Yet Again, S. Korea Betrays One of Its Own

Updates:   A great post with a picture that nearly had  me in tears at GI Korea, and another picture here

First, there was Han Man-Taek, a South Korean POW from the Korean War who escaped from North Korea after 50 years in captivity.   He had been held  by North Korea for all this time,  in violation of the 1953 Armistice.  Han nearly made it to freedom, when Chinese police caught Han and sent him back to almost certain death in North Korea.  Although China’s action was also a violation of the armistice that it, too, signed,  South Korea barely raised a peep.  Han was never seen again.

Next, there was  Chang Moo-Hwan, another South Korean POW who escaped half a century of North Korean captivity, only to have a snotty young South Korean  embassy secretary say, “No, I can’t help you,” and hang up on him.  Chang did manage to force himself on  the homeland that  turned its back on  him, but Chang’s identity was exposed when he arrived home, and he  continues to agonize over the fate of the family he left behind in North Korea.

The latest of these reverse-Private Ryan scenarios, in which a government goes to extraordinary lengths to betray and abandon its own, is the case of Choi Uk-Il, whom the North Koreans kidnapped off his fishing boat 31 years ago.  Choi, too, managed to escape North Korea, only to get the same treatment as Sergeant Chang:

Choi Uk-il, 67, fled to China in late December after being kidnapped to the North in 1975 and was tearfully reunited with his wife, Yang Jeong-ja, in the northeastern Chinese city of Yenji late last month.

Video footage and other media reports in Seoul showed that a phone call for help by the escapee to an official at the South Korean consulate in Shenyang, Chna, was “rudely” turned down.  The wife flew back to Seoul to bring the case to the attention of the central government. On Friday, she visited the Foreign Ministry to protest.

“My husband needs immediate treatment as he was recently injured in an (automobile) accident, but he is unable to get any medicine,” Yang told reporters after a meeting with Lee Hyuk, director-general of the ministry’s Asian and Pacific Affairs Bureau.  “I hope my husband is allowed to return to South Korea at the earliest date possible,” she said, wiping tears from her wrinkled face.

Notwithstanding Choi’s birth in a faithless nation, his choice of a faithful wife saved his life.  If you married as well as Mr. Choi, count your blessings.  Meanwhile, South Korea’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, now busted yet again, is apologizing for the incident and promising to look into the matter.  No doubt it will get as far as the last such inquiry.  By now, the circumstantial evidence strongly suggests that two different people posted  in the same geographical area  were acting on the same orders.

There are thousands more South Korean citizens, perhaps several dozen Japanese (pdf), and citizens of an unknown number of countries held against their will in North Korea.  Japan has taken a tough and principled stand, and has secured the release of a few of its people as a result.   The story of one Japanese abductee is now the subject of a beautifully filmed,  award-winning documentary feature.  South Korea, on the other hand,  has given Kim  Jong Il  aid without conditions, hoping to  reduce tensions (so, how’s that working out?) and exploit North  Korean slave labor for profit.  That means that the best  the aggrieved families of the hostages  can hope for are cruelly brief and closely monitored spectacles like this one.

Why give your  loyalty to a nation that won’t return it?  Maybe that’s the whole idea.

“If the indifference and inhospitality shown to those soldiers who were killed or wounded protecting the nation continue, what soldier will lay down his life in the battlefield?”

Hey, they’re not my words.  

18 Comments

  1. This incident will not go away and will in fact begin a tidal wave turn away from the current administration (as well as the previous one) which has so shamefully and disgracefully ignored its own people. She may be just a fisherman’s wife, but what she seeks is universal — to be reunited with her husband after 31 years. What courage and what love and determination after so many years. Thanks for putting this up Josh.




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  2. You can take action by not purchasing and South Korean and Chinese-made products. I’ve done it, and while difficult, it certainly the right thing to do. FYI-many Asian food items from Taiwan, Japan, Thailand and Malaysia can act as substitutes for Chinese and Korean products. Or make your own kimchee…

    For those of you with children, buy used toys.




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  3. It is possible not to buy South Korea stuff, but it’s virtually impossible not to buy Chinese stuff. It’s as if everything is made there.




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  4. I think it depends on where you live. In America, yes, it’s almost impossible to live without “Made in China”, but that’s not the case in Japan. Americans will often complain about how everything in Japan is expensive, but the Made in Germany toaster you buy in Japan is not the same Made in China toaster you buy in Walmart. Even though the bubble is long over, people here still look at quality more then people do in America, where price is sometimes all that matters. So at least for me, it’s not impossible to go without buying Made in China products, and I do make my best effort to do so, but it is getting harder with Japanese consumers becoming more Americanized.




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  5. Why is South Korea worth a single American life, or a single American paper-cut.

    We are not faced with a corrupt or incompetent ally. We are faced with a state that actively and purposefully cooperates with the enemy.




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  6. Dan, I really can’t answer your question anymore. You should have asked me before I went there. I would have known everything then.




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  7. I pray that the publicity will shame the South Korean government into helping this man return home to his family.

    Joshua,

    Are there ever any protests in front of either the South Korean or Chinese embassies? I could make up some witchin’ quadrilingual placards.




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  8. North Korean Freedom Week is the last week in April, and I’m sure we could make great use of those “witchin’ quadrilingual placards.”




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