There were murmurs in Japan about these abductions but the government did not take them seriously for “lack of evidence” until the late 1980s, when some North Korean defectors provided corroboration. Finally, in 2002, after years of denial, Papa Kim confessed to the visiting Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi that his country had abducted 13 Japanese citizens in the past, of whom five were still alive.
(Note: This column was sent for publication in Daily Times of 10 April 2013 but did not get published as it did not meet their “editorial policy”)
A journalist who visited North Korea very recently has described the country as “mad, sad and bad, and a bit silly besides.” I suppose the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) is best described as indescribable. However, one thing is certain, that the DPRK, or North Korea as most people know it, is unique in the history of the modern world.
A country whose official name contains the words “democratic”, “people’s” and “republic”, all three of which denote the supremacy of citizens, is actually a fiefdom of the Kim family and now in the seventh decade of being ruled by it. “Great Leader” Kim Il Sung (1948–1994) was succeeded by his son, “Dear Leader” Kim Jong Il (1994-2011), who has been followed by his son, “Great Successor” Kim Jong Un (since 2011), who is not yet thirty.
North Korea calls itself “socialist”, but it is the world’s most militarized country, where a small politico-military elite has access to the best amenities, comforts and lifestyle that the world has to offer, while the vast majority of its people are malnourished and a great number of them starve. The “Great Successor” himself went to school in Switzerland and has a taste for expensive consumer goods. The “Dear Leader” reportedly imported $700,000 worth of cognac every year and had a personal collection of 20,000 movies and DVDs.
In the last few weeks, the bluster and war-mongering from North Korea has reached unprecedented levels. Kim Jung Un is reported to have “ratified” the decision to rain missiles and nuclear weapons on the US and South Korea. He has visited the front lines as befits a good, fat field marshal. His government has warned foreign embassies to evacuate Pyongyang because their security cannot be guaranteed, and asked foreigners to leave South Korea because it is going to come under attack.
In the best case scenario, Kim Jung Un is engaging in extreme brinkmanship without knowing where the brink is, in the manner of Saddam Hussain. In the worst case scenario, he has brought the world to the verge of a major war in which the use of nuclear weapons cannot be precluded.
The contrast between “Communist” North Korea and “Capitalist” South Korea could not be more stark. Whereas South Korea is a success story, North Korea has been an abject failure, under a regime that is criminal and shameless.
Under Papa Kim in the mid-1990s, between 5 to 10% of the North Korean population died of starvation. A survey conducted late last year found that about 28% of children in the “socialist paradise” are stunted from chronic malnutrition.
Between 1995 and 2008, the US provided North Korea with $1.3 billion worth of aid, 50% of it in food aid and 40% in energy assistance. In 2011, North Korea requested further assistance, leading the UN to issue an urgent appeal. USA again sent in food aid, despite serious concerns about nuclear proliferation. From 1995 to 2012, South Korea has provided $2.15 billion of assistance to its northern neighbor, of which $1.36 billion was direct government aid.
Slightly larger than its southern counterpart, North Korea has about half the population while being endowed with far more natural resources. South Korea has a GDP of $ 1,611 billion, ranked 13th in the world, and 40 times greater than North Korea’s GDP of $ 40 billion. The corresponding per capita incomes are $ 32,000 against $ 1,800. Expenditure on health is 6.9% of GDP for the South compared to 2% in North Korea. Life expectancy at birth is ten years greater in South Korea.
With statistics such as these, the North Korean regime maintains the 4th largest army in the world, has detonated nuclear devices and has developed long-range missiles. Like the mouth that bites the hand that feeds it, North Korea does not desist from lobbing artillery shells into South Korea, torpedoing its warships, digging tunnels under the demilitarized zone (DMZ), infiltrating spies, making assassination attempts and brandishing nuclear threats.
One of the most extraordinary and bizarre tales in modern international affairs, and one that is extremely heart rending, has been the abduction of Japanese citizens by North Korean agents in the 1970s and 1980s under Grandpa Kim. There were murmurs and rumours in Japan about these abductions but the government did not take them seriously for “lack of evidence” until the late 1980s, when some North Korean defectors provided corroboration.
Finally, in 2002, after years of denial, Papa Kim confessed to the visiting Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi that his country had abducted 13 Japanese citizens in the past, of whom five were still alive. They were later returned to Japan. Some sources insist that as many as 100 people may have been taken to North Korea. The abducted Japanese, the youngest of whom was a 13 year old girl, were used to train North Korean agents in Japanese language, culture and customs to improve their efficacy as spies.
In another infamous incident in 1996, a North Korean submarine infiltrated three spies on the South Korean coast on September 18, 1996, but the submarine got stuck. After a 49-day manhunt by South Korean forces, 25 North Koreans were killed (11 had been killed by their own comrades for incompetence or disloyalty) and one was captured. South Korean losses were 12 soldiers killed and 27 wounded, besides 4 dead civilians.
Within the space of five decades, successive South Korean governments have transformed a small, poor, war-ravaged nation into a prosperous country enjoying high international prestige, including the hosting of the three biggest sporting events of the world, namely, Asian Games (1986), Olympic Games (1988) and the Soccer World Cup (2002). South Korea thrives as a non-nuclear weapon state competing with the best in the world in education, manufacturing, science and technology.
On the other hand, in pursuit of military power and a nuclear arsenal, the North Korean regime has virtually reduced its citizens to eating grass and turned the country into an international outlaw with a begging bowl. There is a lesson here for other countries, including our own.
By Razi Azmi