Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Give Us an 'Eclipse Policy'

The Wall Street Journal

July 13, 2005; Page A14

Condoleezza Rice arrived in Seoul yesterday to the news that South Korea had agreed to send its communist neighbor half a million tons of rice as "humanitarian aid." Ms. Rice put the best face possible on the matter, saying the aid did not undercut U.S. policy toward Pyongyang. Perhaps. But it is important to understand that North Koreans are starving not because of a lack of aid from South Korea or the U.S., but because they are deprived of freedom. Giving aid only throws a line to the government, and prolongs starvation, surely a perverse outcome.

Just look at recent history. In 1998, we nearly witnessed the collapse of the Kim Jong Il regime as three million people died of hunger. Bodies lined the streets, malnutrition caused cutbacks in military exercises, and an energy shortage even affected residential areas reserved for central party officials. The North Korean people finally had some hope that the time had come for regime change, or at least for the start of Chinese-style economic reforms. Sensing also that his end was near, Kim in desperation began begging the international community for aid. Then out of the blue, South Korea's government stepped in and saved him and his regime.

South Korean President Kim Dae Jung decided to give assistance to North Korea without demanding in return either an improvement in the human-rights situation or an increase in economic freedoms. Hundreds of millions of dollars were blindly handed over to Kim Jong Il to do with as he pleased. Much aid was diverted to the military and other power organs, reviving them and helping them to consolidate their power.

More than seven years have passed since South Korea began this policy of indiscriminate assistance. How successful has it been? To judge by progress in the country's human-rights situation, or in its willingness to dismantle its nuclear-weapons program, throwing aid at this regime has been demonstrably counterproductive. The human-rights situation has worsened and food shortages remain unabated. As for disarmament talks, Pyongyang has boycotted the negotiating table for more than a year. Supporters of Seoul's "Sunshine Policy" claim that tensions on the peninsula have been eased and that the policy has contributed toward a settlement of peace. This is a bare-faced lie. As the South Korean government sings its peace songs, Kim Jong Il openly declares possession of nuclear weapons.

In compliance with the government's strategy, South Korea's media has turned a blind eye to the truth in North Korea, painting a false picture of reconciliation and cooperation. As a result, the South Korean people are barely aware of the calamity taking place only 25 miles north of Seoul, nor of the atrocities taking place in North Korea's gulag. For nine long years I was one of its 200,000 political prisoners. I can tell you that the true tragedy of North Korea is virtually unknown even in the South.

While North Korea's people long to see the end of Kim Jong Il's misrule, Seoul insists on holding a dialogue, and cooperating, only with our dictator. While we want to see an end to the menace represented by the People's Army, all we hear from President Roh Moo Hyun and his people is, "Do not irritate Kim Jong Il . . . We need to accept the North Korean system . . . We do not want Kim Jong Il's regime to collapse . . . Kim Jong Il is an intelligent leader." These words fill the North Korean people with indescribable anger. On what basis could Seoul claim its right to go beyond the wishes of the North Korean people? It is up to the North Korean people to decide whether or not to accept Kim Jong Il as their leader.

Signs that North Korea is once again on the brink of a collapse abound, which probably is why Pyongyang has demanded the 500,000 tons of rice from Seoul. As in the 1990s, the food crisis is affecting the ruling elite, and there are reports that rations have been cut even in Pyongyang. The demise of Kim Jong Il may come unexpectedly fast. He is running out of time. If his regime is not kept alive with artificial aid, he will not have enough time to blackmail the world with a nuclear-weapons program.

This is why Ms. Rice should remain steadfast in resisting calls by Mr. Roh's government in Seoul to give aid to North Korea. Kim Dae Jung's Sunshine Policy, now being repeated by Mr. Roh, has failed most miserably. If it was a genuine mistake, Ms. Rice and the rest of the Bush administration should try to open eyes in Seoul. If Pyongyang has been manipulating policy behind the scenes, America must react by renewing its determination not to deal with Pyongyang.

George W. Bush, whom I met in the White House last month, knows all of this. His steadfast stance against Kim Jong Il and his love toward my fellow suffering North Koreans is about to give results. The darkest moment of the night is right before dawn. My feeling is that North Koreans will be able to see daylight soon. Now is not the time to give in to North Korea's blackmail or to the general feeling of appeasement that pervades the Seoul government. Now is not the time to give aid, or to agree to bilateral negotiations between the U.S. and North Korea.

Until things change in Seoul, Mr. Bush is the only hope the North Korean people have left. Those who are against him are only going to prolong their suffering.

Mr. Kang, the first person to escape from a North Korean concentration camp, is author of "The Aquariums of Pyongyang: Ten Years in the North Korean Gulag" (Basic Books, 2001).


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