North Korea is one big prison camp. When I visited it two years ago, it was the closest I had ever been to absolute evil. I was therefore greatly surprised to see so many celebrate the handshake between the President of South Korea, and Kim Yo Jong, sister of North Korean tyrant Kim Jong Un and one of the concentration camp guards-in-chief.
In North Korea there is no individual freedom whatsoever. All are subject to the “common good”; which is whatever the leaders decide it to be. The North Korean state decides whether you study, what you study, where you work, which job you get, where you live, in what sort of house you live, whether you are allowed to travel to visit friends or family, what you do with your spare time, what you eat and drink, where you socialise, what you read, and what you see on television.
If you try to escape North Korea you will be shot, and your family will be thrown in an actual concentration camp which nobody is supposed to leave alive. Today, North Korean prison camps house 240,000 people (one per cent of the population – down from 400,000, presumably because the others died). The death penalty is just another routine punishment in North Korea. There is no recourse to even a semblance of due process of law: the authorities decide over life and death at will.
Throughout their lives, North Koreans carry a booklet which spells out their social background and all their “misdemeanours”. In the 1950s Kim Il Sung, grandfather of the current tyrant, had the entire population classified into three classes: from reliable to unreliable class. People inherit this “class”; ie, their perceived adherence or objection to the regime. Privileges or sanctions are meted out in accordance with this class. During the state-induced famine of the 1990s, many “unreliables” starved to death, as the state stopped handing out food to them. An estimated two to three million people died in that state-induced famine.
North Korea is not just totalitarian, it is also the epitome of a communist state. In the 1950s, the leaders realised full well that private property is the best guarantee of individual freedom. So they abolished it. Industries and shops were nationalised, property taxed away, and many property owners killed. Today, keeping a market stall is punishable by death.
I witnessed some of the outrages myself, but information on all of this is widely available online. In 2015, Human Rights Watch said: “A devastating report by the Commission of Inquiry established by the United Nations Rights Council concluded that the North Korea government has committed systematic human rights abuses at a scale without parallel in the contemporary world – including extermination, murder, enslavement, torture, imprisonment, rape, forced abortions and other sexual violence.”
One would assume that shaking hands with one of the guards of this country-wide prison camp at the Winter Olympics would engulf the world with revulsion. But no. In a total perversion of its self-proclaimed “defence of the oppressed” status, some on the Left have embraced this “thaw”; this “working towards peace”. The “good news” was splashed out all over the world’s media. With a fair bit of glee, too, because the newfound love and peace looked like sticking up the finger to President Donald Trump, the most vociferous opponent the North Korean prison camp has faced for decades.
But should we not aim for a peaceful relationship with North Korea? There are at least 10 reasons why this is a terrible idea:
First, peaceful relations with the North Korean regime mean that a slave state is given the seal of international approval. This is morally reprehensible. Secondly, peaceful relations signal to the North Korean population that all opposition is futile, as no help will come from outside. In a country where entire families are put to death for small signs of opposition by just one individual, outside help is essential to promote any chance of popular change. In the third place, North Korea has used the peace carrots many times before to obtain foreign aid. It ratchets up tension, and the West always ends up sending aid in return for peace. The apparent amnesia of many internationalists about this fact is baffling.
Another point is that North Korea does not report aid-for-peace to its population. To them, the state keeps up the myth of still being at war with the West. This legitimises maintaining the garrison economy and the tight state security; and maintains some popular support for the regime against the “common enemy”.
In addition, in the past temporary peace has always been used by North Korea to strengthen its army and its economy, resulting in the concentration camp being kept open for business for longer.
The sixth reason why appeasing North Korea is that it is inconceivable that the regime will give up its nuclear weapons; and so the toppling of the regime can only come from outside (its army and population being subject to the terror described above, and to regular purges). A seventh point is that ultimately, North Korea is China’s puppet. The North Korean regime stands or falls at the say-so of China. Virtually all North Korean trade is with China. If the regime in Pyongyang is kept in place, it is because China wills it so.
We can guess at China’s reasons for maintaining the North Korean prison camp: that China wishes to maintain a buffer between itself and the United States – something that would disappear if North and South Korea were to merge. At the same time, North Korea keeps America busy, giving China scope for expansion in the South China Sea. Dealing with North Korea directly, therefore, is futile.
What’s more, normalising the North Korean slave state gives moral support to hard-line communists worldwide who admire its total submission of the individual to the collective. The penultimate reason is related: as history taught us again and again, if you appease tyrants, they just take more. Normal rules of civilised behaviour (or diplomacy) do not apply with oppressors.
A final, superficially appealing, point is that appeasers believe that peace with North Korea could prevent the whole area from being turned into an apocalyptic disaster zone. Unlike the North Korean dictatorship, we in the West care for the survival of individuals. But it’s an illusory hope. What guarantee is there? With tyrants, the direction of a country swings with the mood of the tyrant. The past has shown that North Korea has had a number of “mood swings”. Any peace with North Korea would therefore not be worth the paper it was written on. Kim Jong-Un could change his mind the next day.
Those on the Left who applauded the handshake, merely because it annoys President Donald Trump, may want to consider whether being flippant about the lives of 24 million prisoners is a good idea. There is a moral case to end the North Korean dictatorship. How this will come about, I do not know. But appeasing a tyrant has never ended a tyranny.