[FOUNTAIN]The Vietnamese solution

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[FOUNTAIN]The Vietnamese solution

"It was a boundless ocean. I was snatched from the jaws of death. I just do not want to think of it again anymore," said a Vietnamese refugee who arrived on the west coast of the Korean Peninsula in May 1989 after a desperate voyage that lasted more than 50 days. Anyway, he is a lucky person; he survived the harsh aftermath of the Vietnam War, which ended on April 30, 1975.

Jean-Paul Sartre, a prominent intellectual of the 20th century, said the Vietnam War was "the war testing human beings' morality."

The Vietnam War left significant scars. Thousands of Vietnamese fled their country, boarding small fishing boats or rafts to avoid revenge from the Communist regime. The flight was the start of the boat people.

According to statistics from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, 793,000 people had fled Vietnam by sea to other countries in Southeast Asia by the end of 1992. Not many countries welcomed the boat people, who were not regarded as "refugees." Numberless Vietnamese escapers died of starvation or were killed by pirates at sea.

They also came to South Korea. Since Korea participated in the war, it could not turn a deaf ear to the screams of the refugees, so the government built a refugee camp in Busan for the Vietnamese. Beginning with the rescue of 22 Vietnamese by a merchant ship in the South China Sea in September 1977 until 1993, a total of 1,200 Vietnamese stayed at the camp temporarily, later leaving for countries that granted them visas.

The tragedy of the boat people seemed to be a never ending story, but it came to an end with "doi moi," the reconstruction policy of the Vietnam Communists. The Vietnamese government shifted its policy from a planned economy to a market-driven economy in 1986. Living standards rose and the boat people disappeared.

Since the 1990s, more boat people have returned home. After doi moi, the gross domestic product of Vietnam increased 10-fold, and per capita income jumped from less than $50 to $400.

Twenty-one North Koreans arrived in South Korea on Monday after two days at sea in a 20-ton wooden fishing boat. Their escape came five years after a family made the first defection by sea from North Korea.

A number of North Korean defectors are in China and their homeland is famine-stricken. I worry about North Korean boat people filling the West Sea and the East Sea. The solution might be to follow Vietnam's free-market example.



The writer is a JoongAng Ilbo editorial Writer.

by Sohn Byoung-soo

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