Speech made at Chosun Ilbo’s 8th Asian Leadership Conference

First of all, I would like to express my gratitude to Chosun Ilbo and Mr. Ahn Byung-hoon, Chairman of the UniKorea Foundation, who made it possible for me to speak here at the 8th Asian Leadership Conference on the topic of “Inclusion and Integration”.

Today, I would like to talk to you about the driving forces of Korean unification and how unification can be achieved using the method of inclusion and integration.

I believe that the main agents of unification on the Korean peninsula are the citizens of South and North Korea.  I strongly believe that unification will be achieved when the hearts and minds of both North and South Koreans unite and become one, and the strength of the people are used to break down the barriers of division.

Today, South Korea has developed into a democratic country and a global economic powerhouse that is admired by the rest of the world. In contrast, since the mid-1990’s North Korea’s socialist economic and welfare system have collapsed. Since then, for the past 20 years, North Koreans against the hereditary rule of the Kim family, and who wish to have the right to decide over their lives, have resisted and fought the system in silence. And this fight is still ongoing today.

While there were only a few tiny back markets and cricket markets about 20 years ago, today in North Korea, there are about 400 markets (jangmadang). This phenomenon has allowed the basic elements of the capitalist market economy to take root in North Korea. The merchants or ‘big wholesalers’ that can be seen so commonly today would have been executed twenty years ago for the crimes of being ‘anti-socialists’, ‘smugglers’, ‘wholesalers’ or ‘masters of money’ (donju) and for disrupting the socialist economic system. However, driven by the idea of sustaining their livelihoods by themselves one way or another, North Koreans can no longer be oppressed by the authorities’ crackdowns or the public executions. This mindset is what has slowly led to the establishment of today’s a market economy system and the modern day jangmadangs.

Since the establishment of the Kim Jong-un regime, over the past five years, about 140 high-ranking state officials who were skeptical about economy-nuclear parallel policy, publicly spoke about the modernization of the country or secretly resisted against Kim Jong-un have been executed. In fact, the number of North Koreans who have been deported from Pyongyang or sent to political prison camps for resisting against Kim Jong-un are almost 100 times the number of people who sacrificed their lives in the May 18 Gwangju Democratization Movement. In the 70-year history of the Workers’ Party of Korea, there have been times when individuals were purged for being anti-party and counter-revolutionaries. However, there had never been a time when a whole department that is at the frontline of North Korean society, such as the Central Committee Administrative Department, has been massacred- until now.

Today, despite the fact that North Koreans can be executed for distributing South Korean movies, or severely punished for even watching South Korean movies, the acts of singing praises of Kim Jong-un during the day and watching South Korean movies at night has spread throughout the country. Even if they are under the constant control and surveillance by the North Korean authorities, the younger generation, including university students, has accepted the influence of the Korean wave ‘Hallyu’. While knowing their lives are risk, they still imitate the South Korean fashion and way of speaking and sing South Korean and American pop songs quietly with every opportunity they can.

When a 17-year old North Korean soldier recently crossed the Military Demarcation Line (MDL), he was asked how he made the decision to leave his barracks and walk 35 km across the MDL, he replied confidently that he thought of the South Korean movies he had seen before he had entered the military and crossed the line of death.

Similarly, the mathematical prodigy who participated in the International Mathematical Olympics explained that he chose to come to South Korea alone, leaving his parents in North Korea, in order to realize his dream of becoming a mathematician.

In North Korea, where people hesitate to tell even their own parents about any thoughts that go against the party policies, it was difficult to believe until recently that 10 waitresses could collectively defect and come to South Korea- an event that would have been impossible to imagine just a few years back.

Currently in North Korea, there are about 200,000 people, that’s one hundredth of the population, who are locked up in political prison camps, prisons and labour training camps due to ‘guilt-by-association’, for the simple fact that they or their parents or siblings opposed the regime.

