Melanie Kirkpatrick, former deputy editorial page editor of the Wall Street Journal and author of the new book, "Escape from North Korea: The Untold Story of Asia’s Underground Railroad,"
says the United States isn’t taking a tough enough stance on North Korea.
“We can’t work with them and we shouldn’t pretend that we can,” she told LIGNET managing editor Fred Fleitz this week in a televised interview. Official U.S. policy, she says, should be “the downfall of the Kim family regime” and the unification of the Koreas. Also, she says, the United States should publicly denounce China for its policy of arresting North Korean refugees and sending them back to face life in prison, or worse.
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In her provocative new book,
Kirkpatrick tells the stories of North Koreans who escaped and compares their journey to freedom with the escape of African-Americans from slavery in the 1800s. In both instances, people didn’t realize how bad conditions were until those who’d escaped began to tell their stories. And in both cases, those who were escaping were helped by Christians. “It is illegal to help any North Korean in China,” she told Fleitz. “China pays a bounty to people to turn in North Koreans who are there illegally. This is an immoral policy. Christians in China are about the only people willing to help them.”
Kirkpatrick is now a senior fellow with the Hudson Institute, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank. As the Wall Street Journal’s deputy editorial page editor from 2006-2009, she oversaw the editorial page’s international coverage and also the opinion pages of the Journal’s Asian and European editions. She is a graduate of Princeton University with a master’s in English from the University of Toronto. She spent 10 years working in Asia, in Hong Kong and Tokyo, as a publisher and journalist.
Her book, "Escape from North Korea,"
which was released on September 11, is being hailed as a groundbreaking account of conditions in North Korea and the journey traveled by the thousands who’ve escaped. It comes at an interesting time, with Americans hearing almost nothing in the news for years now about conditions in North Korea, and talk in some quarters that the new 28-year-old leader of North Korea, Kim Jong-Un, who succeeded his father last year, will allow more freedoms.
“It is an incredibly repressive society, the world’s worst totalitarian state,”
says Kirkpatrick. “Whether or not you eat or whether or not you starve is essentially determined by the North Korean government, which decides who has access to food.”
Kirkpatrick says there are reports from the Sino-North Korean border that life in North Korea under Kim Jong-Un is actually worse than it was under his father, Kim Jong-Il.
“As for the gulag, it’s hard to imagine any worse place on earth,” says Kirkpatrick of the remote prisons where North Koreans serve life sentences for the most minor offenses. Experts estimate that at least a million people have died in the gulags, and that about 200,000 are now being held in gulags.
But it’s not just the perpetrator of the crime who suffers in prison. “The prisoner himself usually does not go off to prison, the gulag, or any other kind of prison, alone,” says Kirkpatrick.
“One of the methods that the government uses to control the population is to punish the families of an offender, a so-called offender I should say, as well as the person himself. So if a person commits a political crime such as listening to a foreign radio broadcast or possessing a Bible, he could be shipped off to prison, and along with him would go his parents and his children. This is a powerful deterrent to opposing the state in any way.”
In her book, Kirkpatrick refers to China as “another circle of hell” for North Koreans who escape over the northern border, into China.
“The situation in China is terrible for the North Korean refugees . . . they’re tracked down and China’s policy is to arrest them and repatriate them. Once they’re repatriated, since it’s a crime to leave North Korea, they’re dealt with very harshly.”
Some have been executed for the “crime” of leaving the country, says Kirkpatrick.
Kirkpatrick lists two reasons for China’s focus on hunting down and repatriating North Koreans who come across the border. “One is that they’re worried about having to deal with a refugee problem in their own country … But the second reason is probably more profound. China understands that the people who leave North Korea are essentially mini-revolutionaries. They’re voting with their feet. They’re leaving their country. And it’s an act of defiance. And China is worried about the collapse of North Korea, and I would say that China is very worried about the unification of the Koreas under a system that is free and democratic and they certainly do not want U.S. soldiers along the Yalu [River], along their border … that is a very big concern of theirs.”
North Korean women face extreme conditions at the hands of the Chinese, tricked into crossing the border and then forced to marry Chinese men they’ve never met.
In a chapter called Brides for Sale, Kirkpatrick describes how China’s one-child policy has created a huge demand for wives in China. “In the northeast area of China, which borders North Korea, one survey showed that the ratio of young men to young women is 14 to 1, so, a lot of these men are desperate for wives,” says Kirkpatrick. “The women are either kidnapped in North Korea, or they’re tricked into coming to China. The broker tells them: Oh, I have a job waiting for you in China, or I’ll introduce you to your relatives in China and they’ll help you, or, you can sell your goods in China and then go back to North Korea. But once they get there, they realize that the goods that are being sold are themselves.”
If the women are found in China by Chinese authorities, they are sent back to North Korea, but without their children, who would be considered racially inferior in North Korea if they were fathered by a Chinese man. If a North Korean woman is found in China and sent back to North Korea pregnant, the government would likely conduct a forced abortion to destroy the unborn baby.
The United States, says Kirkpatrick, has been far too complacent about the atrocities committed by North Korea against its own people, and too complacent about China’s involvement in them. “The first thing I think the United States should do is declare that our aim is a free and unified Korea and the downfall of the Kim family regime … I also think the United States should put greater pressure on China and publicly denounce China for its treatment of the North Korean refugees. At the same time, the U.S., South Korea and Japan can tell China that they do not have to bear this burden alone, that international countries can help them with the refugees, as can individual countries such as the U.S.”
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