[EDITORIALS]Mr. Bush and Mr. KangAt his meeting in the Oval Office on Monday with Kang Chol-hwan, author of “The Aquariums of Pyongyang: Ten Years in a North Korean Gulag,” U.S. President George W. Bush said that he felt sorry for the starving children and pregnant women in the North, and vowed to devote more effort to the North Korean human rights issue.
With this highly symbolic gesture, the Bush administration raised the issue of human rights in the North just three days after Mr. Bush’s summit with President Roh Moo-hyun. This is one event that has gotten our attention.
During the summit, Bush is said to have brought up North Korean human rights. The Foreign Ministry said Mr. Roh offered a “different method” of addressing the issue, and that Mr. Bush listened. He is said to have asked Mr. Kang why South Koreans are not enraged over Kim Jong-il’s violations of human rights. His remarks show that there is a perspective on this issue that is different from Seoul’s.
Our government has looked the other way on North Korean human rights, for fear of agitating the North. South Korea has abstained from United Nations Human Rights Commission votes condemning Pyongyang’s abuses. Even when the issue was the kidnapping of its own citizens, such as the Reverend Kim Dong-shik, the government stayed quiet.
In this, the Roh administration is continuing former President Kim Dae-jung’s policy. The government’s position is to hope that humanitarian support and inter-Korean exchanges bring about real improvement in the situation.
But aid and exchanges have continued, and nothing has changed. What excuse can we give to the people who are suffering? Human rights is an issue on which there can be no compromise. Our government needs to make this clear to the North so that the international community won’t point fingers at us.
The Bush administration has shown a deep interest in North Korean human rights. In May, a U.S. human rights official singled out countries such as North Korea when he said that the United States won’t forget people who yearn for freedom, and that it would support their struggle. In light of remarks such as these, close attention should be paid to what Mr. Bush said to Kang Chol-hwan.