Class Warfare Famine & Food Aid Sports

North Koreans need food & medicine, not Guus Hiddink’s “futsal” stadium

hiddinkSouth Koreans remember Dutch soccer coach Guus Hiddink as the man who led their team to a successful performance in the 2002 World Cup. But when the history of a united Korea is written, North Koreans are likely to remember him less fondly. Hiddink has just returned from Pyongyang, where he signed a deal to help Kim Jong-Un build yet another expensive leisure facility that falls low on the average North Korean’s hierarchy of needs — a new “futsal” stadium:

“It was a short but a good visit,” [Hiddink] told reporters at Gimpo International Airport in western Seoul. “We talked about installing a Dream Field. I was eager to do one or more even in the North. We signed an agreement that as soon as possible — hopefully before the summer — we’ll have the first Dream Field in Pyongyang.”

The Dutchman said he was already looking forward to his next visit to North Korea, possibly next summer.

“I challenged them to start building what we agreed,” he added. “We will supply, as soon as possible, the necessary equipment and then they can start. If you want something, you can do it very fast.” [Yonhap]

In case you were about to ask:

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The U.N. World Food Program’s 2015 needs assessment gives us a better idea of that hierarchy, for those North Koreans who are excluded from its leisure class:

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These figures, which rely on regime-supplied statistics, may overstate or understate the problem to some degree, and the results of various U.N. surveys vary, depending on how one measures North Koreans’ misery. For example, this 2013 U.N. survey found that 84% of North Koreans have “poor” or “borderline” food consumption. Earlier this year, the U.N. reminded us that many of North Korea’s children will feel the effects of malnutrition for the rest of their lives.

More than a fourth of all North Korean children are stunted from chronic malnutrition, and two-thirds of the country’s 24 million people don’t know where their next meal is coming from, the United Nations said Friday.

The report illustrates a major domestic challenge for North Korea’s new young leader, Kim Jong Un.

A team from the U.N.’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, reporting from North Korea, found that 2.8 million North Koreans “are in need of regular food assistance amidst worrying levels of chronic malnutrition and food insecurity.” It said 4 percent of North Korean children are acutely malnourished. [AP]

While North Korea’s mass casualty famine probably ended around 2000, there were reports of famine on a much smaller scale in 2012, and harvests are believed to have fallen again this year. It’s almost certain that at least some North Koreans who lose their state rations or the support of their families continue to starve to death, out of sight and out of mind, even now.

There is also the complete breakdown of North Korea’s health care system, to the extent that people who can’t afford to bribe doctors into treating them have turned to opium and methamphetamine as alternative medicines.

Guus Hiddink’s futsal stadium would join a long list of new leisure facilities for Pyongyang’s elite, including a dolphin aquarium, a 3-D cinema, a water park, and a floating buffet — amenities that are beyond the imagination of most North Koreans. In 2013, Kim Jong-Un reportedly spent $300 million on a leisure and sports facilities, including a ski resort filled with equipment imported in violation of U.N. sanctions. That same year, His Corpulency spent $644 million on luxury items like flat-screen TVs, sauna equipment from Germany, Swiss watches, and expensive booze. Also that same year, the World Food Program asked foreign donors to contribute $200 million toward a two-year program to feed 2.4 million North Korean women, children, and infants — just a fraction of those in need.

Given that the U.N. Security Council banned the export of luxury goods with after the passage of Resolution 1718 in 2006, can this possibly be legal? Due to the uneven and dilatory implementation of the resolution, it’s almost impossible to be sure. The UN’s tragically incomplete (but non-exclusive) list, still not filled out nine years later, specifically mentions only jewelry, yachts, luxury cars, and racing cars. The EU list prohibits “[a]rticles and equipment for skiing, golf, diving and water sports,” and “[a]rticles and equipment for billiard, automatic bowling, casino games and games operated by coins or banknotes,” but would theoretically allow a European supplier to sell Kim Jong-Un a curling rink, jet skis, or bobsleds. The U.S. Commerce Department’s list of luxury goods is the broadest, and includes any “[r]ecreational sports equipment.” Theoretically, then, Treasury could block any dollar payments to facilitate Hiddink’s project. (The North Korea Sanctions Enforcement Act would cut this semantic Gordian Knot by adopting the U.S. Commerce Department list as its definition.)

The obscenity of a nominally socialist state, which monopolizes most of the nation’s resources, squandering the meals of starving kids on luxuries for a tiny elite is the reason why the U.N. adopted the luxury goods ban. I’ll take that argument a step further: it’s a crime against humanity — specifically, what a U.N. Commission of Inquiry has described as “the inhumane act of knowingly causing prolonged starvation.” By knowingly helping Kim Jong-Un to misallocate resources that belong to the North Korean people, and which should be used to fulfill their rights to food and medical care, Hiddink makes himself an accessory to this crime, and places himself before the judgment of history, and perhaps, one day, of the law itself.

