Deal or not, North Korea remains a murderous regime
Published by The Times (11th June, 2018)
Kang Chol-hwan was sent to one of North Korea’s death camps aged nine under its policy of punishing entire families for alleged sins against the regime. He survived a decade of hell before escaping, defecting and becoming a key dissident. Yeonmi Park is a fragile-looking student the same age as my son, yet has endured horrors such as seeing starving babies dumped in frozen streets and her mother raped, then was sold into sex slavery aged 13.
We had breakfast together recently at a human rights conference in Oslo. They are two of the most remarkable people I have met in three decades of journalism. Kang told me of the deep psychological scars he suffers after enduring some of the secret atrocities that lurk behind the bamboo curtain. Other defectors have told me similar horror stories of routine abuse, hunger, rape, torture and mass murder.
Their dark tales have never been more important amid diplomatic manoeuvrings designed to bring North Korea in from the cold. The on-off summit in Singapore seems to be back on. Donald Trump is desperate for a headline-grabbing deal on nuclear weapons in return for financial and food aid, while Pyongyang needs sanctions lifted. Kim Jong-un also seeks a prize that eluded his father and grandfather: equal status with a United States president.
Amid the flurry of top-level meetings and competing interests of countries seeking to shape the process, there is a grave danger of selling out the 25 million people suffering under a fascist regime.
We have been here before with the ‘Sunshine Policy’ at the turn of this century. It won the South Korean president Kim Dae-jung a Nobel peace prize yet did little to alleviate the pain of North Koreans trapped under a savage family dictatorship, while aid and engagement gave cover to expand chemical and nuclear arms programmes. One former special forces soldier told me his senior officer mocked the deal as they trained for terror raids against foreigners in South Korea.
Denuclearisation is a desirable goal, despite its differing interpretations — especially with five of the planet’s biggest armies clustered around the Korean peninsula. Development and food for North Koreans is also vitally important. But all Kim wants is to remain on his blood-soaked throne, regardless of any cost to his brutalised subjects.
Democracies must not lose sight of the atrocities and death camps. Above all, they must be wary of propping up the world’s worst regime as borne witness by the likes of Kang and Park.