A second group, as yet an unspecified number, of North Koreans working at a restaurant outside North Korea have escaped their workplace and will come to South Korea, South Korean officials said Tuesday.
The announcement follows earlier South Korean media reports that two or three female employees at a North Korean-run restaurant in China fled and went to an unidentified Southeast Asian country.
It’s the second known group escape by North Korean restaurant workers dispatched abroad in recent weeks. In April, a group of 13 North Koreans who had worked at a North Korean-run restaurant in the eastern Chinese city of Ningbo defected to South Korea. After the 13 workers – a male manager and 12 waitresses – arrived in Seoul in April, Pyongyang claimed they were kidnapped by South Korean spies and repeatedly demanded their return. South Korea said the workers chose to resettle in the South on their own.
New Focus, a Seoul-based online news outlet run by a North Korean defector, was among the first to break the news Monday. It said the group comprised three women in their 20s who had worked at a North Korean-run restaurant near Shanghai.
The Koreans are fiercely independent folk, ethnocentric to the extreme, nationalists for whom Korea is above all and the Koreans are a race apart.
Actually, in this (and many other) aspect they are quite similar to the Japanese, their neighbors and former colonial masters for some forty years. But the Japanese went through seventy years of Americanization, westernization, liberalization and demilitarization after their defeat in 1945. The unreconstructed Koreans retained their national pride, so they are more similar to the Japanese of 1930s.
We must keep in mind the most cruel Korean War of the cruel Twentieth Century, for otherwise we can’t understand the Korean character. During the Korean War, the American command “turned its fury on all standing structures … cities and towns all over North Korea went up in flames [until] Pyongyang resembled Hiroshima”, says Encyclopedia Britannica. The US dropped more ordnance on defenseless Korea than it did on Germany or Japan.
Kim I (Kim Il Sung) began pursuit of nuclear weapons. I’ve been told that he decided it had to be done after the Cuban missile crisis. … And I’ve been told by many Koreans that since the Korean War, North Koreans have lived in constant fear they will be nuked by the US. For them, an H-bomb is the only guarantee against a possible US attack.
Just a few months ago the US and their South Korean allies, some four hundred thousand troops altogether, practiced the conquest of Pyongyang and elimination of the North Korean government. Imagine if Russia were to land nearly half a million soldiers in Cuba and begin to practice how to sack Washington and destroy the White House! The US fleet would come all over Cuba in a jiffy. So one can definitely understand why the North Korean leadership is worried.
The North Koreans aren’t brainwashed zombies, but perfectly human, though they belong to a very distinct and different culture. Whenever I had an occasion, I had a couple of beers with locals in a local pub, where all tried to offer me another mug of their perfect natural brew. Again, the Koreans are cautious but not paranoid in their contacts with foreigners. … And they are fond of beer.
[The Unz Review]
For foreigners who visit North Korea, minders are a constant presence. Besides translating, they tell journalists and tourists where they can and can’t go, and impart the official line on everything from relations with the U.S. to the proper way to refer to the regime’s leaders. And they have a few pet peeves:
What to Call the Country. North Korea is not North Korea. Rather, it is the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, DPR Korea or DPRK. Completely out of bounds is “the hermit kingdom”; minders say the term is deeply insulting to them. South Korea, with whom a war in the 1950s culminated in an uneasy truce, is known in print as “south Korea,” with the south in lower case.
How to Address Leaders. North Korea has a government, but there are only three people who really matter–and two of them are dead. Kim Il Sung, who founded the country and died in 1994, is often “eternal president,” or “great general.” His son Kim Jong Il is “chairman” or “dear leader.” Kim Jong Un, who took power after his father passed away in late 2011, may be called “supreme leader” or “dear respected”.
Those Kim Pins. All North Koreans wear a pin over their left breast featuring the face of Kim Il Sung or Kim Jong Il–or both. The most common one is a shining red flag with the two men’s portraits. But don’t call them pins. That word undermines their significance. As one minder said after consulting translation software on his phone, they are “badges.” continued
The United States. Mentioning the U.S. can result in a long lecture. There is no such thing as U.S. relations, only “hostile U.S. policy.” Any hardship faced by North Korea is the fault of the U.S. and its “puppet” South Korea.
North Korea’s Nukes. Asked his thoughts on ties, Om Myong Chin, a 57-year-old who works at a battery factory, said: “If the U.S. government stops its hostile policy against our country, with time relations might improve.” The minders were quick to agree.
Difficult Questions. A minder’s frequent answer to a question is: “That is a difficult question.” Difficult questions include: “Why am I not allowed to go out of the hotel by myself?” Answer: “People’s bad emotions about the U.S. are running high and I might not be able to protect you.” Questions that might suggest criticism of the leaders are often not translated or acknowledged.
When a Minder is Not a Minder. “The minder’s job is to hide the embarrassing inner side of North Korean society from the eyes of outsiders,” said Ahn Chan Il, a North Korean defector. Minders don’t want to be called minders. “I am not minding you,” said one. “We are guiding you. Please call me your guide.”
Kim Jong Un has yet to earn the grudging respect of ordinary North Koreans, according to North Korean defector and activist Jeong Kwang-il. Jeong says most North Koreans who do not curry favor with the regime do not refer to him as the “General” or the “Supreme Leader.”
In the past, North Korean leaders were addressed with honorifics, Jeong said. “But nowadays when I speak to North Koreans on the phone, they just call him ‘Jong Un,’ the way one would refer to a friend,” Jeong said.
That trend could be frustrating to the young Kim, who recently was declared “Chairman” during North Korea’s Seventh Party Congress. But the lack of reforms and improvement to people’s lives could be having a greater effect on perceptions of Kim in the country.
