Humanitarian Aid, Resurrection of the Secret Police, and Inheritance of Power

Lee Young-hwa
Third generation Korean-Japanese.
Currently propessor of Elonomics at Kansai University and representative of RENK.

"How much of this stuff does he (Robin Cook) know, one wonders. A cutting remark targeting the Blair government appeared on the Oct. 20 edition of The Times, Britain's most influential daily. It was during the time the government was eagerly seeking to establish diplomatic ties with North Korea. The article coincided with Blair's visit to South Korea to attend the third ASEM summit.

The "stuff" that The Times was wondering whether British politicians had seen was secret camera footage that a young North Korean activist named Ahn Chol (pseudonym) had taken two years ago. Ahn had risked his life in slipping into North Korea to shoot the video. UKs private TV Channel 4 had used Ahn? footage to produce a documentary entitled 'Children of the Secret State' and had broadcast the program on the eve of the ASEM summit.

Scenes from the video of hungry kotjebis wondering around the marketplace, North Korean refugees recounting the torture and abuse they went through, and opium poppies being grown in secret left the British public reeling in shock at the unbelievable tyranny of Kim Jong Il. For German Chancellor Schroeder, who had joined Blair in declaring their intent to normalize ties with North Korea, Germany's public TV ARD broadcast clips of Ahn's video during the news.

The North Korean government protested vehemently against Channel 4, to which the TV responded by giving the Rory Peck award for courageous cameramen to Ahn Chol.

In Japan, Prime Minister Mori made headlines during the ASEM meeting by bragging to his British counterpart about how he had handled the case of Japanese nationals abducted by North Korea. The Japanese press all expressed doubt over their Prime Minister's qualifications. Ironically, there were few articles questioning Japan? intentions to normalize ties with the very dictatorship that had staged the abductions in the first place. For the record, the first-ever screening of Ahn's video was in Japan.

An outraged Kim Jong Il orders the killing of the video journalist

In Aug. 2000, I met up secretly with Ahn Chol somewhere along the Sino-Korean border. We were planning Ahn's second secret visit to the North. We decided that Ahn should go back to the same black market he filmed two years ago.

There were two reasons for choosing the same marketplace. One was to measure the degree of change in North Korean society. North Korea had received a vast quantity of foreign aid, and Kim Jong Il was seemingly showing an active interest in westward diplomacy. We wanted to expose what was going on behind the scenes.

The other reason was to take the safe route, or to be more accurate, the least dangerous one. After Ahn? first video was broadcast two years ago, an infuriated Kim Jong Il had ordered the secret police to track Ahn down. Kim Jong Il got the ranked officers in the secret police to watch the video and then ordered them to arrest and execute Ahn. Ahn has become North Korea's most wanted, and the secret police are still frantically searching for him. It would have been extremely dangerous to try and slip through the police dragnet and take an unfamiliar route, so we decided that Ahn? risk of getting caught would be reduced, albeit slightly, if he went back to a familiar place.

After thorough preparations, Ahn crossed the heavily patrolled Sino-Korean border and slipped into North Korea. Then in early Nov., he crossed back into China, with a 60-minute videotape held tightly in his hand. The tape reached me in the same month through a third party. In the tape were vivid scenes of the black market that Ahn had succeeded in filming in October. Ahn is currently in hiding somewhere in China.

The marketplace in the video is located in a prominent North Korean city. The city is one of the important areas for distributing relief goods provided through international humanitarian aid. Despite this, kotjebis wondering around the marketplace searching for scraps of food in the dirt are clearly visible in the video. Relief goods that were supposed to have been rationed to the people are being sold at high prices at the market. 1 kg of rice is going at 80 ~ 60 North Korean won. That is a luxury good that an average North Korean earning 80 won a month simply cannot afford.

According to Ahn, the following three changes are visible in North Korea since the inter-Korean summit. By changes, I mean those related to North Korea? system of dictatorship.

The first change is the revival of food rations. From August, the Kim Jong Il government reopened the ration centers and began rationing grain. Before that, the districts had been left to find their own means to procure and ration food. The foods that are rationed now are mostly grains used for cattle feed, so it is not doing much to alleviate the peoples hunger. About 10% of the rationed food is a mixture of grain and rice provided through international aid. Apparently, Kim Jong Il is not completely deaf to the criticism from the international community. With the rationing of food, the crackdown in black markets has intensified, and the authorities are busy issuing orders not to sell this or that.

The ruling elite seems to have released some of the food provided by humanitarian aid, and the price of grain at the black market has fallen compared to two years ago. But as I mentioned earlier, the rice meant for rationing never reaches the poor. Everyone still has to look to the black market for rice. The honest sentiments of the people are "If we can't have rations, at least let us buy and sell on the black market"

Kim Jong Il's successor to be named when he turns 60

Another change that Ahn noted was the resurrection of the secret police. During the worst of the food crisis from 1997 to 1998, the grip of terror that the secret police used to have on the people had weakened, dealing a blow to the policemen? confidence. But the abundance of humanitarian aid has revived the system and healed the wounded pride of the secret police. They have been heard bragging in private that the system is still intact thanks to them, not the juche ideology or the greatness of Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il.

The most significant change is the secret preparation to start transferring power from Kim Jong Il to his oldest son Kim Jung-nam. Kim Jung Nam has enlisted in the peoples army and has become involved in state affairs through his aides. It is rumored that Kim Jung -nam was the architect of his father's latest secret order: "Appeasement on the outside and oppression on the inside." This paradoxical attitude is part of Kim Jong-il's preparations to hand down the power he inherited from his father to his son. The third-generation Kim is poised for the inheritance of power, which is expected to occur during his father's 60th birthday celebrations.

International humanitarian aid and pacification policies including the sunshine policy are being used to revive the secret police and set in motion the process of power transfer. And somewhere in China, alone and hiding from the secret police, is a young man who is biding his time to topple the Kim Jong Il regime and bring democracy to his motherland. The media should at least be on his side, telling the world about his activities.

Won Pyongyang Sinuiju Hyesan
Exchange Rate 8,000 8,000 8,025
Rice Price 4,800 4,900 5,200