By Cameron Gonzales
President Trump has become the first US President to step foot on North Korea territory. The President greeted Kim Jong-un by muttering two words, “my friend”. Trump has recently claimed that Obama “begged” to meet with the North Korean leader, which is adverse to the Obama administration’s policy to handle North Korea with “strategic patience,” refusing to directly engage with the regime until they ended their human rights abuses. At the time, the administration did not believe North Korea had the capacity to build nuclear weapons. Obama aimed to use diplomatic means, “so that they can get back on a path where they’re actually feeding their people”. Then President Obama also repeatedly refused to give in to Kim Jong-un’s numerous threats, stating, “Since I came into office, the one thing I was clear about was, we’re not going to reward this kind of provocative behavior. You don’t get to bang your spoon on the table and somehow you get your way”. So why has America historically steered clear of North Korea? What’s so bad about Kim Jong-un and the way his country operates?
North Korea has had a dictatorship since the 50’s, and since then, Kim Jong-un and his predecessors have ruled with an iron fist. The country has little contact with the outside world, and any discovery of foreign products will result in either execution or being put into one of their concentration/labor camps. If it is suspected that a woman may be pregnant with a half-Chinese baby, they are forced to abort the child. One instance included a 7-month pregnant woman who fought as hard as possible to prevent the inevitable. The guards were then ordered to throw the woman on the ground, place boards on her stomach, and jump up and down on them until the pregnancy was terminated. Sometimes they do not get to the woman before the baby is born, and the infant is fed to guard dogs or drowned. Forced abortion, though, is only one part of the system of torture and punishment for “betraying” the country.
In North Korea, Kim Jong-un is meant to be viewed as the most powerful being, therefore affiliation with religion is punished harshly. North Korea currently has 70,000 Christians in concentration/labor camps. Officials are instructed, “to wipe out the seed of [Christian] reactionaries,” persecuting citizens for something as simple as owning a bible. The government even offers rewards to any citizens that can offer any information that leads to the arrest and punishment of individuals practicing Christianity. Christians aren’t the only group persecuted, but most prisoners are there as a result of questioning or not admiring their leader in every aspect (including not keeping the required household pictures of Kim Jong-un and his predecessor immaculately clean).
The camps are a horrific staple of the regime, where 1,500-2,000 prisoners die per year. The majority of these deaths are children that die of malnutrition or being beaten to death for not meeting a quota on production. Prisoners are regularly publicly executed as a symbol of strength. Report after report outline the horrid practices of the regime that for so long have discouraged U.S. Presidents from engaging with the regime. While the camps are horrible, what faces citizens outside of them is still brutal. Citizens are constantly harassed by authorities, forced to pray, watch movies, and express fear only in the most secret of places, hoping their fellow citizens will not turn them in and lead to their execution. 18 million people (70% of the population) go hungry each day with no way out, and those that flee are often caught and returned to the country for their death or punishment. The disturbing details about North Korea are hard to find, as the regime is extremely secretive about their practices. The majority of the information in this article can be found in this UN Report and this Bar Report.
There is a reason why the U.S. has never called North Korean dictators our friends. While foreign policy seems far off, it reflects what our values are and what our allies think of us and our actions.