A blog by Grant Montgomery, co-founder of Family Care Foundation, a 501c3 that provides emergency services and sustained development for families on 5 continents. This site highlights the plight of 300,000 North Koreans who have fled their country due to the brutal oppression of a Stalinist North Korean regime, as well as those still living in North Korea.
The Korea Federation of SMEs and the Unification Ministry on Tuesday pledged to create job opportunities for North Korean defectors in preparation for reunification.
The federation’s chairman Park Sung-taek and Unification Minister Hong Yong-pyo are to sign a memorandum of understanding on Wednesday.
The two sides agreed to cooperate in offering job opportunities to defectors through the federation’s members and to conduct joint research on small and medium-sized enterprises in preparation for reunification.
They will also try to raise awareness among SMEs of issues related to possible reunification at a variety of events.
The tale of 45-year-old Kim Ryen-hei, a North Korean living in South Korea, is both extraordinary and strange. Kim told Al Jazeera that she came to South Korean against her will, and she desperately wants to go back to her home to reunite with her family in Pyongyang, a request refused by the South Korean authorities.
In 2011, Kim traveled from North Korea to China to get treatment for her worsening liver cirrhosis. However, she found out that her medical expenses were too high. Her brokers refused to give her North Korean passport back. She was told that she could make enough money to cover her medical expenses and go back to China if she worked in South Korea for two to three months.
She then decided to ask South Korea to send her back, but there is no mechanism or precedent in place for South Korea to send back North Korean “defectors” in such cases. After a long questioning process by the South Korean intelligence authorities, and rehabilitation training for new North Korea defectors, she finally applied for a South Korean passport, which was rejected and her name was added to a watch list by the intelligence authorities.
“I attempted to stowaway on a boat and managed to get a false passport. I even spent time in jail,” Kim said. In the hope of getting deported, she says she started to collect private information about North Korean defectors in the South, while reporting her “espionage” activities to the authorities, which got her convicted of violating the National Security Law.
Pastor Choi Jae-bong who is helping Kim told Al Jazeera: “This whole situation does not make sense. She is from North Korea and she got convicted for espionage. But, the South Korean government has been providing her with [the same] housing and living allowance for North Korean defectors.”
Now, her only hope is a proposed family reunion event this month. But getting onto the list is close to impossible. Of the 66,000 South Koreans on the waiting list, more than half of them are in their 80s and 90s, and only a few hundred will get a chance each time. Kim said she understands the reality, but she added: “I just want to be with my family.”
Both his father and grandfather, Kim Jong-Il and Kim Il-sung, ruled North Korea for more than two decades, maintaining their control through brutal national and local party purges.
But the 2013 purge may have cost the 32-year-old dictator, according to the defector. The purge and allegedly public execution of his uncle, Jang Song Thaek, meant the population had lost trust in their leader “by witnessing him being willing to kill his own uncle.”
“I can tell you for sure, the North Korean regime will collapse within 10 years,” he claimed.
Between 2008 and 2013, between 2,400 and 2,900 people defected annually from North Korea. In 2014 the number dropped significantly (to 1,396) as results of a slightly improved economy and increased propaganda, analysts believe.
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un held talks with Cuban First Vice President Miguel Diaz-Canel, marking Kim’s first meeting with a senior foreign leader in more than the two years. He has yet to travel overseas since taking power in late 2011.
Kim said the visit by a Cuban delegation headed by Diaz-Canel is of “weighty significance in instilling the history and tradition of the friendship” between the two countries “into the rising generation,” during the meeting in Pyongyang on Monday, according to the North’s official Korean Central News Agency.
Diaz-Canel is the highest ranked official from overseas that Kim has held talks with since he met with Chinese Vice President Li Yuanchao in July 2013 in Pyongyang.
This year marks the 55th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between North Korea and Cuba. The latest meeting shows North Korea’s continued close ties with Cuba, which restored full diplomatic relations with the United States in July after being severed for more than five decades.
Kim and his wife, Ri Sol-ju, also hosted for the delegation a concert by the Moranbong Band, a North Korean all-female music group, and the State Merited Chorus, according to KCNA.
How does North Korea get from an information revolution to an actual people-in-the-streets-and-toppled-statues revolution?
I pose that question to North Korean defector Kang Chol-hwan. He admits there’s not a simple answer, but he offers a few scenarios he considers plausible: The government, for instance, could sense the disconnect between its propaganda and the people’s foreign-media education and launch its own reforms, the kind of gradual opening that took place in Russia and China. Or a disillusioned populace could begin defecting en masse, forcing a border control crisis. Or some spark, like the self-immolation of Tunisian street vendor Mohammed Bouazizi, could coalesce disillusioned North Koreans into their own Arab Spring, a full-scale grassroots uprising.
But then Kang surprises me by admitting that all those scenarios are unlikely: The Kim regime is too blind and stubborn to initiate its own reforms, he says, and its totalitarian grip may be too tight for a bottom-up revolution. [Nevertheless] he predicts … North Korea’s dictatorship will end within a decade. “They’re already cracking,” he says. “In less than 10 years, I’ll be able to freely go in and out.”
That nakedly idealistic statement, beyond its tinge of wishful thinking, seems to reveal something new about how Kang sees his goal. In spite of all his childhood horrors, he wants to transform North Korea not simply into a nation that will let his countrymen go free, but one that will let him back in: He wants to go home again.
Kang spent his childhood in North Korean prison camps, where his sister may still be today. “This is the best way—the only way for me—to open North Korea,” Kang finally says. “Every day until then is a delay to seeing my family again.”
When China celebrates its World War II “victory day” in a spectacular parade of military might Thursday, President Xi Jinping’s “true friends” will be there.
That includes Xi’s closest Korean friend. Not Kim Jong Un, the leader of North Korea, a country once described as being “as close as lips and teeth” with China.
No, it’s South Korean President Park Geun-hye who will be in attendance as 10,000 Chinese troops march through Tiananmen Square and fighter jets roar overhead, celebrating the Allies’ victory on the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II.
Kim Jong Un also didn’t attend the equivalent celebrations in May in Russia, North Korea’s other main ally, prompting speculation that the scion of a personality cult didn’t want to share the spotlight with other world leaders for his first overseas foray.
That same logic could apply in the case of China’s commemorations. Or, it could be the latest sign of the political chill between the neighbors.
The bonds between the countries weakened over the decades as China opened up and North Korea resolutely did not. But the cracks turned into chasms at the last change of leadership, with Kim succeeding his father at the end of 2011 and Xi becoming the leader of China about a year later.
“In the past, North Korea was like a dog that we raised. China could just feed it some meat and it would behave and listen to us,” said a taxi driver here in Yanji who gave only his family name, Cui. “But now the dog has turned into a wolf and it bites. It doesn’t listen to China anymore. Meat won’t keep it under control.”