[THE KOREA TIMES] Human rights in North Korea

2016-08-16 09:30

[THOUGHTS of THE TIMES] Human rights in North Korea

By Ku Yae-rin (College of International Studies, Kyung Hee Universuty)


Threats of missile attacks or nuking South Korea made by the North Korean regime have managed to create a divide even among South Korean politicians; "Should North Korea be isolated or engaged?" has been the million-dollar question. The answer is quite simple when one prioritizes human rights over all else: Engage with North Korea.

Unification can be successful only when both North and South Korean regimes work together to overcome future challenges as well as differences caused by decades of separation. If Koreans hope for a truly sovereign nation, then it is crucial to stick together, especially during the most vulnerable of times.

For smooth the integration of North and South Koreans after unification, it is important to engage with the North Korean regime so as to resume human-to-human interactions. If the South Korean government is incapable of making that small thing happen, how does it expect North Koreans to have faith in South Korea to be able to accommodate the needs of roughly 24 million after the unification?

Currently the North Korean regime has been able to sustain itself by depending mainly on a few communist or authoritarian countries such as China, Syria and Cuba for economic support. In such circumstances, a dual-pronged diplomacy of engaging with North Korea while simultaneously criticizing those countries supportive of Kim Jung-un's despotism becomes indispensable. There is no easy way to go about issues associated with North Korea.

But what the South Korean government has been doing in recent years is to adhere to U.S. foreign policy and go with the obvious tactic of aiming punitive measures at North Korea. The deployment of the U.S. anti-ballistic missile interceptor (THAAD) marks the epitome of such punitive measures. Instead of making the ultimate decision of deploying THAAD, the Park Geun-hye administration should have prolonged the decision to pressure China to stop its repatriation of North Korean defectors. Furthermore, Xi Jinping and Park could have negotiated on monitoring the border area of North Korea and China to ban human trafficking activities.

There were many alternative scenarios before the decision to deploy THAAD. Still, it is never too late to change South Korea's approach. Alleviating the tension between the two Koreas by incrementally increasing North Korea's dependence on South Korea through a dual-pronged diplomacy is up for grabs. All the South Korean government needs to do is to seize it and observe the long-term transformation taking place in North Korea. Building trust is a must for prospect of living together within the same boundary after unification. It is ludicrous to argue that South Korea has tried enough to engage with North Korea already because only 10 years have passed since the South began to provide aid to the North.

Over the course of a decade, South Korea sent a total of 2.8 trillion won to North Korea, which does not even amount to 1/1000 of the South's GDP. Prior to the unification of Germany, West Germany spent the huge sum of 58 trillion won for 18 years on supporting East Germany. This shows that West Germany was more proactive in engaging with its East Germany than South Korea has been with the North, as West Germany spent 16 times more to improve the living standards in East Germany so as to smooth out the transition when unification finally took place in 1989. Even adding up the alms provided by the international community, money is insufficient to ameliorate the situation in North Korea.

Thus, it is high time for the South Korean government to mobilize its resources to first resolve human rights issues in North Korea by eliminating and targeting external factors and engaging with the Kim Jung-un regime to create a long-lasting change.

The writer is a student at Kyung Hee University majoring in international relations. Write to realyepuda@hotmail.com.