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[Editorial] Boat People Show N. Koreans` Grim Reality

Posted October. 05, 2009 08:20,   


Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao has started a three-day visit to North Korea, the first by a Chinese premier in 18 years, as both countries mark the 60th anniversary of bilateral ties. South Korea’s attention, however, is focused on how the visit will affect the North Korean nuclear standoff. How North Korean leader Kim Jong Il responds to Beijing’s request to return to the six-party nuclear talks will determine Pyongyang’s fate. Following Wen’s Pyongyang visit, the leaders of South Korea, China and Japan will hold a summit in Beijing Saturday. If North Korea changes, the three leaders will revise their strategies toward Pyongyang. If North Korea intends to give up its nuclear program and return to dialogue, it has an opportunity it cannot afford to miss.

Kim went to Sunan Airport near Pyongyang to personally greet Wen. North Korea’s Korean Central Television said Wen “received an enthusiastic welcome at the airport and by crowds of people from all walks of life on the miles-long streets of Pyongyang.”

Kim extended an extraordinary welcome by greeting Wen at the airport in person, so there is a chance the North Korean leader will make meaningful comments on his country’s nuclear program in consideration of Beijing’s dignity. Wen said upon arrival in Pyongyang, “China will make important contributions to peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula.” Kim must keep in mind that Beijing has constantly supported the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. Beijing would rather hear Pyongyang’s declaration of a return to the six-party talks rather than the warm welcome that mobilized hundreds of thousands of North Koreans.

North Korea cannot afford to remain nonchalant at this point. Eleven North Korean defectors were found on a small fishing boat Thursday. While South Koreans headed for their hometowns to celebrate the Chuseok holidays, the 11 North Koreans risked their lives. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon the same day submitted a report saying more than a third of North Koreans suffering from hunger due to food shortages to the U.N. Security Council. Earlier, the World Food Program and the Food and Agriculture Organization also warned that nine million North Koreans will suffer from hunger this year. Even the head of the North Korean Red Cross, Jang Jae On, implicitly asked South Korea for food aid in inter-Korean family reunions at Mount Kumgang Sept. 26, saying, “It would be nice if the South does a corresponding favor to the North.”

The North conducted its second nuclear test in May, but the only thing it secured was a worsening food shortage. Pyongyang barely endured food shortages with rice and fertilizer aid from Seoul over the 10-year reign of liberal governments in the South. If the North does not give up its nuclear program, North Koreans will keep fleeing their country and go hungry. How much longer can Pyongyang lie to its people through propaganda like “The Dear Leader appreciated the August Full Moon, praying for the happiness of the people?” South Korea must also devise comprehensive and well-planned measure to handle mass defections of North Koreans via sea.