Deprogramming Japan & Korea

Once Again, More Slowly: Isolating the North Korean People Only Helps Kim Jong Il

Now it’s a Japanese government minister suggesting that Japan shouldn’t grant visas to North Korean athletes.

I fear an important distinction is being lost here. On the one hand, I strongly agree with the need to isolate the North Korean regime financially — to do no harm, to refuse to sustain or legitimize an evil system of government. On the other hand, I recognize that maintaining the isolation of the North Korean people actually helps sustain that system. Because the North Korean regime usually demands financial and propaganda concessions as precondition to engagement, and because the harmful effects of those preconditions tends to outweigh the modest benefits of any engagement, I oppose most of those engagement projects in practice (see any of my arguments with my friend Andrei Lankov on this point). But this is not to deny Andrei’s major premise — that isolation supports the North Korean system, and that breaking that isolation corrodes it.

Kim Jong Il allows very limited contact between ostensibly loyal citizens and the outside world for propaganda purposes. He believes that he is creating a positive image for his regime, and that the citizens he exposes to the outside world have no lasting and subversive impressions based on what they see. He is wrong on both counts. This sort of engagement cannot fail to have a subversive effect on people who have never seen traffic jams, or forests of gleaming skyscrapers, some with massive TV screens mounted on them. Unfortunately, it’s often outweighed by some financial benefit the regime recoups, and in some cases, by the stupidity and ignorance of the morally retarded.

The North Korean government ought to pay its own expenses and should not be allowed to profit financially from the visit. But we should not believe that we hurt Kim Jong Il — as opposed to helping him keep his people isolated — by excluding North Koreans from contact with the outside world.

If the goal is to damage Kim Jong Il’s regime, I can think of any number of more constructive approaches, including giving the team members and coaches assurances that they’d be received if they defect. And given the history of North Korean athletes failing drug tests recently, I’d get plenty of urine samples. Finally, there is no reason why North Korean visitors need to be shielded from demonstrators protesting against the regime’s abuses of its own people, or its abductions of Japanese citizens. Let them experience how people in free societies really view His Withering Majesty. And make sure the tour bus passes through Shibuya both to and from the airport — at night.

7 Comments

  1. The visiting North Korean athletes to Japan will see traffic jams, forests of skyscrapers,etc.
    But they will be excluded from any personal contacts with the local people except those from the Chongryon( General Association of Korean Residents), a pro-North Korean organization. They are permanent residents with the North Korean citizenship born, raised and educated at the Chongryon schools. They discourage their people to naturalize in Japan and brainwash them. I do not think the visiting North Koreans would change their minds if they are received and always attended by the Chongryon people while in Japan.




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  2. This post (as was your previous post in re Australia’s decision) is, plainly put ::: dead on. Thank you for your continued compassionate, yet clear-minded and reasoned approach you take toward the N Korean people and how to handle their current abhorent regime.

    Best blog I’ve read on N Korean issues on more than 5 years of looking.

    [Thank you. – Joshua]




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  3. Anecdotal story: a friend of mine was “somewhere in Asia” a short while ago where North Koreans happened to stumble along. She happened to shelter them, and to pass away the enormous amount of downtime waiting for transit, popped in a DVD with Korean subtitles and told the North Koreans that this was one of the most popular movies to have ever swept the planet.

    As soon as the film started rolling, the North Koreans immediately recognized the movie as one they’d already seen years ago. Title?

    “Titanic”

    Anecdotal, but the amazing power that cultural goods have in swaying the North Korean public. One wonders if there should be a “reverse underground railroad” – one that runs into the DPRK, funnelling such cheap (and carefully selected) cultural goods into a country that is both literally, and figuratively, starving. What’s the cost of creating a DVD copy of “To Kill A Mockingbird”, or “Schindler’s List”, or “Casablanca” or even “Sex in the City?” I’m sure if you tell the movie studios who hold these rights the object of such distribution they wouldn’t mind taking part in some clandestine activity.




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  4. Joshua, thanks for linking to your Feb. 2008 essays on Loren Maazel. You just made my day! Very, very interesting discussion there…and, particularly as we seem to be entering a phase where more cultural relations/Track II are going to play a significant role, probably still quite relevant at the core of it.




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  5. Fine, now someone explain to me how to infiltrate the Chicom-NK border to smuggle in mass quantities of food, medicine, radios, foreign currency, and weapons. Any resistance organization capable of supplying food to the population of North Korea’s mountainous central core would stand a good chance to carving out a “liberated zone” from which it would be possible to strike at the roads, rails, pipelines, and power lines between P’yang and the Chinese border.




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