Friday, November 19, 2004

Reforming North Korea.

Date: Friday 19 November 2004
Subj: Reforming North Korea.
To: World Evangelical Alliance Religious Liberty News & Analysis
From: WEA RLC Principal Researcher and Writer, Elizabeth Kendal.

- Implementing the North Korea Human Rights Act


On 18 October 2004, President G.W. Bush signed the North Korea Human Rights Act into law. The law, which will be effective from 2005 to 2008, grants $2 million a year to groups supporting human rights, democracy and a market economy in North Korea, and allocates $20 million a year to help settle North Korean refugees. The law also calls for doubling American radio broadcasting to North Korea to 12 hours a day and smuggling radios into North Korea. It will ensure that human rights are on the agenda when negotiating.

The US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) welcomed the move. USCIRF Chair Preeta D. Bansal notes, "The human rights violations of the Kim Jong Il regime are among the most serious worldwide. The North Korea Human Rights Act makes improving human rights protections a priority in U.S. relations with North Korea. And, it gives U.S. policy-makers tools to act on that priority." (USCIRF, 19 Oct 2004)

However, not everyone has welcomed the North Korea Human Rights Act with enthusiasm. As was expected, the North Korean regime is unimpressed and has vowed not to take part in regional talks over its nuclear weapons program until the "hostile" law is repealed.

Tension over the Act is however, most acute in South Korea. Lee Bu-young, the Chairman of the ruling Uri Party, has expressed "grave" concerns, fearing that the Act is designed to hasten the collapse of North Korea and that could be catastrophic for the Korean Peninsula. After the Act was passed by the US Senate, Lee said, "I am looking at the issue with grave concern because it could negatively affect inter-Korean relations and the six-way talks. It's a foregone conclusion that the situation surrounding the Korean peninsula will be aggravated further." (Korean Times, 30 Sept 2004)

South Korea's main political opposition however, the Grand National Party (GNP), has embraced the ACT and harshly criticised Uri Party members for "placing inter-Korean ties ahead of human rights". The GNP has hailed the Act as a major step forward toward liberating oppressed and impoverished North Koreans.

The North Korean Human Rights Acts is wonderful in principle. However, the specific and unique realities of the tenuous "peace" on the Korean Peninsula and the unique nature of the North Korean regime – headed by a Communist dictator who came to power through dynastic succession, who is surrounded by an enormous military, and who might actually believe the myths and fantasies he spins and perpetuates – makes dealing with the regime an extremely difficult and delicate exercise.

The implementation of the Act will need to be as sensitive as the defusing of a bomb. North Korea cannot be treated the same as Belarus (for example), for with North Korea the risks are much greater and the stakes are much higher. It requires great urgency in prayer and great delicacy, patience, and intelligent, sensitive strategy on the ground.


After the horrific 23 April 2004 explosion in Ryongchon, a WEA RL Prayer bulletin was issued calling for prayer for the victims and for the tragedy to be a means by which the door into North Korea might be further opened. The final paragraph of that prayer bulletin states: "There is no civil society in North Korea, no political opposition, and after 50 years of anti-world propaganda the people are quite brainwashed. Most have known no other life and know NO truth. North Korean society no longer has any foundations, so that regime collapse could be disastrous. What the nation really needs is to open up and be transformed from within. God alone can work that miracle." (Link 1)

According to a 16 November Reuters report, Kathi Zellweger of the Catholic aid organisation Caritas believes North Korea is slowly changing and an entrepreneurial spirit developing but Pyongyang is presently in a "stop phase" while authorities assess how market reforms have affected the communist system so far. Zellweger says, "Regime change is what some groups of people hope for. But I believe what is happening is that very slowly the nature of the regime is changing, albeit at a very slow pace." Zellweger fears the North Korea Human Rights Acts will lead to a tightening of the government's control of the people and of NGOs. (Link 2)

Kaesong industrial park in North Korea is 10 km north of the de-militarised zone (DMZ) and 90 km by highway from South Korea's Incheon Airport. It is the invention of South Korean economic strategists who envisaged it as a means of pulling South Korea out of its economic doldrums. The South Korean government supports it because of its potential to increase cross-border ties, improve relations, and gradually lessen the economic disparity between the north and south, thus easing the way for reunification.

About 230 South Korean officials, businessmen, ruling and opposition lawmakers and journalists took part in the official opening of the Kaesong industrial park on 20 October 2004. Kaesong, which opened with 13 South Korean manufacturers, will be funded by the south but staffed by the north. As Straits Times Interactive notes, "North Koreans could be working in South Korean factories by the end of this year." Presently 130 Seoul companies are on a waiting list to open factories in Kaesong, which is expected to eventually draw billions of dollars in investments and employ 730,000 North Koreans and 100,000 South Koreans in more than 1,000 South Korean companies. (STI 21 Oct 2004)

The North Korean famine of the 1990s, which occurred as a result of poor governance, produced an immense amount of grief and suffering. An article by Andreas Lorenz entitled "Joyful Dancing", in the German publication Der Spiegel, reports that the people have grown tired of suffering and brutal oppression. Lorenz mentions a new, soon-to-be-published book about North Korea by Jasper Becker (48), a British author and journalist living in Beijing. According to Lorenz, Becker writes that factories, military units, and even entire towns have revolted against the leadership in Pyongyang during the years of famine and suffering. These rebellions have been brutally crushed and, according to Becker, "Resentment against Kim is deeply entrenched in the population," including amongst elements of the military. This is no doubt why 100,000 elite guards are required to guarantee Kim's survival. (Link 3)

Those things Kim jong-Il desires most of all, survival and prestige, appear to be on shaky ground according to even the most recent reports (see link 4). Maybe this is the biggest bargaining chip of all. To avoid catastrophe on the Korean Peninsula, would the US be willing to ensure Kim's survival and prestige in exchange for reforms for which Kim would of course take all credit? This would involve great humility on the part of the US. It would involve leaving justice, regarding Kim, in the the hands of God. It could only be done by looking past the man, Kim jong-Il, and keeping eyes firmly fixed on the goal: the liberation and reform of North Korea, for the sake of North Korea's suffering and oppressed millions.

- Elizabeth Kendal


1) Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin - No. 271 - Wed 12 May 2004

2) N.Korea is changing but in "stop phase" - aid worker
By Martin Nesirky in SEOUL. Reuters 16 Nov 2004.

3) Joyful Dancing, by Andeas Lorenz.
Der Spiegel. 30 Oct 2004,1518,325971,00.html

4) Mystery as Kim title, posters go. CNN 18 Nov 2004


North Korea background and prayer request
Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin - No. 236 - Wed 10 Sep 2003