Monday, October 23, 2006

Bribing North Korea...

(Image from Wikipedia)

Norimitsu Onishi has written a fascinating article, "Defections for sale," that appears in The International Herald Tribune (October 19, 2006).

As the title implies, the successful defector need only have sufficient money for paying human smugglers and bribing border guards. Defectors with relatives outside of North Korea have their source of funds, of course, but I suspect that money also comes by way of Christian missionaries from South Korea who are operating near the North Korean border in northeastern China, where many ethnic Koreans live.

Bribing the Korean border guards seems awfully easy to do:

Lee Chun- hak, a 19-year-old North Korean, went to the Chinese border to meet with a North Korean money trafficker. Using the trafficker's Chinese cellphone, Lee talked to his mother, who had defected to South Korea in 2003. She told him she was going to get him out.

Lee missed his mother and his sister and brother, and he had a persistent, if half-formed, desire. "I wanted to go to a country that is more developed," he said, "even more developed than South Korea."

In June, a young North Korean man appeared suddenly at his home with a message: "Mother is looking for you." The man then took him by bicycle and foot to the border and handed him over to a North Korean soldier. At the soldier's direction, Lee was ordered to leave his identification card and his Kim Il Sung badge, which is worn by all North Koreans to honor the nation's founder.

The soldier then escorted Lee across the Tumen River, where on the other side two Chinese men in plainclothes handed the soldier his bribe. Lee was free to go.

The increasing ease with which people are able to buy their way out of North Korea suggests that, beneath the images of goose-stepping soldiers in Pyongyang, the capital, the government's still-considerable ability to control its citizens is diminishing, according to North Korean defectors, brokers, South Korean Christian missionaries and other experts on the subject.
Money talks, even in North Korea, and it's now beginning to outtalk the ideology. This is the good corruption that capitalist engagement with North Korea can engender, which is why I support some form of engagement with the North -- a sunshine policy predicated upon tough love rather than the permissive sort that we've seen, but still a policy of engagement.

Yet -- you may say -- the North is already being undermined through China's engagement. The 'open' border there allows increasing trade not only in goods but also in ideas, and the money plus the ideas are already 'corrupting' the North's juche bureaucracy, so why should South Korea do anything at all?

In short, because it should be doing everything possible to make North Korea dependent upon the South rather than letting it become ever more dependent upon China.

I could say a lot more about this, but since yesterday evening, blogger has been suffering from posting problems too boring to explain.


At 2:52 PM, Blogger GI Korea said...

I tend to have the same feelings in regards to engagement. I think the engagement through the defectors and Christian missionaries has done much more to undermine the Kim regime than the easy bribe money given to Kim Jong-il through the Kaesong and Kumgang projects. The defector engagement is more successful because the bribe money doesn't go to the Kim regime but to others in the frontier areas of North Korea thus reducing regime influence in those areas. Like you said, this is good corruption.

At 3:27 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Right, this is good corruption because it's undermining an evil system.

Still, I think that there's a role for the South to play if it only would. I support a tough-love sunshine policy, but the Uri Party seems unable to undertake it because they are reflexively anti-American and reflexively pro-leftist.

(And by "reflexively," I mean not "reflectively," but in a kneejerk fashion.)

My wife supported Roh Moo-hyun when he first ran because we identified with him as someone who had overcome personal adversity and had worked to defend human rights ... but we've been sorely disappointed.

Jeffery Hodges

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