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The 50th Anniversary of Chongryon

Posted May. 25, 2005 03:30,   


“Great leader Kim Il Sung stays with us forever!” “Hail the Democratic People`s Republic of Korea!”

This is how the 50th anniversary of the foundation of Chongryon, the pro-Pyongyang general Association of Korean Residents in Japan, looked like. The ceremony was held on May 24 in a Korean cultural center of a Korean middle and high school located in the outskirts of Tokyo, Japan. In the back, beyond the platform, you can see a wall on which large portraits of Kim Il Sung and his son, Kim Jong Il, hang, along with the North Korean national flag. Several placards singing praises for the republic were placed every parts of the hall.

During the pre-ceremony events, the atmosphere seemed quite liberal. Senior Koreans gathered around, greeting each other and exchanging delightful laughter. Some students in the second floor were acting playful, being cautious not to be caught by their teachers.

An insider of the association as well admitted that the assembly atmosphere was not that rigid anymore like the old days. As the congratulatory message from deputy leader of the Pyongyang regime Kim Young Nam was read, and as Chongryon leader Seo Man Sul started his address, the ceremony became serious. When Seo said to pledge loyalty to the great leader with all their hearts, the 2,000 attendants rose simultaneously and clapped passionately.

Despite the observations that Chongryon has changed a lot with the change of time, the fact that the link with the North is the base of Chongryon’s existence was reconfirmed.

Han Deok Su, who had participated in leftist labor movements in Japan, established Chongryon on May 25, 1995. Since then, Chongryon had played a role of a foreign mission of North Korea, which has no diplomatic relationship with Japan, and also funded the leadership of North Korea. During the period between the 1960s and 1970s, when the struggle between the two Koreas was severe, the association used to engage in conflicts with the Korean Resident Union in Japan (also known as Mindan) in Japan. Chongryon was notorious as a strongpoint in Japan to carry out operations against the South.

However, as the lengthy economic stagnation in Japan has reduced the group’s economic power, coupled with the economic crisis of North Korea, the association has withered. In addition, Japanese kidnapping by North Korea was a fatal blow to the future of Chongryon.

With the end of the Cold War and Japanese kidnapping by North Koreans, the Japanese anti-sentiment toward North Korea has worsened, leading to the increase of Chongryon members obtaining South Korean citizenship. Presently, of 610,000 Korean residents in Japan, 80 percent is Mindan, while 20 percent is Chongryon.

Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, in his congratulatory message to the Chongryon 50th anniversary, repeated his previous position, saying that Japan will not take steps to normalize its diplomatic relationship with North Korea unless it renounces nuclear development and solves the issues regarding Japanese abductees.

A senior Korean resident in Japan, who once participated in Chongryon, said that in the end the group would face the same fate that its mother country, North Korea, will face.

Won-Jae Park parkwj@donga.com