| Bulletin from Abroad
Anna Fifield in Seoul
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.”