Lee Kwang Baek | Researcher, NKnet
1. Isn’t North Korea Democratization Movement provoking the Kim
Jong Il Regime and consequently worsening inter-Korean relations?
There has been an ongoing political and military confrontation
between North and South Korea, where their militaries are stationed
on each side of the 38th parallel and while North Korean defectors
receive settlement money once they set foot on South Korea, creating
a constantly hostile political environment. In other words, unintentionally,
a certain level of tension between the two Koreas always exists
due to the structure of the environment. Given the situation, the
argument that the North Korea democratization movement increases
the tension between the two Koreas is far from the reality.
Of course, South Korean government does not have to speak of regime
change in North Korea unless some dramatic incidents such as a coup
d?tat or mass uprising occurs in North Korea. This is because South
Korea’s mentioning of regime change will cause further conflict
with North Korea. However, North Korea will not be able to control
the movement in South Korea aroused at the civil level for democratization
in North Korea. In a free society like South Korea, the government
has no responsibility or the right to control the North Korean democratization
civil society movement. Under the constitutional and national law
of South Korea, the North Korean democratization movement is legal.
However, many made issue with the voluntary movement started by
the people for democracy in North Korea that is against the North
Korean regime. There were times when some broadcasters were not
allowed to report on visits to North Korea and other times when
they were threatened with terrorist attacks. While all this was
happening, what is important is the government’s position.
Regarding freedom of speech, one of the basic principles a democratic
society must protect, the government of South Korea must not compromise
with North Korea on such rights. However, under the Kim Dae Jung
administration’s embracing (engagement) policy, the South Korean
government was silent on North Korean demands for limiting South
Korean broadcasts about visiting North Korea for reports. If the
government continues to hold such a passive position for North Korea’s
unreasonable demands, they will eventually demand the South Korean
government to control the North Korea democratization movement as
What happened in the last Universiade (The World University Games)
in Daegu is another typical example of the passive government. As
we already know, North Korea threatened South Korea that it will
not participate because some people burnt the North Korean flag
and a picture of Kim Jong Il at a civil demonstration. President
Roh apologized and coaxed North Korea into participating in the
games. The fact that some people attempted to burn the national
flag of North Korea is a different matter, which must be dealt with
much more prudence, for it could be interpreted as the South Korean
people are against the existence of North Korea, including the North
Korean people in their entirety.
However, the president of the Republic of Korea is a person who
represents the nation, the constitution, and the people of the Republic
of Korea. He can make personal remarks as a politician or as a scholar
but it is inappropriate for him to express regrets to North Korea
for such an incident. Later during the ten-day World University
Game, there was an incident where an athlete from North Korea started
beating one of the demonstrators supporting North Korean democracy.
The problem was that the South Korean police only watched it happening,
which is incomprehensible. The South Korean police must protect
the citizens of South Korea, according to national law. Ever since,
the police continuously watch to keep people from burning the North
Korean flag, but this kind of police effort has no legal basis of
a lawful nation.
As we could see from many cases, there is no reason why the North
Korea democratization movement alone will heighten tensions between
the two Koreas. For example, although civil movements in the United
States condemning China’s human rights violations existed throughout
the time, they never affected Sino-U.S. relations.
On the contrary, the real problem is that North Korea is attempting
to put pressure on the social interest in North Korean human rights,
while it ignores South Korea’s democratic order and legal system.
Further problems lie in the South Korean government policy that
acknowledges North Korea’s inappropriate intervention.
2. Doesn’t the North Korea democratization movement make realization
of North Korean democracy more difficult by weakening the doves
and strengthening the hawks?
It is highly doubtful that weak and strong forces exist within
the North Korean regime. Kim Jong Il has absolute power over the
regime and shares power with no one. Thus, an existence of conflicts
in the regime over a certain government position is unquestionable.
Among the South Korean academics and some government bodies, there
were some who argued that different forces existed in North Korea
describing it as if there was a conflict between the hard-line North
Korean military department and soft-line North Korean military party,
but they could not trace any evidence to support their argument.
This “North Korean military hard-soft force theory” comes from
North Korean statements made during the South-North Korea summit
meetings which stated North Korea cannot comply with South Korea’s
demands due to the opinions of its hard-line military department.
For North Korea to openly reveal its internal conflicts in its politics
is suspicious in itself. It is more probable that North Korea is
unwilling to comply with South Korea’s demands, and North Korea
is blaming it on its military department.
Making excuses and blaming political bodies is a commonly used
strategy for North Korea. Previously, when Kim Jong Il expressed
his regrets regarding the Blue House Assault Incident and 8.18 Panmunjom
Ax Incident, he said they were “attempts of a few unionists in the
How would it be possible to plot assassination of the South Korean
president without having it known to Kim Jong Il? When Kim admitted
and expressed regret about Japanese abductees, he also said it was
something that he had not known about, that it was done by some
officials without his knowledge. Yet it has been confirmed several
times by North Korean defectors who were former abductors that abduction
was done by abductors who have received special government trainings
and appear as locals.
