October 11, 2005

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Kang Cheol Hwan talk notes

Cross-posted at Andrés Gentry.

On September 27 Kang Cheol Hwan gave a talk and question and answer session at the Graduate School of International Relations and Pacific Studies at UCSD.  He spent 10 years in a concentration camp in North Korea and after escaping North Korea eventually became a journalist for the Chosun Ilbo.  He is on a speaking tour of the United States talking about conditions in North Korea as well as promoting his book, The Aquariums of Pyongyang.  His speaking tour is sponsered by LiNK (blog)and Freedom House.  I attended his talk and following are the notes I took.  Any errors are mine alone.

Professor Stephan Haggard

1.    Three issues

  • Prison system:  approximately 200,000 political prisoners which is approximately 1% of the population
  • Food: 1993 began famine, conditions have yet to ease substantially
  • Refugees
    • People moved to find food: north to China: 30,000 – 200,000 refugees

    • Has become more difficult in recent years

2.    Introduce speaker: Kang Cheol Hwan

  • At age 9 family was sent to political prison for 10 years
  • In 1992 escaped, now works for Chosun Ilbo as a journalist

Speaker: Kang Cheol Hwan: translator’s name unknown

1.    Escaped so as to reveal the concentration camps of DPRK
2.    When 1st went to China was surprised by its freedom

  • Even more surprised by ROK’s level of freedom

3.    DPRK government continues to educate its people that USA is a terrible country
4.    Has thought how to reveal truth of the outside world to North Koreans, to explain USA protects human rights
5.    Speaking tour is to explain how human rights are violated in DPRK
6.    “How come North Koreans don’t protest their conditions”: most common question he hears
7.    When visited Holocaust Museum in DC realized similarities between Holocaust and DPRK

  • Hitler, Stalin, DPRK: all had concentration camps
  • Kim Il Sung’s death: DPRK was supposed to change afterwards but it actually got worse under Kim Jung Il

8.    There are 6 concentration camps in DPRK
9.    His grandfather lived in Japan and returned: that is why his family was incarcerated
10.    Those who helped USA in Korean War and Christians imprisoned, even their grandchildren
11.    After 3 months in camp he nearly died of starvation
12.    Korea has good environment: people shouldn’t starve to death
13.    3 steps in malnourishment

  • 1st: skin around eyes peels off, belly gets big, becomes difficult to go to the bathroom
  • 2nd: try to eat anything: bugs, worms, snakes, mice

14.    Ate meat once in concentration camp: it was a mouse.  Children roasted it, it was the best food he’s ever had

  • Children would eat anything, adults didn’t and so starved

15.    In winter ground is frozen so graves are shallow.  In spring the bodies reemerge: thought if there is a hell then this is the place
16.    1966: DPRK went to World Cup quarterfinal

  • The day before the game they went to a bar and didn’t perform well the next day and lost.  When they returned to DPRK they were disappeared.  A famous player was sent to concentration camp.  In order to survive he ate all the bugs he could find.  He especially like cockroaches, hence his name “cockroach”.

17.    Public executions

  • DPRK still has them
  • 1998: Agriculture Secretary was executed: blamed for the mid-1990s famine: accused of collaborating with USA to make the famine
  • Executions happen every day in DPRK
  • In DPRK day before execution they are beaten
  • Before execution mouth is stuffed with cotton to prevent yelling, now rocks are stuffed in their mouths, breaking their teeth, because they still yelled against Kim Jong Il
  • North Koreans who always see this can’t think of protesting

18.    South Koreans who protested for freedom would not be able to do that in DPRK
19.    DPRK is not unique: Nazi Germany and USSR did the same

  • When totalitarianism and a single ruler exist then mass executions occur
  • But DPRK is currently the only country that kills masses of people

20.    ROK and international community don’t care about this problem
21.    No one saved Jews from Hitler’s concentration camps
22.    As a journalist, he still hears from DPRK but now it’s different then when he was there

  • Now the economy is totally collapsed
  • DPRK has no electricity: only one dot at night can be seen from space

23.    “Why is DPRK starving?”: he wants to answer that if North Koreans were given freedom they would find food
24.    International food didn’t save any North Koreans

  • Commoners get no food, only army
  • Army is approximately 1.5 million
    • Even with economic prosperity it would be hard to support so many soldiers

25.    Given current government, there is no way food aid will go to the common people

  • Even after 8 years of food aid: DPRK is just trying to rebuild the old system so people still die

26.    Instead should pressure for human rights instead of giving food aid
27.    Korean Peninsula and USA have special relationship
28.    38,000 US soldiers died in Korean War: This debt helped build up ROK economy
29.    He hopes DPRK soon gets freedom and good relationship with USA and human rights
30.    If American people get interested in human rights then their government will also be interested

Questions and Answers: translator: Adrian Hong: Executive Director of LiNK

1.    Comment on defectors’ lives in South Korea: jobs, discrimination?

  • Even for educated people adjustment is difficult because educational systems are so different
  • Now so many defectors in ROK so that South Koreans are no longer interested

