When Typhoon Lionrock swept through North Korea from late August to early September, it destroyed tens of thousands of buildings and left thousands homeless and even more destitute than they were before. The destruction was so severe that the KCNA declared that it the ‘biggest cataclysm’ since [1945’s] Liberation (though one would think that that dubious honor ought to belong to the Korean War).
The United Nations said that it needed close to US$30 million to repair the damages. Considering the fact that winter will soon be arriving, where temperatures look set to fall well below freezing, the actual price tag may end up being much more. For those unfortunate souls who have lost everything they had, saying that they need urgent help is an understatement.
Although the North Korean regime has not made any formal requests for international aid, there are reports that Kim Jong Un has ordered his closest henchmen to do exactly that, albeit quietly and behind closed doors. However, as desperate as the North Koreans may be for help, any kind of help, it is highly unlikely that Kim Jong Un will come knocking on Seoul’s door with his hat in hand.
He has spent so much time threatening and vilifying South Korea and President Park Geun-hye that asking South Korea for help would not only be humiliating, but it could also significantly erode his authority in Pyongyang.
Although the North Korean regime has not made any formal requests for international aid, there are reports that Kim Jong Un has ordered his closest henchmen to do exactly that
Kim Jong Un has very little besides his image as a strong leader. If he loses that as well, there is no telling what kinds of ideas those in his inner circle may get.
But even if he did the unthinkable and asked South Korea for help, there is very little desire for the South Korean government to offer it. The South Korean government’s stance is perfectly understandable.
During the Sunshine years, while the South Korean government rented “peace” by forking over hundreds of millions of dollars to North Korea, it is plausible that a portion of that money was used to develop North Korea’s nuclear weapons program – the very same weapons that Kim Jong Un is using to threaten South Korea’s very existence.
And even if aid were distributed and monitored by the UN, there is no guarantee that the North Korean military wouldn’t seize the assets and sell them at inflated prices in the black market, thus depriving those most in need of help that was originally intended for them.
THE IMPACT OF SONGUN
Compounding the issue is the fact that Kim Jong Un could have easily been able to help his long-suffering subjects if only he had reallocated a small portion of his military’s budget to clothing, feeding or housing his people.
Earlier in July, South Korea’s Ministry of National Defense estimated that Kim Jong Un spent at least US$97 million firing a total of 31 ballistic missiles over the past five years. He has fired even more rockets and missiles since then, and that figure does not include the cost of testing nuclear weapons.
Compounding the issue is the fact that Kim Jong Un could have easily been able to help his long-suffering subjects if only he had reallocated a small portion of his military’s budget
The fact that the suffering endured by ordinary North Koreans is further exacerbated by Kim Jong Un’s other policies, from restrictions on cross-border trade and failure to carry out agricultural reforms, has convinced the South Korean government that Kim Jong Un is either an incompetent fool or a monster. Or perhaps both.
NO EASY ANSWERS
Aside from the moral argument, which can be argued until the cows come home, the political argument, which is much stronger, favors the South Korean government’s decision not to offer aid even if asked.
The undeniable fact is that in North Korea, the regime is practically omnipresent. It can easily control, funnel, and siphon almost all money and assets that go into the country. In fact, even those brought in by NGOs can easily be hijacked if they require the regime’s permission to operate in that country.
But the tragic reality is that if nothing is done, tens of thousands of North Koreans will likely die of wholly preventable causes, and it’s quite clear that Kim Jong Un doesn’t care how many of his people die. Like father, like son, like grandfather.
Ordinary North Koreans are in dire need of help, but this help cannot aid the regime, and no one whose conscience is worth a damn could or should look the other way.
There are some compelling alternatives. Joshua Stanton’s blog, One Free Korea, speaks forcefully and convincingly of the need for separative engagement.
What this essentially comes down to is pursuing (at least initially) clandestine operations to aid the North Korean people while circumnavigating the regime in Pyongyang.
Tactics include giving the North Korean people a means to freely communicate with the outside world and helping them to create a virtual banking network that would not be affected by Pyongyang’s diktats.
Unfortunately, separative engagement as spelled out by Joshua Stanton assumes a relative lack of urgency. Yes, information and communication that has been unmolested by North Korean censors are a vital part of eroding Pyongyang’s near monopolistic hold on “truth” and authority.
Ordinary North Koreans are in dire need of help, but this help cannot aid the North Korean regime
And yes, a virtual banking network would go a long way to help the North Korean people to drag themselves out of poverty: much like the way the M-Pesa has helped to turn Kenya into a leading pioneer in virtual currency and trade years before it caught on in the developed world. All of those things will, over time, help to create a shadow government that will undermine the regime.
TIME IS OF THE ESSENCE
But none of this matters to the tens of thousands of recently made homeless people if they do not survive the coming winter, which will arrive in a matter of weeks. When time is of the essence, the best way for people to help is by donating cash.
Typically, when a country or a city is hit by a natural disaster, the most effective way for people to offer aid is by donating cash to international relief agencies such as the Red Cross. These agencies are on the ground and they know best what it is that the people need. The same applies to North Korea.
It is imperative for individuals, businesses, churches, and civic groups – should they decide to help – to send cash donations to these types of apolitical agencies as typified by the Korea NGO Council for Cooperation with North Korea (KNCCK).
Although many have argued that the South Korean government ought to seize the moral high ground and provide direct assistance, seizing the moral high ground is not a good enough reason to aid the enemy. Seizing the moral high ground comes at a cost that the South Korean government can ill afford. The task ought to be delegated to individuals and the South Korean government should stay out of their way instead of offering criticisms for doing something that it cannot do.
When time is of the essence, the best way for people to help is by donating cash
Recently, President Park Geun-hye gave a speech urging North Koreans to defect to the South so that they may enjoy the “universal values of freedom, democracy, human rights and welfare.” The president’s words will ring hollow if the South Korean government actively attempts to block individuals who enjoy these universal values from trying to save the lives of ordinary North Koreans who yearn for them themselves.
In the meantime, the South Korean government needs to look into, and help to create, clandestine networks that are necessary to successfully pursuing a policy of separative engagement. Eroding the North Korean government’s authority and creating a shadow government and a shadow economy will take a long time and a lot of effort. It will require the help of individual North Korean black marketers, defector groups, anti-Pyongyang regime revolutionaries, and spies. Massive aid from the South Korean and United States governments would go a long way in kickstarting this.
That way, should disasters, natural or otherwise, befall the North Korean people again, there will be no need for the type of urgency that we have on our hands today.
Edited by: Oliver Hotham
Join the influential community of members who rely on NK News original news and in-depth reporting.
Subscribe to read the remaining 1501 words of this article.
Featured Image: North Korean Children. by (stephan) on 2008-06-11 16:28:42