So, officially, the Obama administration is saying that getting the two journalists (Laura Ling and Euna Lee) was strictly a humanitarian mission by President Clinton and they had nothing to do with it. They only, you know, talked to North Korea for several weeks through back channels, made sure Kim Jong il would like to meet Mr. Clinton, and then asked the former President to go to North Korea. And yes, the administration knew the reporters would be coming back with Clinton because that’s what they agreed to even before President Clinton left.
This is not to take away anything that has happened. I’m happy for the journalists and their families, as I’m sure all American’s were when we saw them come off the plane. But while people have suggested that separating this humanitarian issue with North Korea’s nuclear ambitions was a good idea, I think they forgot what country we’re talking about.
The reason why Lara Ling and Euna Lee were on the border (or not) of Korea was to report the human trafficking that takes place there. North Korea spends a lot of money on its military, when in fact they should be spending it on helping their people. Since 2007 there have been extreme floods that have lead to a food shortage because there’s not enough land to farm on. On top of that, in October of 2005 Kim Jong il prohibited private sales of grain and re-instituted a centralized food rationing system. By December of the same year, he also stopped all international assistance operations.
Living conditions are so bad in the North that thousands of the countries residents try and cross into China. Women and children are lured by the promise of freedom. But if they get into China they are either forced to become prostitutes, get married, or work hard labor.
Now you may ask: How did the country get in such bad shape? Let me tell you. North Korea is ruled by a dictatorship, and when Kim il Song (Kim Jon il’s father) was President he was influenced by the Soviet Union to attack South Korea in order to expand communism which lead to the Korean War. The United States took the South’s side, helped them fight back, and in 1945 (as part of the surrender of Japan) the United States agreed with the Soviet Union to to divide the Korean peninsula into two occupation zones. After this, Kim il Song adopted a policy of self-reliance in order to make sure there won’t be outside influence involving the countries future endeavors.
In 1994 President Clinton signed an accord with North Korea where the U.S. would give them oil to stop developing nuclear technology. This worked until President George W. Bush invaded Iraq and kicked the remaining weapons inspectors from the accord out of the country. Kim Jong il moved enough plutonium that could produce five or six nuclear weapons. In 2006 Kim Jong il tested a nuclear weapon and it has been reported that he is giving this technology to Myanmar.
President Obama cannot only deal with the nuclear issue though. By doing so he still leaves a situation of instability that will lead to a deterioration in a area of the world whose economy is becoming increasingly important. Their economy (and ours) can only grow and prosper if trade is open and the two countries work together to create a reciprocal relationship. Multinational corporations don’t mind investing in a country that has poor labor laws, but they can’t do it if the country does not invest in its infrastructure. The jobs that will come when the corporations move into the country will help the people, in time, reach a better quality of life.
By dealing with the human rights abuses in North Korea, President Obama can gain a new ally in the east, help the American economy, and Kim Jong il or future leaders of the country will think twice before launching or testing a nuclear weapon. They will not want to upset the international community, and risk sanctions that can hurt their economy or deter companies from investing within their country.
Sending President Clinton to North Korea was throwing Kim Jong il a bone. More importantly though, it shows that he is willing to negotiate. President Obama should take this opportunity to keep the dialogue going and work toward a positive and prosperous new beginning between the two countries.