2003 July 17 Thursday
Debate On Letting More North Koreans Into US

Writing for the Washington Post Glenn Kessler reports on an internal debate in the Bush Administration on whether to let more North Korean refugees into the US.

Officials have not yet settled on how many refugees the United States would be willing to accept a year. One faction is pushing for as many as 300,000 refugees, while officials who believe such a step would hurt relations with China have countered with a proposal to limit the number to 3,000 in the first year, an official said.

China should be on the receiving end of deteriorating relations. Why should we worry about hurting US relations with China? Why not turn it around? The US government should tell the rulers in Beijing that unless they start letting more refugees flee into China from North Korea that China will suffer from deteriorating relations with the US.

We should very loudly and repeatedly criticise South Korea's government for failing to aggressively try to get North Korean refugees out of China. The South Koreans do not want the US to start a war with North Korea because South Koreans will die in the war. But the South Korean leaders are not offering the United States a viable alternative strategy to pursue. Appeasement of the Pyongyang regime is a failed policy. We should tell the South Koreans that they can either start making major efforts to smuggle North Koreans out of China and Russia or the US will start building up bombers in Japan and Guam in preparation for major air strikes against North Korea.

The US should make it clear to China and South Korea that they are responsible for presenting to the US an alternative solution for how to not only stop but also reverse North Korea's nuclear program. The South Korean and Chinese governments have effectively become the Pyongyang regime's protectors. We should hold them accountable for this protection. What North Korea does is made possible by years of Chinese and now also South Korean support for the North Korean regime. It should not be up to the United States to engage North Korea in negotiations. The US should go to China and South Korea and say that they must come up with proposals for how they are going to rein in their protected monster regime. China and South Korea should be made responsible for diplomatic negotiations with North Korea or for an overthrow of the North Korean regime if that is how they choose to solve the problem. We should tell the South Koreans and Chinese that if they fail to stop North Korea or to present the US with a viable plan for stopping North Korea then the US is going to start conducting high seas and air interdictions of North Korean trade followed eventually by a long series of air strikes against North Korea until the regime collapses.

The editors of the Christian Science Monitor see historical parallels between the North Korean refugees and the fall of communist East Germany.

One model is close from recent history. The Soviet bloc of nations began to unravel in 1989 when East Germans voted with their feet after Hungary opened a door to the West. One communist regime after another collapsed under popular pressure - although not in Asia's communist nations, and especially not in North Korea.

This parallel has some problems. The East Germans had a route out through a fairly open border with Czechoslovakia and the Czechoslovakian government was not trying to stop them. Also, the East Germans had higher living standards and were more able to afford to flee (little things like cars and fuel help). Also, the internal system of controls in East Germany was decaying. At the same time, the West Germans at that point were happy to see their fellow Germans making it out of East Germany. Aside from these many substantial and important differences the parallel fits. If China and South Korea were to start acting more like Czechoslovakia and West Germany then the prospects for fleeing North Koreans would improve enormously and te number fleeing would no doubt increase. Still, difficulties would remain. Fleeing North Koreans would still face major obstacles in their attempts to reach the Chinese border in the first place. Plus, the North Korean people know less (and actually believe a lot of false things) about life in South Korea than the East Germans knew about West Germany in 1990. So the US still needs to make a large effort to reach the North Koreans with news about the outside world.

US Senator from Indiana and chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Richard Lugar points out that China is violating the UN Refugee Convention in its handling of North Korean refugees.

It is clear that absent a major shift in policies by their government, desperate North Korean citizens will continue to flee the country. The United States has repeatedly urged China to live up to its obligations under the United Nations Refugee Convention, which prohibits the forced return of refugees to places where they face possible persecution. China has refused, citing an agreement it has signed with North Korea to send such "food migrants" back across the border. The administration and Congress must continue to press China on this point.

The even bigger offender here is South Korea. The Koreans claim to feel great ethnic solidarity with their distant relatives in North Korea. Yet South Korea's government is not trying to run a massive underground railroad to deliver the North Koreans from bondage. That the Bush Administration and US Senate are debating whether to let in thousands or hundreds of thousands of North Koreans while the South Koreans do little speaks volumes about South Korean hypocrisy and selfishness. If the South Koreans are going to be so obviously selfish then why should the US restrain itself in its actions toward North Korea for the benefit of South Korea when doing so puts the US at greater risk for nuclear terrorism?

There is one big advantage to letting North Korean refugees into the US rather than into South Korea: The US government will not try to silence those refugees when the refugees reveal things about the North that the Southern government does not want the world to know. It is hard to run a policy of appeasement if defectors come out and say things about life in North Korea that would tend to make people think the North Korean regime ought to be overthrown...

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2003 July 17 03:28 PM  Korea

The Marmot said at July 17, 2003 6:40 PM:


BTW, the Chosun Ilbo ran an editorial on the defector issue today. Just a snippet:

Regardless of what its true intention is, Washington's acceptance of North Korean defectors would surely win the support of the international community, for the humanitarian cause of saving the refugees. It would also stand as a shining beacon of hope for the defectors. Meanwhile, the South Korean government, which has been ignoring the tragedies of the defectors - who are South Korean citizens according to the constitution - would be unable to avoid embarrassment and humiliation.

The defector issue will require close negotiations between Seoul, Washington and Beijing, and a solution will depend on the agreements and disagreements from the trilateral discussion. If the Korean government continues to pretend the issue is not our own or overworry about the North's reactions, we would only become an international laughingstock. It is time for the Korean government to approach the defector issue beyond the humanitarian level and make it part of a comprehensive strategy toward the North, proposing solutions as a country at the center of the issue should.

There are people in South Korea who care - unfortunately, none of them can be found at the Blue House.
Joseph Steinberg said at August 3, 2003 5:05 PM:

The US should not run immigration policy based on political fashions, but on grounds of economic utility. if an applicant can contribute to the country by means of some demonstrable skill, then by all means let that person enter. If an applicant, however, will prove a burden on the welfare system, then refuse entry. The job of national governments is to educate and train its population. Siphoning off persons with skills is an affront o sovereignty. And, for those who say the overwhelming bulk offormer immigrants who make up the present population of America were unskilled, one, history has lease on the future, and, second, America at that time wanted unskilled labor to fill up frontier regions and support industrial policy. America does not need that now, unless of course it wants to regress economically.

Let the South Koreans deal with the North. of course, there are plenty of other places desperate enough to take unskilled labor in the world. The fact that they are racist, protectionist, or just stupid, is not America's concern.

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