It has been a little more than a week since the passing of North Korean ruler Kim Jong-il. As tens of thousands mourn, the world waits for the rise of Kim Jong-un. The question is now: what should the international community do?
Death of Kim Jong-il
Last week, images came in to various news organizations of people weeping in the streets of Pyongyang amid the death of their 69-year-old leader, Kim Jong-il. After the state media announced that the more than the country's leader of 17 years perished from a heart attack, the world paused for a moment.
The supreme leader’s son, Kim Jong-un, will now be his successor. There have been reports that the nation’s military may share power with Jong-un. The Central Military Commission of the Workers’ Party issued a statement shortly after: “Under the leadership of our comrade Kim Jong-un, we have to turn sadness into strength and courage, and overcome today’s difficulties.”
Leaders from around the world have commented on Kim Jong-il’s death. Some were objective, while others criticized the Communist head of state.
“Kim Jong-il will be remembered as the leader of a totalitarian regime who violated the basic rights of the North Korean people for nearly two decades,” said Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper.
Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper speaks at a media event in Toronto.
“We hope his passing brings positive change allowing the people of North Korea to emerge from six decades of isolation, oppression and misery. The regime’s reckless decisions have resulted in North Korea being an impoverished nation and a country isolated from the international community because of its dangerous nuclear proliferation and ballistic missile programs.”
He added that he hopes North Korea can “close this sad chapter” and move on towards more stability among its people.
HanVoice Speaks OutDigital Journal has reported in the past of HanVoice’s various events that highlights the history of North Korea, its present crisis and the nation’s future hope.
The organization has worked with various Canadian and international officials, including Conservative Member of Parliament Barry Devolin and Consulate General of the Republic of Korea, Ji-In Hong.
“Our movement was never about the ouster of one man, but one for the freedom of all North Koreans,” said HanVoice Executive Director, Randall Baran-Chong, in a press release. “Until then, HanVoice will continue its charge of advocating on behalf of North Korean human rights and refugees.”
Randall Baran-Chong, Executive Director of HanVoice
Digital Journal had the opportunity to speak with HanVoice Director of Communications, Erica Kim, about the mourning North Koreans, the Western world’s response, the international community’s actions and the organization’s developments since its last meeting with members of government in March.
‘To not cry for the ‘Dear Leader’ would be construed as disloyalty’Digital Journal: With all those photos of North Koreans weeping for Kim Jong-Il, is it because they have been brainwashed with state propaganda all their lives or because they truly liked their leader?
HanVoice: “My simple answer is that it’s out of fear. The North Korean regime is rooted in self-criticism and the scrutinizing of other’s loyalty. To not cry for the “Dear Leader” would be construed as disloyalty.
“Also, you have to remember that many of those shots were taken in Pyongyang, an area which suffered far less during Kim Jong Il’s reign than did the rest of North Korea, such as the northern provinces where most of the estimated 1-2 million North Koreans died of famine.”
Digital Journal: New reports are coming out that the military may share power with Kim Jong-un, what does HanVoice think of this? Does this have the potential to be much worse than what Kim Jong-Il ever did throughout his reign?
HanVoice: “This would be consistent with the policies Kim Jong Il introduced called Songun, or ‘military first’. This policy lead to the diversion of scarce food and incoming food aid to soldiers rather than starving North Koreans.
“There are mixed views about what trajectory this new regime can take because it doesn’t have the respect that his father, or to an even larger degree, his grandfather had – it may have to make concessions to appease the people through free markets (as his father did for a period), or it may have to become even more harsh to assert its power through fear and cruelty.”
Digital Journal: Do you believe the Western powers will try to incite more intense dialogue now with North Korea?
HanVoice: “From the people we’ve spoken to and what we’ve seen, the West has been keeping its distance, for now, ‘out of respect’, but there’s also some pragmatism to this. The West wants to maintain stability in a country with a 1.2 million strong army and nuclear weapons, so they do not want to create instability at this time. They will likely give North Korea time to transition, and engage in a positive and proactive tone with the new regime.”
Digital Journal: Is there a greater chance for war between the North and the South?
HanVoice: “It is hard to say at this time. South Korea’s military was not mobilized to combat readiness based upon the news, and no unusual military manoeuvres were noted in North Korea by South Korean intelligence officials. I think all parties are waiting to see the stance that the new regime decides to take before taking any belligerent action.”
Digital Journal: Was Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper justified in his recent remarks towards the former North Korean leader?
HanVoice: “HanVoice also recognizes the brutality of the Kim Jong Il regime, and looks forward to proactive engagement for a better future for North Korea.”
Digital Journal: “What should the world do now?”
HanVoice: “It is still highly uncertain and ambiguous of how this regime will position itself. As we wait to gain comfort and certainty over the situation, over six million North Koreans continue to starve, so we are hoping to see proactive engagement on alleviating the human rights and humanitarian crisis.
“Realistically however, the interest of most countries appears to be securing and stabilizing the nuclear arsenal rather than the freedom of its people.”
Digital Journal: Since the last HanVoice meeting in Toronto earlier this year, what developments have been made within the organization?
HanVoice: “Our last event became the beginning of a new key initiative we are currently developing, which we’ve dubbed the Canadian Mentorship Abroad Program. In cooperation with MP Barry Devolin, Senator Yonah Martin, the Canadian Embassy in Seoul, we are developing plans to utilize Canadian English teachers in South Korea to engage in cultural exchange with North Korean refugees in Seoul. English is a key skill for members of South Korean society, and we are hoping this can help create better mutual cultural understanding and build the skills and confidence of North Koreans in integration in society.
“We have also shifted our focus to the root causes of the North Korean refugee situation – the human rights and humanitarian crisis in North Korea. As such, we are establishing partnerships with organizations doing work on the ground in North Korea. We felt it was important to engage in both humanitarian and human rights activities as humanitarian efforts provide food, shelter, and other short-term solutions to alleviate suffering, however, human rights efforts seek to promote long-term betterment of the lives of North Koreans through freedom and empowerment.
“One thing that we have to make clear is that our movement was never about the ouster of one man, but one for the freedom of all North Koreans. Until then, HanVoice will continue its charge of advocating on behalf of North Korean human rights and refugees.”