U.S. Vice President Mike Pence on Thursday criticized North Korea’s poor record on religious freedom, calling its treatment of people of faith worse than China’s.
Speaking at a State Department conference on religious freedom, the U.S. vice president indicated Washington would push the DPRK on its religious persecution record.
The vice president’s reference to China come with Beijing under fire for its treatment of Chinese Muslims, who are currently being held in large numbers in internment camps.
“But for all of the challenges that believers face in China, the treatment of people of faith in North Korea is much worse,” Pence said.
“So you can be confident, as President Trump continues to pursue the denuclearization of North Korea and a lasting peace, the United States will continue to stand for the freedom of religion of all people of all faiths on the Korean Peninsula.”
Pence cited an advocacy group called Open Doors, saying they had “identified North Korea as the world’s worst persecutor of Christians for the past 18 years.”
North Korea is typically sensitive of its human rights record, often railing criticism via state-run media outlets like the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA).
According to the NK Pro KCNA Watch data tool, North Korea criticized the U.S. State Department’s Religious Freedom Report last year one June 1.
“The U.S. speaks volumes about ‘religious freedom’ but historical facts about religious persecution and abuses in the country prove it is not entitled to say anything about it,” the KCNA report read.
“As shown, the annual presentation of reports is just aimed to tarnish the international image of the DPRK and justify its hostile policy toward the latter.”
The State Department report for 2018 published on June 21 this year noted that the DPRK’s “constitution provides for freedom of religious belief.”
But the report went on to say that according to the UN Commission on Human Rights, “there was an almost complete denial by the government of the rights to freedom of thought, conscience, and religion.”
The U.S. vice president’s potentially inflammatory comments come with neither Washington or Pyongyang making any announcements regarding the resumption of working-level talks, originally scheduled to resume in mid-July.
“Leading with human rights does very little (and is actually counterproductive) to getting traction on negotiations with North Korea. They don’t want to hear it. They will likely respond with strong language,” Ken Gause, Director of the Adversary Analytics Program at CNA told NK News.
“In this environment where negotiations are going nowhere, Pence’s statements give North Korea more ammunition to get all sanctimonious on how the outside world is treating it.”
Gause added that Pence’s comments could make life more difficult for U.S. point man on North Korea Stephen Biegun who is attempting to get North Korea “engaged.”
U.S. President Donald Trump on Wednesday also met with victims of religious persecution from numerous countries, including North Korea, at the White House.
Trump briefly spoke with a North Korean defector called Ju Illyong who told the president about religious persecution in the DPRK and the underground churches there.
The U.S. president responded by telling Ju that he would “bring it up” though did not elaborate further.
Featured image: White House