|▲ A recent image of Kim Young Hwan (© DailyNK) |
Following the shock revelation on Monday that North Korea human rights activist and researcher Kim Young Hwan has been in detention in China for almost 50 days, demands that the Chinese authorities explain why he was arrested are growing.
Many mainstream South Korean media outlets have now reported on Kim’s detention, with a number stating that he is being held by Chinese ‘public security’; however, this implies that he was arrested by the police, while in truth Kim is being held by the Liaoning Province arm of the Ministry of State Security, the Chinese state intelligence agency.
In line with this fact, the Republic of Korea Consulate-General in Shenyang, which had one meeting with him at the end of April, says that Kim, who arrived in Dalian on March 23rd but was not arrested for another six days, is being held on suspicion of violating the Chinese State Security Law.
However, figures close to Kim say that there is no likelihood whatsoever that he would have tried to undermine Chinese national security.
According to Han Ki Hong, the president of NKnet and Kim’s long-time friend, “Researcher Kim Young Hwan has made clear his active support for China’s reformist line and the modernization efforts of its leadership. Simply, he strives to conduct research related to North Korean democratization and human rights, and even the idea that he is a threat to Chinese state security is complete nonsense.”
In his most recent publication, ‘Post Kim Jong Il’ (available in Korean), Kim strikes a similar tone, making clear his support for China and reacting critically to other countries in the region and the international community at large for failing to assess the country’s development process correctly.
Given these facts, there is cause to suspect that Kim’s arrest might have come at the behest of North Korea. In other words, fears are growing that the Chinese Ministry of State Security may have been asked by the North Korean authorities to arrest and interrogate Kim in their stead.
To North Korea, Kim, who was once asked by Kim Il Sung to bring about a revolution in South Korea during a secret meeting in Pyongyang but then turned around and became a democratization and human rights activist instead, is a significant annoyance. In particular, Kim’s ideological conversion goes beyond a personal change of heart; he once received direct orders from Kim Il Sung, and as such Kim stands guilty of inflicting significant loss of face upon the North Korean founder as a result of ultimately rejecting those orders.
In May, 1991, Kim was taken by North Korean submarine across the West Sea to meet Kim Il Sung in Pyongyang. Following the meeting and having joined the Chosun Workers' Party, Kim and colleague Ha Young Ok established the ‘National Democratic Revolutionary Party' (known colloquially as ‘Minhyukdang’) and began leading the illegal promotion of the Juche ideology in South Korea. However, as the 1990s brought information on the reality in North Korea to his attention, Kim renounced his views and in 1997 broke up Minhyukdang and joined the North Korean democratization movement, working at the forefront alongside the highest profile Workers’ Party secretary ever to defect, the late Hwang Jang Yop.
The actions of the Chinese authorities in the case to date serve to lend weight to the hypothesis of North Korean involvement. First, it is odd that while Kim was arrested in Dalian, instead of being questioned there or taken to provincial HQ in Shenyang, he was transferred across to Dandong on the Sino-North Korean border. That a foreign national arrested as a risk to national security would be taken to a small city on the margins of the province in question certainly looks suspicious, particularly when that city is one that is regularly visited by anti-espionage agents from North Korea’s National Security Agency or General Reconnaissance Bureau of the Ministry of the People’s Armed Forces.
According to the Committee for the Release of North Korea Human Rights Activist Kim Young Hwan, the hastily established group campaigning for his release from Seoul, attempts to establish Kim’s whereabouts have been ongoing through the Shenyang Consulate-General since the end of March. However, this has not been easy, either; indeed, the Chinese side ignored South Korean requests for a consular meeting with Kim for nearly a month, before finally allowing his one and so far only meeting with consular officials on April 26th.
Worse still, although a lawyer was subsequently appointed to Kim by the Consulate-General, the Chinese side has yet to permit them a meeting.
There are also many questions being asked about the treatment of three other men arrested alongside Kim in Dalian. Most implausibly, according to the Ministry of State Security, “The three Koreans rejected consular contact of their own accord, even going so far as to write memorandums of rejection.” The Committee, which knows the individuals concerned, believes this explanation to be highly unlikely.
The Consulate-General, which wants to confirm the authenticity of the rejection memorandums, has requested the right to speak with the three men by phone, but the Ministry of State Security has not responded to this request at all.
The Committee is understandably concerned that the refusal to allow contact with the three men could be because human rights violations have been committed against them while in custody. In the words of one member of the Committee, “Liaoning Province State Security has not revealed where the three South Koreans are being held or why they are being held; it is hard not to think that this is because they have something to hide.”
“If only to remove these doubts, the Chinese government should immediately allow consular access to the three South Koreans,” he added.
It is not yet clear whether the arrest was conducted with the approval of the Chinese central government or was the Liaoning Province Ministry of State Security acting independently, but the current state of affairs appears more than able to inspire a diplomatic incident between the two countries in the near future.