On Jan. 25, 2017 The Washington Post published an interview with ex-North Korean diplomat Thae Yong-ho, whose words may point to a possible end for North Korea as we know it.
In the interview Thae said, “I’ve known there was no future for North Korea for a long time.”
Thae was a deputy diplomat and is the highest ranking official to have defected from North Korea to this day. The South Korean government hinted that his escape was part of a string of elite defections from the North. From a historical standpoint it begs the question, how did North Korea end up in such a sticky situation?
According to news.sky.com, after WWII Japan was forced to leave the Korean province. With their newfound freedom and differing ideologies , Korea fell into the Korean Cold War in 1950. A communist regime in the North was supported by the Russians and eventually the Chinese while a group in the South received support from America, thereby segregating the two halves.
For the most part much hasn’t changed. While South Korea continues to advance in prosperity, the majority of the population in North Korea remains impoverished.
In his interview, Thae mentioned the reason why the people in North Korea haven’t overthrown the government in outraged rebellion. Simply, they don’t know better. They don’t know what life looks like outside North Korea. Internet is banned, radio and television only broadcast propaganda and the newspapers are filled with feats of the country’s great leaders.
However, this has been happening for nearly 70 years and people are waking up.
In the heart of North Korea exists a black market where one can illegally purchase western and South Korean movies, music, dramas etc. Admittedly, not all Western films are accurate in their portrayal of our culture but they do instill questions into the viewer who has never experienced another culture before.
Elite officials are also becoming aware of the perilous path of nuclear development their leader is following and, as Thae indicated, are “Very fanatical because it pushes North Korea into a corner of self-destruction,” which is why many have already defected.
History and international relations professor Christopher Banks surmised, “All the North Korean people need now is a way out. Since the government is so tight, the slightest warp in it will cause everything to collapse.”
Alumnus ('16) Stella Park added, “As a South Korean, I don’t mind North Koreans coming to South Korea seeking help because even though we might be under different governments, that doesn’t mean we’re not family. However, it’s hard to know what’s truly going on with North Korea since information is limited.”
Still, in the event the North Korean government does fall, it wouldn’t signify an end to oppression. In an analysis by The Asia-Pacific Journal, it was found that despite the South Korean government’s attempt to acclimatize escapees into daily life in South Korea, many refugees still experience hardship. In 2003, unemployment rate amongst North Korean immigrants was 41.1 percent. When North Korean immigrant kids were asked why they didn’t like South Korean schools they responded they got teased for being shorter and smaller than South Koreans counterparts, for their northern accent, not keeping with the fads and for being unsophisticated.
To say the North Korean people face a grim future would be an understatement, but that’s no reason to lose hope.
Banks revealed a scenario put in place by the Obama administration in which American business would be allowed in North Korea. This would cause economic globalization, maintaining of government elite for the time being, and creation of a middle class. It would allow for socioeconomic development and, eventually, democracy. However, this is speculation.
North Korea may not allow American businesses. Or, the American government may no longer be interested in furthering North Korean peace relations.
Only time will tell.
Sean Hendrix is a senior studying biomedical science.