Date: Friday 19 November 2004
Subj: Interview with a North Korean Christian leader.
To: World Evangelical Alliance Religious Liberty News & Analysis
From: WEA RLC Principal Researcher and Writer, Elizabeth Kendal.
INTERVIEW WITH A NORTH KOREAN CHRISTIAN LEADER
The following interview is with a Christian leader from North Korea, whom we will call "Pastor North" for security reasons. It needs to be said that it is impossible for anyone to evaluate fully the outlook in that nation. Pastor North however has excellent contacts and many personal channels of information.
WHAT IS HAPPENING IN NORTH KOREA?
Global Voice (GV): How do you see the situation in North Korea today?
Pastor North (PN): It is becoming increasingly dangerous for several reasons. Our government considers the talk about "the axis of evil", the new US law on North Korea and the re-election of President Bush as real threats. 'We are on the same latitude as Iraq and the next country could be North Korea,' said one influential person. North Korea argues that they also must have "the right to strike first". So my understanding is that there is a real danger of war and that it would be a disaster for both North and South Korea. Demonstrations in the South against the changes to the National Security Law are also seen as a hostile activity.
GV: How then in your opinion should the West deal with North Korea?
PN: Our government has two faces. One is the face of a nation that does whatever we want without caring at all about international opinion. I understand this face has created a lot of negative reaction in the West. The other is the face of negotiating. This face is open for talks and suggestions but usually needs two or three months to give an answer. The difficulty is the two faces are on the same head and each affects the other.
GV: Do you see any positive changes in North Korea?
PN: Yes, I can see some changes. The government wants to open up just 'a little bit' for private enterprise. People can now for the first time sell their own produce. They cannot buy products to process and sell, but they can grow vegetables or fruit and sell them in the market place. This is a very small opening for private enterprise but we expect the door to open up more. There has also been a lot of cultural, economic and sporting exchange with South Korea in the last few years. Also, an industrial zone in the south of our country is being built in partnership with South Korea. That too will be an interesting project.
GV: What is the situation for the Christian Church?
PN: As you know, there are a few official churches and they have received a number of theological books in recent years. There are many people in these churches about whom we really know little, but there are also members who have been Christians for 40 or 50 years. Most Christians of course meet in their homes, but it is impossible to say more than there is a house-church movement in our country. Many Christians are in prison, but I also know many Christians who are not and I think the State knows they are Christians. The most common comment of course on this question and many others is "we do not know", as there is practically no communication.
GV: So, what can Christians in the West do?
PN: There are two important things. The first one is to pray for the Church in North Korea, and the other is to build bridges and help our country. It would be so important for our government to understand that Christians in the West want to be the friends of our people and not supporters of a hostile policy against us. So visits by church delegations bringing help would be a step in the right direction.
GV: Do you see any changes coming soon ?
PN: No, because there is no Opposition in this country and absolutely no network to co-ordinate any demand for changes. The strong feeling amongst people is that we are under threat of attack. That unites us, as well as the media giving just one version of both the national and the international situation. Radios are made so that we are able to listen only to North Korean radio stations.
GV: What if the leader should die?
PN: First of all we would not know about it for a long time. By then I am sure that the leading elite would have appointed a new leader. Our country is really based on a sort of caste system. The workers are the lowest caste and the highest castes are the generals and the political elite who have many advantages. They live a very good life with everything they need. They would not risk losing their position and in the common interest of that caste they would choose a new leader amongst themselves, to avoid any loss of privilege.
GV: What is your hope for the future?
PN: That has an easy answer - PEACE! Our country is very poor and people are suffering. Should war would break out, the terrible suffering that would bring to the Korean peninsula is inconceivable. And not only that - such a war could trigger an even wider conflict. What would China do in such a situation? [A South Korean military report presented to parliament on 5 October reported that China has said it would send 400,000 troops, 800 aircraft and 150 navy vessels to support its ally North Korea if war broke out on the Korean Peninsula. SCMP 6 Oct 2004 - EKendal] As followers of Jesus Christ we must all work for peace and for the well-being of the ordinary people God has created.