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Thursday, January 23, 2003

The Korean Challenge

The WSJ Editorial page annoys me with this entry on North and South Korea:

South Korea's Refugee Betrayal

The newly elected president of South Korea is a noted human-rights lawyer. The departing president is even more celebrated, a winner of the 2000 Nobel Peace Prize for "his work for democracy and human rights in South Korea and East Asia."

So why aren't Roh Moo-hyun and Kim Dae Jung doing more to address the humanitarian crisis on the northern side of the DMZ? Some 23 million Koreans are condemned there to lives of starvation and virtual slavery in a totalitarian state for which weapons of mass destruction remain a higher priority than the welfare of its own people.

The answer, we hate to have to say, may be money. Seoul looks at the bill that West Germany footed for reunification with the East and shudders. Han Duk Soo, then an economic adviser to President Kim, was candid about this cynicism last spring: "The main objective for us is to make sure North Korea does not collapse," he was quoted as saying. "If they collapse, we know it will mean a huge cost to South Korea." This is the ugly little secret of President Kim's "sunshine policy," which is billed as bringing more openness to the North....

The official line in Seoul and Beijing is that an outpouring of refugees from the North would trigger a humanitarian catastrophe. "If we gave them refugee status, millions would pour over our doorstep," a Chinese scholar, who advises the Chinese and South Korean governments, was quoted as saying in yesterday's Washington Post. "That would cause a humanitarian crisis here and a collapse of the North. We can't afford either....

If South Korea is serious about helping those it calls its "brothers and sisters in the North" it would declare that it is ready to accept every North Korean who escapes -- even if that means tens of thousands of refugees. This is not as large a challenge as it sounds. The office of the United Nations High Commission on Refugees -- so far barred by Beijing from access to Koreans in China -- wants to help. Several third countries are willing to be transit points for refugees en route to the South. International aid organizations and religious groups in Seoul and the U.S. are prepared to provide for large numbers of refugees who reach South Korea.

The historical model here is East Germany in 1989. Hungary permitted tens of thousands of East German refugees to pass through its borders en route to the West, contributing to the fall of communism in Eastern Europe. China understands this history, which is one reason it's so afraid of the North Korean refugees.

South Korea knows this history too -- which is why it ought to be encouraging the refugees who, under South Korea's constitution, have a right to go to the South. The constitution also says that it is the "duty of the State to confirm and guarantee the fundamental and inviolable human rights of individuals." Currently the South is betraying that promise."

Well, oil is an important part of the Iraqi equation, but when Bush critics say that it is all about oil, the WSJ bristles. I have no doubt that money is an important consideration in the North Korean reunification question, but I am sufficiently optimistic or naive to believe that it is not the driving force.

So, that said, let me present to the WSJ the "North Korean Challenge": maybe China and South Korea can not afford to take in a vast number of North Korean refugees, but I bet the US can. As longtime proponents of open borders, (if that link works, I'll be stunned) perhaps the WSJ would like to call for, say, one million green cards for North Koreans to come to the US. Many folks will flee, pressure on the regime will be intense, perhaps it collapses. Excellent!

OK, I can hear the first question - how much might that cost, and how do we afford it? I will take inspiration from the Michael Douglas character in "Falling Down", and respond thusly: Do you have any idea how much we spend right now in defending Korea? Well, neither do I, but I am sure it is a lot.

One million immigrants at $10,000 each is $10 Billion per year. But taking them in may crumble what may be the worst regime on Earth. Go for it.

The second problem is trickier - we may bring down the house, but South Korea and China will have to deal with the aftermath. They may staunchly oppose this US initiative. Embarass our ally, and China? Oh, live it up.

Now, could this be a serious US policy initiative? I don't know. But it could certainly be a serious WSJ editorial. They ought to step up, or shut up.

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