Jeong also said that defector activism, including the delivery of South Korean videos such as films of resettled defectors in the South, flash drives of western movies and memory cards for mobile phones, are making an impact on North Korean understanding of the outside world.
Disillusioned with the regime after viewing the media, some North Koreans have started to call the leader “that guy Jong Un” or sometimes “that kid,” according to Jeong.
There’s evidence North Koreans are no longer afraid to breach rules of conduct, the activist said.
With his consolidation of power completed at the recent Party Congress, Kim Jong-Un seems to have successfully managed the generation change in North Korea, a tricky affair anywhere.
Foreign bystanders reported that the people were visibly excited to see the young Kim, and even passing by the tribunes they tried to linger and wave flowers and banners in his direction.
Kim Jong-Un appeared in a dark double-breasted jacket and an elegant light tie instead of Mao-style military wear usual for Korean officials. The jacket was to remind the North Korean people of Kim Il Sung, his venerated grandfather, who first appeared in a very similar wear in liberated Pyongyang.
An attorney at the South Korean intelligence office said all of the North Koreans who defected after working at a restaurant in China are all healthy, dismissing North Korean government’s argument that they were abducted and protesting with hunger strikes.
Park Young-sik, who serves at the North Korean refugees protection center under the National Intelligence Service (NIS) as a human rights defender, discussed the individual interviews she carried out with the 12 female defectors over the weekend.
“I can say clearly that all of the 13 defectors are all healthy, don’t have any problem,” said Park. Park emphasized that the defectors hope “to be forgotten” by the public.
“What’s going to happen for a defector’s family if the defector’s motivation and process of defection is revealed?” Park told the Chosun Ilbo on the same day.
Excerpt from an article by Rupert Wingfield-Hayes, BBC correspondent detained in North Korea:
[After being stopped at the airport, while departing North Korea] I was told that my reporting had insulted the Korean people, and that I needed to admit my mistakes. They produced copies of three articles that had been published on the BBC website, as I reported on the visit of the Nobel laureates.
“Do you think Korean people are ugly?” the older man asked.
“No,” I answered.
“Do you think Korean people have voices like dogs?”
“No,” I answered again.
“Then why do you write these things?!” he shouted.
I was confused. What could they mean? One of the articles was presented to me, the offending passage circled in black marker pen:
“The grim-faced customs officer is wearing one of those slightly ridiculous oversized military caps that they were so fond of in the Soviet Union. It makes the slightly built North Korean in his baggy uniform comically top heavy. “Open,” he grunts, pointing at my mobile phone. I dutifully punch in the passcode. He grabs it back and goes immediately to photos. He scrolls through pictures of my children skiing, Japanese cherry blossom, the Hong Kong skyline. Apparently satisfied he turns to my suitcase. “Books?” he barks. No, no books. “Movies?” No, no movies. I am sent off to another desk where a much less gruff lady is already looking through my laptop.”
“Are they serious?” I thought. They had taken “grim-faced” to mean “ugly”, and the use of the word “barks” as an indication that I thought they sounded like dogs.
“I have studied English literature,” he said. “Do you think I do not understand what these expressions mean? … They began going through my articles word by word – finding offence in almost every one. But the words were not important; they were ammunition to throw at me, to force me to confess.
North Korea has named a career diplomat and ex-nuclear envoy with broad experience in negotiating with rivals South Korea and the United States as its new foreign minister. Some South Korean analysts say former Vice Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho’s appointment could be part of a bid to revive long-stalled diplomacy and improve ties with the outside world.
Critics say that North Korea turns to empty diplomatic gestures only after ratcheting up animosity in an attempt to win concessions and aid. North Korean diplomats also reportedly take a back seat to the generals and their hard-line policies in tense times.
Ri has served as the North’s top envoy to stalled six-nation disarmament talks on his country’s nuclear weapons program and participated in talks with the United States in the 1990s. He also served as North Korea’s ambassador in London.
[Note: North Korea’s ruling elite includes another person called “Ri Yong Ho” in English, though his name in Korean is slightly different from the new foreign minister’s. This other Ri Yong Ho served as the country’s army chief before his abrupt dismissal in 2012, and has not appeared in the North’s media since.]
Canadian citizen Hyeon Soo Lim was convicted in December of plotting to overthrow the North Korean government, and since then has languished in a hard labor camp. The 62-year-old senior pastor of the Toronto-area Light Korean Presbyterian Church has lost weight and is slower in his responses.
Ottawa says it is doing everything in its power to get Lim out of prison and in the interest of his case, it won’t divulge many details on its exact efforts to make that happen. Canadian consular officials have visited him twice in Pyongyang where he is serving a life sentence.
But frustration is growing among Canadians tracking the case who say Ottawa is “too silent,” and should take the initiative and engage and pressure North Korea more directly on setting Lim free. What’s necessary, said several people contacted by CBC News, is a well-tested U.S.-style intervention that combines contact and pressure.
“It’s clear as day what needs to be done,” said the Canadian source. “The prime minister has to write a letter to the chairman [North Korean leader Kim Jong-un] requesting release or pardon.” A higher-level emissary could also travel to Pyongyang to negotiate with the leadership there, said the source.
American missionary Kenneth Bae, who was convicted of subversion in North Korea, is also advising that Ottawa do more. He is in Toronto this week to raise the profile of Lim’s case. “[The North Koreans] want some sort of gesture from the Canadian government to save their face. They need an excuse to let him go.”
Lim appeared in an interview with CNN earlier this year. Bae says allowing the interview was a clear signal to Ottawa that they were willing to negotiate.