After the death of Kim Il Sung, North Korea has officially been
pursuing a “military first policy” and “great nation building.”
Their official statements proved nothing more than that their system
was an authoritarian regime and the military controls in their society.
Considering that Dear Leader Kim Jong Il is North Korea’s National
Defense Commission Chairman, it draws us to conclude that North
Korea is a Kim Jong Il- controlled nation. In North Korea, a theory
is already in place that stands above the “state first” Marxist
ideals, which is that the Great Leader is above the fundamentals
of communism. Taking this into account, existence of the two conflicting
political parties in North Korea would be the same as trying to
find a fish in the mountains. In North Korea’s military and state,
only the Kim Jong Il party exists.
If we assume that two opposing parties exist in North Korea, with
the continuous pressure for democracy from international society
including South Korea, there is a higher possibility that the soft
line party will gain more strength than the hard-line party. As
we have witnessed from history, whether it was a military dictatorship
or authoritarian regime, as outside pressure for democracy increases,
the soft-line party which tends to yield more to outside demands,
utilizes an engagement or appeasement policy.
Even in cases where the North Korea democratization movement strengthens
or gives rise to the will of the hard-line party in North Korea,
the current situation in North Korea is in its worst state, which
cannot become any more worse than the present. How much worse could
a nation’s state be than when 90% of the nation’s population desires
for war? For the North Koreans have nothing to lose than the chain
of slavery, talks of hard line - soft line in politics would be
nothing more than mere nonsense.
3. Thinking of the North Korean people’s sufferings, would not showing
“brotherly love” by humanitarian assistance be more appropriate
than the North Korea democratization movement?
Humanitarian Aid to the North Korean people is definitely necessary
to relieve their sufferings and also for emotional bonding between
the South and North Korean people after reunification. Therefore
we must encourage sending humanitarian aid to North Korea. However,
supporting humanitarian aid and supporting the North Korean democracy
movement are two different matters. In other words, humanitarian
aid does not affect the North Korea democratization movement, nor
does it encourage it. Moreover, humanitarian aid cannot replace
the North Korean democratization movement.
First of all, humanitarian aid to North Korea is for the basic
survival of the North Korean people. Humanitarian aid has its limits
in that it does not question the political oppression or human rights
violation taking place in North Korea. Furthermore, civil organizations
involved in providing humanitarian assistance to North Korea are
constrained in their activities in order to be able to send aid
to the North Korean people. If one of the organizations criticizes
Kim Jong Il, its route to North Korea will be blocked immediately.
Therefore, it is absolutely necessary that they are silent about
the problems in North Korea if they wish to continue sending humanitarian
aid to the North Korean people.
Second of all, a decade long food crisis is unquestionably a political
problem. At the start of the food crisis, North Korea’s explanation
for its severe food shortage that led to millions of deaths was
“natural disaster,” but despite international aid, its food situation
did not improve at all. In logical sense, even without understanding
North Korea’s political system, it is not hard to make an educated
guess that there is something very wrong with North Korea that cannot
be exclusively due to natural disaster.
Apart from lack of technology and machinery for productive agricultural
activities, one of the fundamental reasons for the North Korean
food crisis is the North Korean people’s loss of motivation for
labor. Even during times of the worst food shortage, people were
not able to eat the food they produced. They had to turn in all
they worked for to the state, and wait until the state distributed
the food to them, which was the same amount of food the city people
received. The real problem was that the distribution was rarely
done. In such cases, how could farmers be motivated to work hard?
This phenomenon was not only faced by North Korea, but other former
socialist states confronted it as well. The states such as China
and Vietnam were able to solve the problem only through reform,
which was by granting rights to food produced to the farmers.
However, the North Korean regime did not implement agricultural
reform even when they faced the deaths of three million people,
fearing that greater freedom of farmers which will be granted through
the reform could create a possibility of political instability.
In that case, they should have spent its money on feeding people,
buying food from foreign countries, but their expenditures exclusively
remained on weapons, combat aircraft, nuclear development, and idolization
of Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il.
The North Korean regime already thinks that it is the international
community’s responsibility to feed the North Korean people. Instead
of feeling grateful about all the aid they receive from the international
community, they are still playing games. As a result, humanitarian
aid to North Korea, although necessary, does not contribute to solving
any fundamental problems.
Furthermore, food sent to North Korea is primarily distributed
to the military, and some are extracted by high class officials
to be sold in the black markets, which we have discovered to be
true through hundreds of repeated testimonies of North Korean defectors.
For this reason, the U.S. and South Korea started to request transparency
and verification of where and how the food is distributed in North
Korea, but it is doubtful if transparency will ever take place.
This is because the North Korean government used tricks such as
distributing food to the people when there were foreign watchers,
but when they were gone, officials went out and collected the food
back. In a society where no freedom exists, even such purely good
hearted humanitarian aid has no place in taking effect.