| Bul­letin from Abroad

Anna Fi­field in Seoul

New Zealand Listener - - CONTENTS - ANNA FI­FIELD

One of the ways that the bizarre and bru­tal North Korean regime man­ages to stay in power is by cut­ting off all ac­cess to out­side in­for­ma­tion. For all but a hand­ful of the most elite in Py­ongyang, there is no in­ter­net, no out­side news, no movies that aren’t about rev­o­lu­tion­ary com­mu­nist lead­ers, no songs that don’t cel­e­brate the ge­nius of a leader called Kim.

So one of the ways to help be­tray the lies ped­dled by the Kim regime is to show North Kore­ans that, ac­tu­ally, they don’t live in a so­cial­ist par­adise.

In the course of writ­ing about North Korea, I’ve walked through the glitzy streets of Shang­hai with North Kore­ans and I’ve at­tended sem­i­nars on en­trepreneur­ship in Sin­ga­pore with oth­ers. The vis­i­tors’ sur­prise was pal­pa­ble when we were walk­ing through a mall and came to an in­door canal, com­plete with gon­dola and gon­do­lier. They’d never imag­ined any­thing like it.

Show­ing North Kore­ans that there are po­lit­i­cal and eco­nomic al­ter­na­tives to their own sys­tem is one way to lay the ground­work for re­form, an­a­lysts say.

“If you’re in­ter­ested in bring­ing about grad­ual change in North Korea, surely one of the best ways to do so is by bring­ing out as many peo­ple as pos­si­ble and ex­pos­ing them to the out­side world,” Stephen Ep­stein, who teaches Korean stud­ies at Vic­to­ria Uni­ver­sity of Welling­ton, told me re­cently. But New Zealand, it seems, is help­ing the Kim regime keep its peo­ple iso­lated.

In Au­gust, the In­ter­na­tional So­ci­ety for Korean Stud­ies, an aca­demic as­so­ci­a­tion based in Ja­pan, held its bi­en­nial con­fer­ence in Auck­land. It was at­tended by 130 aca­demics from around the world, in­clud­ing the US, Europe, China and South Korea – but not North Korea.

A cou­ple of days be­fore the con­fer­ence be­gan, the Min­istry of For­eign Af­fairs and Trade re­jected visa ap­pli­ca­tions from 10 rep­re­sen­ta­tives of North Korea’s Academy of So­cial Sci­ences who are ex­perts in fields in­clud­ing folk­lore, phi­los­o­phy, clas­si­cal lit­er­a­ture and his­tory.

One of the aca­demics, Jo Hui Sung, is well known as a spe­cial­ist in the his­tory of the ­Koguryo era, one of the three king­doms on the Korean Penin­sula un­til the 7th cen­tury. So it seems un­likely that he was linked to de­cid­edly more re­cent pur­suits such as nu­clear weapons.

Even as the US has led an ef­fort to shut North Korea out of all spheres of the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity, New Zealand has con­tin­ued to al­low in se­lect North Kore­ans.

Two na­tion­als of the pariah state at­tended a se­cu­rity-re­lated meet­ing in Auck­land in March, and 28 vis­ited in April for an In­ter­na­tional Ice Hockey Fed­er­a­tion tour­na­ment.

So why did a bunch of hu­man­i­ties PhDs sud­denly pose a threat? The short an­swer is: I don’t know. Nei­ther the For­eign Min­istry nor Im­mi­gra­tion New Zealand rep­re­sen­ta­tives would speak to me on the phone. In­stead I got an an­o­dyne state­ment say­ing they were re­jected “for not meet­ing im­mi­gra­tion in­struc­tions”.

Maybe it was a tech­ni­cal­ity? Maybe the North Kore­ans were smil­ing too broadly in their pass­port pho­tos or maybe they weren’t able to sup­ply med­i­cal cer­tifi­cates?

I hope that’s the case, be­cause the al­ter­na­tive ex­pla­na­tion is that our Gov­ern­ment has de­cided to cut off an op­por­tu­nity for some of the most clos­eted peo­ple in the world to take a peek out­side. If we are in­ter­ested in bring­ing about change in North Korea, show­ing them our free and open way of life is a good place to start.

Anna Fi­field, a New Zealan­der, writes about Asia for the Wash­ing­ton Post.

New Zealand, it seems, is help­ing the Kim regime keep its peo­ple iso­lated.

“I re­ally think you’ve come a long way since we started th­ese nar­ra­tive ther­apy ses­sions.”

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