[Outlook]Preference for foreigners?The story of Renate Hong, who visited South Korea in the hopes of reuniting with her North Korean husband she was separated from nearly half a century ago, is making headlines in both South Korea and Germany.
The story of the former East German woman is moving. She married a North Korean student who had studied in East Germany, but he was summoned home a year later and she has not seen him since. She raised their two sons on her own and she has still not forgotten her husband and wishes to see him again.
Hong’s story appeals to Korean sentiment so her story seems to be drawing more attention in South Korea than in Germany. In reports about her in Korea, she is described as a faithful and committed wife, a highly appreciated virtue in Korean tradition.
Hong’s visit to South Korea seems to be successful, although it is still uncertain whether she can be reunited with her long-lost husband in the North.
But she achieved her goal for the visit, which is to ask for help from the leaders of the two Koreas. According to news reports, the Blue House and the Ministry of Unification in South Korea have said that they will do their best to help make Hong’s wish come true.
I feel uneasy, to be honest, to hear that the South Korean government said it will do its best for Hong because she has a humanitarian issue. The government deserves praise in light of the woman’s long, sad story, but I can’t forget the families of South Korean prisoners of war or abductees who still remain in North Korea.
According to the South Korean government’s estimates, more than 1,000 South Korean prisoners of war or civilians kidnapped by the North still remain there. The stories of families separated for their entire lives are no less moving than Hong’s story.
The mother of a son who was kidnapped by the North some 30 years ago still prepares a bowl of rice for him at every meal, waiting for him to come back home.
The South Korean government’s response to these families is very different from its favorable response to Hong. A good example is the unification minister’s controversial remark that some of the South Koreans who were believed to be kidnapped by the North actually chose to cross the border on their own.
Even if his claim could be true, that is not something the person in charge of the government’s unification policy should say. This is particularly true when North Korea has not even admitted the existence of South Korean prisoners of war or abductees living in the North.
The South Korean government has been uninterested and has treated the families of those prisoners of war and abductees badly. There have been several cases in which the South Koreans remaining in the North took risks and escaped but they ran into trouble because the South Korean government was not very helpful.
In some cases even if they crossed the border, they were forced to go back to North Korea. While the former and incumbent administrations have been pursuing the Sunshine Policy for nearly 10 years, these South Koreans living in North Korea and their families have been trembling in the shadows.
During the Korean War, 80,000 South Koreans were kidnapped by North Korea and more than 40,000 South Korean soldiers taken prisoners. If North Korean policy does not address this issue, it is nothing but a fancy package with tags that say peace, reconciliation and exchange.
The raison d’etre of a country is to protect its people’s lives and assets. The Japanese government persistently raises the question of Japanese citizens abducted by North Korea. The U.S. government does its best to find the remains of U.S. soldiers who died during the Korean War and bring them home. The South Korean government must learn from these two countries.
The government has neglected its duty to solve the issue of the prisoners of war and abductees.
But an official in the Blue House who received Hong’s appeal said that her case can be mentioned in the summit meeting scheduled for October.
It is good that the government cares about a foreigner. But it does not make sense that it is kind to a foreigner when it treats its own people badly.
I would like to ask the Blue House official, for whom is this administration working?
*The writer is a professor of Western history at Seoul National University. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.
by Ahn Byung-jik