2.    Are there no uprisings?

  • In fact there are many
  • Last year’s train explosion was anti-Kim Jung Il
  • Believes Kim’s power is waning: cannot move freely around country: 30,000 troops always around him

3.    How supportive are South Koreans of Kang?

  • Before 1998 ROK worked hard to reveal DPRK human rights abuse.  Since then and Sunshine Policy ROK no longer says much
  • Ask young South Koreans now and they would know nothing about DPRK
  • ROK government media paint a rosy picture of DPRK
  • 3,000,000 died, 200,000 in concentration camps, but no South Koreans protest that.  Instead they protest the 2 girls killed in US military accident
  • 1992 attended South Korean university, saw students protesting and singing, listened and discovered they were singing a Kim Jong Il 10-min propaganda song.  When asked the South Korean students didn’t know what the song was.  Went to student government and found all books were DPRK propaganda
    • This explains growth of anti-Americanism in South Korean students

    • Believes this is due to DPRK agents: how else could South Koreans learn North Korean songs?

4.    Why would ROK act as they do (since it makes no sense)?

  • He doesn’t get it either
  • 386 generation: many see DPRK favorably and now they’re in power
  • 386 believes you change DPRK by sending food and saying nice things and that’s it
  • ROK has a strong protest culture for democracy and this has transferred to protesting for DPRK

5.    What suggestions for US and international policy and contents of his Bush conversation?

  • Talked for 40 mins
    • Most important: human rights should be ahead of nuclear issue
    • Kim Jong Il will never up his weapons
    • This will only increase anti-Americanism in DPRK
  • Human Rights: be direct and specific about concentration camps: only this way will DPRK change
    • First priority is undermining anti-Americanism by pressing for human rights
  • Defectors relieved when Bush called DPRK evil
  • Because ROK protestors and DPRK protested ROK dictators so ROK protestors think DPRK is also for democracy

6.    Can China help solve this problem?

  • Can defectors escape China: big issue: China now repatriates refugees
  • Because of Beijing Olympics China wants this problem to go away: so repatriates refugees
  • Repatriation causes bigger future problems
  • Would like China to pressure DPRK on human rights

7.    Role of big ROK corporations in this issue?

  • Hyundai and Samsung
    • Hyundai runs tourist deals to DPRK
    • Samsung has few contacts still
  • Believes recent Hyundai suicide was related to his work with DPRK
  • Hyundai had been reconsidering its deals until ROK Unification Minister criticized ROK companies for not working more with DPRK

8.    Does Kim Jong Il have children or is there a military hierarchy to take over after his death?

  • After Kim Jong Il’s death there’s no way it won’t change
  • No heir yet named
  • Some speculation centers on his sons
  • Expect something big to happen at the transition

9.    How should/will reunification happen?  In past, liberation was by foreigners, so can reunification happen just by/through Koreans?

  • Any reunification through DPRK’s collapse would be bad
  • There should be a transitional government, like current-day China’s, before reunification
  • However, ROK’s Sunshine Policy is pushing North Korean people away just to curry current favor with the DPRK government
    • This is throwing away the chance of not having foreigners interfere in the reunification

    • Has ROK helped refugees in China?  No, they’ve helped Chinese to prevent refugees to flee.  How do you think North Koreans feel about ROK because of this?  This makes it impossible for only Koreans to be involved in their reunification and foreigners will be involved.

10.    Does Korean proximity to DPRK military explain why they don’t focus on human rights?

  • DPRK does not have the ability to win war so doesn’t believe it is genuinely interested in war
  • War = Kim Jong Il over
  • ROK is looking at this wrong: Kim Jong Il is richest man on the peninsula: do you think he wants to give this up?
  • Biggest ROK security risk is not nuclear, it is the artillery and troops just north of the DMZ
  • If ROK is truly interested in welfare of DPRK troops then ask them to move away from the DMZ
  • Talk about how this is the best period in inter-Korean relationship, but in fact this is the most dangerous period

11.    US troops in ROK

  • Highest ranking DPRK defector says Kim Il Sung was so beaten by US in Korean War that he only feared US forces
  • DPRK military thinks ROK army is a joke since it was such a pushover in the Korean War
  • Day US leaves is day DPRK invades

12.    Kim Jong Il or Communist Party structure center of power?

  • Kim Jong Il is center of DPRK

13.    How can ROK have direct communication/talks with DPRK?

  • Many South Koreans travel to DPRK but no a single person has escaped their minders to talk freely with a North Korean
  • DPRK had dilemma for Koreans in Japan to get them to send money: solution: make a façade and give yourself a good image: similar things now happening to ROK tourists
    • ROK tourists: get very sanitized version of DPRK.  Doesn’t understand why South Koreans don’t complain about this
  • Tourism is just donating money to the DPRK government

posted by Andres on 10.11.05 at 04:34 PM in the Koreas category.


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