically explained his achievements in the state legislature, and made an emphatic claim that he was the only proven and experienced candidate and therefore the best candidate to serve in Congress.

As my turn grew closer, I felt incredibly nervous, having never made a political speech in front of so many white people. My throat was burning, my lips were dry, and I felt myself tremble uncontrollably.

However, once I was called up to the stage as “Mayor of Diamond Bar Jay Kim,” and once I held the microphone in my hand and looked down at that crowd, I strangely began to become calm.

I told the crowd the following: “I don’t have any proud legislative achievements like the professional politician sitting to my right, and my speech is not as fluent as the lawyer sitting on my left. However, what I am about to say is the truth, without embellishment and directly from my heart. Since I am neither a politician nor a lawyer, but an engineer, I know no other way but to tell the facts as they are.”

I told the crowd that I was an immigrant from Korea who came from America alone and built up a family and business with my own two hands. I also emphasized that I was a U.S. citizen _ not by birth, but by earning it. That is why I cherish my citizenship so much and am so proud to be American. To my surprise, even though my speech was not in fluent English, the crowd gave my unpolished and non-colorful speech a standing ovation.

That ovation gave me courage, and I became confident. All of a sudden, I remembered washing dishes 30 years ago, when I came to America from Korea as a dead-poor foreign student. I also remembered being held in disdain for being Asian. Yes, I was once an Asian dishwasher. In 1961, Asians had difficulty getting loans, buying property and securing white collar jobs.

Most of the jobs we could get were limited to simple labor, like dry cleaning, gardening, or working in Chinese restaurants. As I received that standing ovation, I felt like I could see the same white faces who had once called me a “Chink” or a “Jap.”

It seemed like that had happened yesterday ― but today, those same white faces were approaching me on stage and shaking my hand to show their support. I couldn’t help but have tears come to my eyes. This could only happen in America.

Jay Kim is a former U.S. congressman. He serves as chairman of the Washington Korean-American Forum. For more information, visit Kim’s website (

Korea-U.S. FTA – Hankook Ilbo 9/26/10

Jay Kim participated in the ‘Korean-American Forum for early ratification of Korea-U.S. FTA’. This forum was held by the VA Preparation Committee for KORUS FTA and the League of Korean Americans of Maryland on September 23.

During his presentation, Jay Kim said, “To pass the KORUS FTA, we should focus on the House of Representatives instead of the Senate and Democratic members of Congress instead of Republican members,” and “we need to keep an eye on the result of the mid-term election in November.”

“A signature collection is not so much effective as $ 10,000 of campaign fund”, Kim continued. He emphasized the necessity of clear targets of FTA ratification campaign; he said, “Setting aside the lawmakers who are from the districts of strong labor unions or those who actively oppose the FTA, we need to get just ten Democratic lawmakers who are passive or moderate on this issue.”

Ambassador of Korea in the U.S. Han Duk-soo gave the opening speech of this forum chaired by Korean Consul Yoon Soon-ku. Han urged Korean Americans to contact their Senators and Representatives to express their wish for the ratification of KORUS FTA.

The Embassy of Korea will open the ‘Action Center’ ( to help Korean Americans to let their Congressmen know the importance of KORUS FTA and urge their support. This site will be open on October 1; people can send letters to their Congressmen, and they can sign the pledge to support KORUS FTA and also support it on Facebook and Twitter. Na Won-chang, the Chief of the Economic Section of the Embassy of Korea, asked for active participation by Korean Americans through the Action Center.


Through their presentations, Hwang Won-kyun, the Chairman of Korean-American Association of Northern Virginia, and Cha Young-dae, the Chairman of the League of Korean Americans of Maryland, assured that the Korean American society will make efforts until the end to pass KORUS FTA through signature collection and other methods.


Mutual growth and fair society – The Korea Times

By Jay Kim

The Bush-era tax breaks are scheduled to expire at the end of this year, and finding alternatives has been a tough situation for President Barack Obama, the man who proposed allowing these tax breaks for the nation’s wealthiest households to expire.

Congressional Republicans have vowed to fight to preserve the tax breaks for all Americans, rich or poor, and many conservatives are demanding that all Bush-era tax cuts be made permanent. There doesn’t seem to be a simple solution to this politically sensitive issue, with only a month until the mid-term elections.

The Republicans and Democrats differ significantly on this issue. Republicans claim that excluding the rich from the tax cuts would create a class war between the rich and poor in America. They claim that during these hard economic times, instead of raising taxes, the government should reduce taxes and spending so that the increased income and capital can be used as the source of economic growth.

The Democrats, on the other hand, claim that it’s time to create another strong government-backed economy stimulus plan, solely funded by uncut tax monies from those in the $250,000 and above annual income tax bracket, in order to pull the country out of the recession.

The current U.S. government deficit stands at almost $20 trillion. The interest alone amounts to $250 billion, or the entire 2011 budget for the Korean government. It seems like just yesterday when the Obama administration had implemented their first $787 billion economic stimulus plan, and now the administration is talking about another stimulus plan paid for by taxing the rich.

The Tea Party Republicans are furious with this idea, and the Nobel economists are also sharply divided over the issue. Niall Ferguson of Harvard claims that without reducing the financial deficit, the interest alone might be enough to dry up the money in the market; by contrast, Princeton’s Paul Krugman claims that jobless rates should be lowered even by increasing the deficit.

According to recent public opinion polls, 54 percent of Americans are agreeable to raising taxes only for the rich. The public was not always in favor of this idea; one might speculate that the bonus parties for Wall Street executives during the financial meltdown have caused them to change their minds.

Everyone, however, agrees that the deficit’s growth needs to be stopped; the issue of raising taxes to do so continues to be a hot-button issue. It’s not clear how this debate will be reflected in the coming November elections.

There is a saying in American politics ― if it’s hard to make a decision, either form a committee to buy some time, or come up with a compromise that neither side would object to strongly. Therefore, a compromise has been reached; the Bush tax cuts will be extended for one year, instead of Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s idea to postpone the matter until the November elections.

How does this affect Korea? Since 80 percent of the Korea economy depends on international trade (compared to 70 percent of the U.S. economy depending on domestic consumption), the trade surplus of big corporations is very important in boosting the economy, and quite a few small businesses depend on those corporations’ subcontracts. There is a poll in Korea showing that 70 percent of Koreans think that the difficulties of small businesses are caused by big businesses.

President Lee Myung-bak has said that the public would look at big businesses with a different eye if they saw the efforts of those businesses to grow together with small businesses, and that he would give unreserved support to this mutual growth through fair laws. Since most people agree with this, it is expected that this mutual growth and a fair society will be important Korean social tasks.

However, the debates on small government and the national debt still continue in the U.S., and the debates on taxes are still raging on. I am affiliated with the Republican Party, and I have strongly objected to the unconditional wealth distribution policies of the government, which tend to give the money of the rich to the poor.

However, these days I have changed my opinions significantly, and in these troubled times I think both Obama’s policy of taxing the rich and President Lee’s emphasis on big businesses supporting small businesses are both right. That’s why I’m recommending that Korea adopt a policy like the U.S.’s policy of setting aside government projects for only small businesses to make bids on.

The will of the government to achieve a fair society, along with the idea of mutual growth in business, make me sure of a bright future for the Korean economy.

Jay Kim is a former U.S. congressman. He serves as chairman of the Washington Korean-American Forum. For more information, visit Kim’s website (