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Leaflets Are Not the Point

October 29, 2008

This editorial originally appeared in the Daily NK.

On the 23rd of October, Minister of Unification Kim Ha Jung revealed that he would try to persuade North Korean human rights organizations to stop sending leaflets to North Korea.

On the 6th of October, through North-South working level military talks, North Korea requested that the South prohibit civic groups from spreading leaflets inside the North. On the 21st a bulletin put out by Minju Choson (Democratic North Korea) accused the South Korean government of allowing civic organizations to spread the leaflets. Minister Kim’s comment appears to recognize the pressure from North Korea.

The leaflets that non-governmental organizations are flying into North Korea contain information about the anti-democratic nature of Kim Jong Il’s regime and the need for opening and reform in North Korean society. Minister Kim’s comment that he would try to restrain the activity shows that the Ministry of Unification has not yet overcome the past administration’s old approach, which did not implement firm policies based on strategy, but urgently watched the North Korean regime’s attitude.

In the first place, Minister Kim selected the wrong target to persuade; not domestic civic organizations but the North Korean authorities, who have no intention of opening reforms or improving human rights, must first be persuaded of their wrongdoings. If the North accepts the path of opening and reform, cooperation will increase and strengthen. On the other hand, if the North resists change, acute pressure and sanctions will follow. The fact that there is no other way except opening and reform must be made clear by showing the correlation between these policies. This is persuasion via action.

The goals and strategies of the South’s North Korean policy must be clear and the tactics must be flexible. The goal is opening and reform. The strategy is separating the people from Kim Jong Il, isolating and weakening him, while at the same time empowering and increasing the standard of living for regular citizens. Only if the tactics are flexible and diverse can this kind of goal and strategy become a reality.

Minister Kim doesn’t seem to have the capacity to persuade and press North Korea consistently, based on a clear purpose and strategy. If that’s the case, achieving a certain or desirable response may be difficult. However there is nothing preventing him from invoking the claim that “As South Korea is a democratic state, the government cannot interfere in civil activity at will without a lawful basis.”

The North’s request to end the leaflet deliveries through the North-South working level military talks took place on the 6th. The National Defense Ministry explained to the North that in areas outside of military control zones, complete control of civic groups’ actions has limitations. If the argument that the Unification Ministry needs to convince the North doesn’t gain any traction, then resorting to the kind of statement that the Defense Ministry gave is the thing to do. Certainly that should come before telling civic groups, who are breaking in their backs to bring about change in the North, to knock it off.

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