He is in danger of becoming known as the Member for Pyongyang.
Following a taxpayer-funded visit to the North Korean capital, the Queensland federal Liberal MP Michael Johnson wants Australia to engage with Pyongyang’s regime just as Richard Nixon opened relations with communist China in the 1970s.
He concedes that North Korea is ”one of the darkest places on the face of the planet” but says Australia’s policy of condemning the regime has failed, and he has called on the Federal Government to open an embassy in Pyongyang.
In a report tabled in Parliament, Mr Johnson, the MP for Ryan, says his vision is to lead a delegation of young Australian students, sports players, musicians or academics back to Pyongyang.
”This would be a form of third-track diplomacy that could reignite the bilateral ties and see Australia begin a diplomatic process of connecting with key stakeholders in the North Korean regime.
”It is my bold and optimistic view that there will be a re-unification of the two Koreas in the next quarter century. Should this eventuate it is my fervent hope that Australia will have been front and centre in the diplomatic statecraft that produced this realignment in the global geopolitical landscape.”
Mr Johnson was in Pyongyang in April and met local officials including the foreign vice-minister Kim Yong-il. He was in Pyongyang for the regime’s celebrations on the 97th anniversary of the birth of the late president Kim Il-sung and visited Kumsusan Memorial Palace, where Kim’s embalmed remains lie in state.
His visit came at the height of tensions between Pyongyang and Western powers following North Korea’s launch of a long-range missile on April 5. He was in the country when the UN Security Council condemned the launch and the regime retaliated by announcing the resumption of its nuclear weapons program.
Mr Johnson told the Herald he did not accept that his visit could have provided succour to the regime. ”That is always the argument, but I think they don’t need any legitimacy from anybody. We have got to change the whole paradigm of our thinking. One is more likely to make progress by engaging a foe than by exclusively and consistently condemning them.
”I don’t want to take away for a moment from the fact that this is an evil regime, but we have got to ask ourselves: ‘Do we want them to be an evil regime for another 50 years?”’ He labelled his approach ”the rainbow policy”. ”We have got to crack some of the walls and shine some light in.”
Mr Johnson said the only other sitting federal MP to have visited North Korea was the Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, who had gone there while in Opposition. ”There has been no interest whatsoever from him in relation to my trip,” Mr [Johnson] said.