Friday, August 15, 2014

Snowed by Kim Jong-il

A few years ago, a visiting scholar to our city gave a lecture on North Korea. He had been to visit North Korea, and he declared that the USA wasn't doing enough to engage with North Korea.

Now, I spent two weeks working at the US Embassy in Seoul during a time when the USA was trying to have six-party talks with North Korea. But North Korea wanted only bilateral talks, in keeping with an apparent pattern of trying to extort money from the USA. It appeared to me that this visiting scholar was not presenting an accurate picture of the USA's attempts to negotiate with North Korea and that he might have been unwisely swayed by the apparent sincerity and possibility of good will from the North Koreans as well as flattered by having been granted access to North Korea.

Fast forward to the just-released memoir of a North Korean defector who had inside knowledge of what Kim Jong-il was up to. Kim Jong-il, who built up the personality cult around his father while stripping away his father's power and taking it for himself, feasted royally--the invidual courses were even specially lit with customized, colored lighting--while government propagandists told the country how he was sharing their hunger and living off mere rice balls. Foreign aid was being given to party officials to keep them loyal while the regular North Koreans starved to death, even being driven to sell their children on occasion. Fake Christian churches were set up in Pyongyang to make it look like religion was freely practiced and to receive donations from South Korean churches, but when a regular North Korean showed up to enjoy the hymns, he was turned in by a "cleric" to the police and arrested.

Diplomacy was never sincere; it was all about counterintelligence work:
The United States negotiates as a matter of diplomacy, to seek common ground on an issue; but when North Korea comes to the table, it's a counterintelligence operation. In other words, North Korea uses dialogue as a tools of deception rather than of negotiation, with the objective being the maintenance of misplaced trust in the other party. And why not? North Korea's opacity is its greatest strength. It allows things to be done on its own terms while other countries continue to take what North Korea says at face value. In fact, Kim Jong-il formally set these three principles as a basis for diplomatic engagment: 'The United States will buy any lie, as long as it is logically presented'; 'Japan is susceptible to emotional manipulation'; and 'South Korea can be ignored or blackmailed.' (p. 252)

My suspicion that the visiting scholar was unwisely influenced has now been cemented. To be blunt, I think the North Koreans snowed him.