Today is June 21, 2019. Six months remain until the clause of the UNSC resolution 2397 calling for the deportation of all DPRK nationals working abroad kicks in.
While talking to colleagues and friends, I’ve noticed that there are two major groups of people who support the measure. The first one is politicians, who believe that they can make Pyongyang denuclearize.
The second are those who believe that the conditions for North Korean workers are usually much worse than for an average laborer in the nations which employ them. The entire project is inhumane, equal to slavery and December 22, 2019, will be emancipation day.
Interestingly, these people are also mostly located in one particular nation – the United States of America. Coincidentally, most NK News readers are from the United States, too, making this site an ideal place to address the issue.
TO THE FIGHTERS FOR HUMAN RIGHTS
You are doing an even more important job than the politicians. After all, while nuclear war would be catastrophic, it is still yet to have happened. Since August 10, 1945, we have been living in a world where nuclear weaponry has never been used. And the problem of the working conditions of laborers is a very real one. It is, in fact, as old as the industrial revolution.
Speaking of which, long work hours, no paid sick leave, an unreasonably low salary, little or no concerns for safety – there was a time when European and American workers experienced these things too. But would it have been helpful if some human rights activist called them slaves and suggested immediately closing down the factory where they were working?
This answer is no. And you would not need strikebreakers to get rid of such an activist: the workers would probably do it themselves. This is because they were not slaves. Slaves have no other choice, but workers choose to work because even their bad conditions are better than the alternative of not working. And the person who tries to force this alternative on them while using demeaning labels is their enemy, not their friend.
By deporting the workers… you give Kim Jong Un a big gift. Now he can easily explain to these people why they don’t have a job: the United States is to blame
As you know, working abroad is considered to be a fantastic job opportunity in the North.
This is something that many dream of, but many do not achieve. People compete for it, and the competition is so high that even as early as the late 1980s Kim Jong Il specifically made it easier for Pyongyangites to apply – the regime is always eager to support the capital at the expense of the countryside. People even give bribes to get these jobs.
People take these jobs for the same reasons a 19th-century worker would work in conditions we now find abhorrent – because the alternative is even worse. Being abroad means higher salaries and better conditions than at home. Given that now many workers are permitted to find their own contractors and even accommodation, being abroad also means infinitely more freedom.
After your workday, you can, reports say, surf the Internet – for some South Korean media, for example. Or watch South Korean films. Or – as some people do, you can agree with your employer to supply you with South Korean media as a part of your payment.
How can we help these people to make their lives better, not worse? Naturally, we should reject the false dichotomy of ‘workers working under the present conditions’ vs ‘not working at all.’ The only man who benefits from such thinking is Kim Jong Un.
What people care about the workers should do is to actually fight for better working conditions. This can be done by putting pressure on the host countries to pay them decent salaries and to use UN resolutions to restrict taxation. The regime would hate this, but the workers would see you as people who really care about them.
TO THE POLITICIANS
First of all, one needs to say that what you are trying to do is a good thing. Living in a world where North Korea has neither missiles nor nukes would mean living in a safer and thus better place.
However, the incoming measure would hardly work to achieve this goal. Yes, it will put some pressure on the country. A number of corrupt officials will be quite displeased that they can’t profit from collecting bribes from the people willing to go abroad. But for the regime itself, surrendering strategic weaponry is a decision which may not be undertaken for the economic benefits – such as the money they gain from taxing overseas workers.
The regime survived a famine in the 1990s that left hundreds of thousands dead. It did not collapse, nor did it surrender the nuclear project. In fact, it developed nearly all strategic weaponry after the famine. So why exactly should things be different this time?
Next, well, think about the CIA and the intel community of the United States in general. Your civil intelligence – along with many others – has probably infiltrated the community and would not appreciate its agents being sent back with no possibility to contact their employers.
Another reason not to send the workers back is that workers are links that break through the Iron Curtain and connect North Korea with the outside world. Deport them and they could not tell their families and friends about how life outside the country may be different.
Deport them and they won’t be able to bring back films, books, and even simple foreign-made home appliances which show that other countries are doing much better despite not venerating Kim Jong Un as their leader.
By deporting the workers… you reinforce the iron curtain
Also, you should understand that support for this measure in North Korea is likely to be 0%. While this might look like you found a way to hurt them, think again. You want the United States to be popular in the country, or at least not to be hated, right? And even the most hardcore dissidents, who are willing to live a worse life if this would help to overthrow the regime, will not support the measure.
They know it is about the nukes, not about their country, and once the nukes are gone no one will interfere, no matter how cruel Kim Jong Un’s policies are. Even these people would oppose the deportation and they – along with everyone else – would blame the U.S. for this.
By deporting the workers, first, you reinforce the iron curtain, second, you make work for your own intelligence harder, and third, you lower U.S. popularity in North Korea. And you give Kim Jong Un a big gift. Now he can easily explain to these people why they don’t have a job: the United States is to blame. And in fact, this will actually be true.
WHAT CAN BE DONE?
There is one solution which would work for everyone. It would not hurt the rights of the workers, and it could put even more pressure on North Korea. The solution is to make the deadline flexible. During the Hanoi summit, President Trump was considering making some sanctions ‘snap sanctions’ – i.e. they are rescinded, but are automatically put back when and if North Korea conducts another test.
Making the deportation of workers a ‘snap sanction’ would be quite effective. Arguably, Donald Trump’s greatest achievement concerning North Korea is preventing them from conducting another test without any big cost to the U.S. The measure suggested will make this cost even bigger – and significantly so – than it currently is.
If it is introduced and sponsored by the United States as a humanitarian measure, then the workers would appreciate a supposedly hostile foreign power taking their lives into consideration. More importantly, if Kim Jong Un orders another test, he would be the one who is blamed by the workers, not Washington.
Thus, the U.S. would lose nothing, gain some popularity amongst the DPRK middle class, and put more pressure on Kim Jong Un. And, last but not least, it would be a good and moral thing to do.
Edited by James Fretwell
Featured image: Eric Lafforgue
Today is June 21, 2019. Six months remain until the clause of the UNSC resolution 2397 calling for the deportation of all DPRK nationals working abroad kicks in.While talking to colleagues and friends, I’ve noticed that there are two major groups of people who support the measure. The first one is politicians, who believe that they can make Pyongyang denuclearize.The second are those who
Fyodor Tertitskiy is an expert in North Korean politics and the military and a contributor to NK News and NK Pro. He holds a Ph.D. in Sociology from Seoul National University, and is author of "North Korea before Kim Il Sung," which you buy here.