If the UN can’t define “luxury goods,” if the EU can’t interpret the UN resolution’s plain language to address the evil it was meant to remedy, and if the U.S. won’t enforce its own regulations, then the good people of Europe and the Netherlands must condemn and ostracize Hiddink for his appalling ethical misadventure.

9 Comments

  1. What an irony! The man who is telling us “North Korea needs medicine” has done all he could to make the life of medicine producers difficult by promoting sanctions, including for components the North Korean pharmaceutical industry needs (such as chemical reagents to ensure safety of drugs, which are banned by the U.N. as they could also be used for military purposes).

    I’m happy that despite such policies of coercion we still could overcome the worst obstacles and produce quality medicine and provide quality services in North Korea. More here:

    https://www.flickr.com/photos/felix_abt/11585824313
    http://northkoreacapitalist.tumblr.com/post/90344865052/quality-medicine-getting-to-the-people-in-north
    http://northkoreacapitalist.tumblr.com/post/92037610982/service-with-a-smile-in-north-korea-while




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  2. I’m sorry but nowhere does Felix say in his comment that he supports the government of North Korea spending money on ski resorts, that plainly was not his point. That’s a pretty transparent diversion. Your first response to your support of sanctions exemptions for food and medicine would have stood much better alone without the addition of a flammable straw Felix.

    Regarding the article though, in my opinion if Gus Hiddink builds a Futsal Stadium and encourages international exchange programmes there is a net positive result. Maybe it’s limited who it influences but it still is better than non action which has a history of poor results.

    Maybe you felt those funds could have been better applied but chances are the backers of that project wouldn’t have supported anything else. They saw a project they liked and supported it. You are welcome to start any projects of your own and if you would like to start a programme to seek medical donations for Korean Children I’m sure it could have many positive results and would be much appreciated by many.

    Criticising Mister Hiddink for doing something he believed may help, will never benefit anyone, it just gives fodder to the domestic argument that the outside world oppresses them and wants to see them go without. If you believe in improving the living standards of the people, why not act rather than just writing criticisms of those who do?




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  3. No, Felix’s comment itself is a diversion from the point of the post. It’s the standard threadjacking and whataboutism you always see from apologists who can’t defend NK’s policies.

    Since you raised the point, please, do tell us all how a stadium will conceivably help those North Koreans who are barely getting enough to eat. Explain how a stadium plausibly leads to a better life for average North Koreans. I’ve been hearing advocates of “engagement” offer similar self-serving promises that their projects would ever-so-gradually open North Korea up for nearly 20 years, and it never has worked that way. Instead, the regime takes the money, a small elite benefits, and the vast majority of North Koreans on the low end of the songbun scale are excluded. While you’re at it, tell us how you would succeed at getting through to North Koreans in need, where the U.N. World Food Program and just about every other aid donor has failed.




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  4. When Troy said, “Maybe you felt those funds could have been better applied but chances are the backers of that project wouldn’t have supported anything else. They saw a project they liked and supported it,” he identified the real beneficiaries of the stadium.




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  5. Engagement with this regime is fraught with great ethical hazards, including the misuse of both money and technology. Take, for example, the Swiss-funded program to teach North Koreans scientists how to make the bio-insecticide Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt). According to the cited post, “teaching how to make Bt is essentially the same skill as teaching how to make anthrax.” Also, Pyongyang “could have imported the pesticide itself without restriction,” but went to a great deal of effort and expense to import sensitive technology, in violation of export controls, to create its own production facility. So apparently, not all of Pyongyang’s interest in biotechnology is purely humanitarian. I’m sure the Swiss donors had the best of intentions, but anyone who lacks a skeptical mind and a strong moral compass is likely to become a tool for some very dirty work, and no one who displays those qualities will be welcome in Pyongyang for long.




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  6. Mentioning the good intentions that no doubt plays a part in the backers motivation is very fair-minded. But I’m going to stick to my guns that monetary profit is probably the main thing. My opinion of expensive sports extravaganzas has darkened recently, what with the winter Sochi Olympics and the upcoming World Cup in Qatar. In both cases idealism and cultural exchange are being used as cover for some mind-boggling profit taking. (In the case of the Olympics, which I loved growing up, this is a very bitter realization.)




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  7. Wow, Felix–fantastic promo for your book and nice “everyday” shot of the average North Korean smiling in the pharma factory that you profited on! Funny how thousands of people, even those in the upper class, who have escaped the tyrannical despotic dictatorship have a markedly different story to tell than you. Too bad you weren’t around in the late 1930s to help spread German culture and goodwill throughout the world! I think greater European society really could have used your help back then to show “the true side of a misunderstood society”.




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  8. Felix has great confidence in Nork Empire rule of law, but he sorta forgot to mention that the Nork Empire very recently seized the assets of Orascom. Felix no doubt believes that the Nork Empire would never seize any of his assets located in the Nork Empire; somehow, I doubt any readers of / writers for One Free Korea share his confidence.

    Now, in fairness to Mr. Abt, maybe he finished his article before the Orascom news broke. If not – if the Orascom seizure increases his confidence in Nork Empire rule of law – I’d like to read his thinking on all this. Felix?




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