In November 2009, as soon as Kim Jong-un was appointed as the successor to the North Korean regime, with the execution of Pak Nam-gi, he ordered the end of the on-going currency reform just one month into the reform. The new leader and his unrealistic economic policies led to the first case of nationwide resistance by the North Korean people. What this shows is that that the only way for Kim Jong-un to exercise control over the North Koreans who are naturally strongly rebellious and where the majority are already opposed to the regime, is through a reign of terror by conducting public executions and expansion of central power through the development of nuclear missiles. What the Kim Jong-un regime fears is not a pre-emptive strike by the United States but rather a change in the North Korean public sentiment, where the regime leader and public policies become irrelevant, and instead people start leaning towards South Korea and caring more about sustaining their own lives.

However, unfortunately, until now, the fight of the North Korean people against their regime has not received the interest and support it deserves by South Korea and the international community.


Ladies and Gentlemen,

Given that the communist system by nature prohibits freedom of expression, it is impossible to determine in advance how far the anger and frustration of the North Korean people has reached. However, the history of European communist regimes has shown that when the anger and frustration of the people builds up and bursts, communist regimes collapse. Just as the economic growth and democratization of South Korea was achieved through the power of the South Korean people, the democratization of North Korea has to be achieved through the fight of the North Korean people. For this to happen, the South Korean people, who until now have only been driven by democratization and economic growth, must pay attention and listen to the oppressed voices of the North Korean people who are resisting the regime in silence. The human rights activists and democratic heroes who led the struggle for democratization of South Korea must now lead the fight for the democratization and human rights of the North Korean people.

Although the sanctions on North Korea have not been able to change the nuclear ambitions of Kim Jong-un, they have largely contributed to the weakening of the socialist economic system and awakened the North Koreans about their right to survival. Now we must use any means possible to inform the North Korean people about South Korea’s proud struggle for democracy and economic growth, as well as the inherent rights of humans. If Kim Jong-un’s symmetric weapons are nuclear and missile weapons, the values of freedom and democracy, and economic power, are ours.  If Kim Jong-un is preparing to attack South Korea by sending drones to the centre of the country, then we should use drones to drop leaflets and dollars to show the North Korean people that they are not alone. Instead of dropping bunker-busters, a ‘flyer and dollar bomb’ should be released.

Through our contact and personal exchanges with North Korean people and policy makers we should continue to convey our support to the North Korean people and reconnect the cultural exchanges that have been broken through private-level exchanges, cooperation and support. The Kaesong Industrial Complex, which acts as a collision buffer between North and South Korea, should be re-established on the principle that it respects the human rights of North Korean workers and informs them about their right to receive a fair compensation for their work.

Discussions between the South and North Korea should be opened without any conditions. During the time that the relations between the North and South have been on hold, over the past 10 years, the political structure of South Korea has become more transparent, and the legal democratic procedures have been strengthened even further. Now, South Korea must make it clear that the days when North Korea could receive things through certain policymakers are over, and Kim Jong-un will not be able to receive anything else from South Korea unless he gives up his nuclear and missile development program.

The time has come for not anybody else but the Korean people take control of its fate. South Koreans, who share the same blood, language and culture, have the power to enlighten the North Korean people and help ensure a peaceful change of government. The 30,000 North Korean defectors who are already in South Korea are the leaders of unification who have already scarred the Kim Jong-un regime and are the treasures of unification.

The activities for unification carried out by North Korean defector organisations need the support of the South Korean people.Measures should be taken to avoid unification activities from being politically influenced by the domestic political situation.

Furthermore, customised policies should be created targeting the North Korean elite, so they abandon the Kim Jong-un regime and join the South Korean people for national reconciliation.

We should follow in the footsteps of the West German government who convinced the government of Hungary to open up the border with Austria leading to the fall of the Berlin Wall; and so we should convince the Chinese government and its people that if the Chinese-DPRK border is opened up, millions of North Koreans would cross over the Yalu and Tumen rivers to get to South Korea and it would just be a matter of days before the DMZ collapses.

China and Russia should also acknowledge the changing reality of North Korea and make the strategic decision to give up onNorth Korea.

The international community should adopt a UN resolution to refer Kim Jong-un and the other human rights perpetrators, who without hesitation have injured tens of thousands of North Korean people, starting from his own uncleand his half-brother, to even a young American man in his 20s to the International Criminal Court.

Unification will happen when the hearts of the people of the South and the North become one, creating a force so strong that neighbouring countries will not be able to block.

I believe that this is the method of unification we should all be pushing for.

Thank you.