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[Opinion] Mankyungbong-ho Is Coming

Posted August. 20, 2002 22:18,   


There is a reason that Japan continue Red Cross talks with North Korea despite the latter’s on-again-off-again attitude. It’s because some 1,800 Japanese women currently living in North Korea. And the two countries finally agreed to arrange visits back home for those women in the latest round of Red Cross talks held in Pyongyang on August 18 and 19.

The North Koreans’ wives, who left Japan with their husbands, have not seen their families living in Japan for 18 to 43 years. That’s why the Japanese government is also aggressively pushing for reunion of separated family members.

▷ A North Korean propaganda project aimed to bring North Koreans living in Japan back to their home continued from 1959 through 1984. And at the center of the project was Manbongkyungbong-ho, a cruise ship that sailed between Japanese port city of Nikawa and Wonsan in North Korea. It is the very ship that will carry a North Korean cheering team to Busan where the Asian Games are held next month. Things have changed indeed. The infamous ship used for communist propaganda operations is sailing towards south again, this time, however, for sports exchanges.

The ship was awarded with the Kim Il-sung medal, the most honored prize in North Korea, for “greatly contributing to carrying out the people’s economic plan and promoting the country to the outside world. Is there any other ship in the world that has garnered a medal of honor except Mankyungbong-ho?

▷ Since there are two Mankyungbong ships active on duty, it is not sure which one is to come to Pusan. The original one was a passenger ship of 3,500-tons scale. Since the propaganda program halt to an end in 1984, it has been used mostly as a cargo ship carrying trade goods between the North and Japan. And its sibling was born in April in 1992 at the time of Kim Il-sung’s 80th birthday. North Koreans living in Japan spent staggering 4 billion yen to launch the 9,700-tons ship. And my guess is that Pyongyang is more likely to send a bigger and magnificent one than a smaller and modest one.

▷ Mankyungbong-ho is often called as a lifeline of North Korea. It not only brings in necessities ranging from vegetables to food and vehicles, but also delivers funds mobilized in Japan, which is estimated to be around 600 million to 2 billion won, to Pyongyang every year. Gifts from North Korean Japanese are also carried by the versatile ship.

Japanese who chose to go aboard the ship, came to realize what the life in North Korea was like. Likewise, we hope North Koreans aboard the ship this time will see what the life in the South is like. Then whether they like it of not, it up to them.

Bang Hyung-nam, Editorial Writer hnbhang@donga.com