Can N.Koreans Topple Their Dictator?

Kang Chol-hwan Kang Chol-hwan

The North Korean regime is paying close attention to the latest developments in Libya because of the similarities between the Moammar Gadhafi and Kim Jong-il regimes. These include the psychopathic personalities of the dictators, their iron grip on power, and their hoarding of national assets to ensure their survival and buying of loyalty.

North Korea did not worry much about the uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia which led to the ousters of their dictators, but closely monitored the Libyan revolution. When the Libyan rebels were cornered, North Korean state media confidently warned, "Only death awaits traitors to the revolution." It remained silent when Gadhafi was on the run after NATO forces intervened. Following the uprising in Libya, North Korea's National Defense Commission, which protects the Km Jong-il regime, went into emergency mode, while all universities in Pyongyang were closed indefinitely in June.

Gadhafi's death may have rattled Kim Jong-il, but it is extremely difficult for a democratic uprising to take place in the North because of the unprecedented degree of oppression and the fact that most North Koreans are still oblivious to what is happening in the outside world. More importantly, China refuses to recognize North Korean defectors as political refugees.

Before any democratic uprising can happen in North Korea, the repressive state apparatus must dwindle, more information must become available to ordinary people, and an escape route must open up for democracy activists should they fail in their attempt to overthrow the regime. As long as China refuses to recognize North Korean defectors as political refugees, an internal uprising in North Korea would be very difficult.

North Korean leader Kim Jong-il and his son Jong-un have set up more political prison camps despite international pressure to shut them down. And North Korean security agents have launched a bizarre campaign against South Korean TV soaps and other TV imports. The North Korean regime is making a frantic, last-ditch effort to keep its border from collapsing by brutally torturing and executing defectors who are sent back from China.

The South Korean government and the international community have largely ignored these three conditions. If the South Korean government were to confront North Korea about its political prison camps, the Kim Jong-il regime would be unable to continue oppressing its people. One important step the South could take would be to resume psychological warfare against the North, because if the propaganda message reaches the military along the frontlines, an uprising by North Korean troops could topple the Kim Jong-il regime. Seoul must also resolve the issue of North Korean defectors through negotiations with China. Seoul's "quiet diplomacy" policy has prevented it from speaking frankly with Chinese officials, and as a result, hundreds of thousands of North Koreans have been killed. South Korea cannot escape blame for this tragedy.

Kim Jong-il's fate could change if Seoul acts. The 23 million North Koreans need the help of the South to topple their dictator. South Korea's Constitution stipulates that it is its responsibility to protect the lives of all Koreans.

By Kang Chol-hwan from the Chosun Ilbo's News Desk

englishnews@chosun.com / Oct. 26, 2011 13:46 KST