In the midst of the campaign it passed under the radar for many people, but last week President Bush signed into law the North Korea Freedom Act (NKFA), which remarkably had passed unanimously both Houses of Congress. In a nutshell this law establishes that human rights issues be addressed equally with weapons proliferation issues when dealing with the aberrant, dysfunctional regime of Kim Jong Il.
Directly and indirectly, the NKFA puts pressure on both the Peoples Republic of China and South Korea to clean up their respective acts regarding North Korean defectors. This is necessary because there are far too many instances of forcible repatriation to North Korea by the PRC of the defectors. This is tantamount to a death sentence for the majority, who are sent to concentration camps upon return. Many others languish in Chinese prisons but count themselves fortunate that they are in China, which they regard as a virtual paradise compared to the abysmal conditions common in North Korea -- a fact that in itself should be telling.
A long, tenuous underground railroad now stretches from the broad, wind-scoured plains of Manchuria to the humid jungles of Vietnam and Thailand, a dangerous escape route that most of the defectors must traverse if they are to reach freedom. Recently, almost 450 North Koreans were flown from Saigon to Seoul on a mercy mission by a South Korean government that has also turned a blind eye and a deaf ear to the plight of their Northern brethren. While the ruling party wishes the refugee question away, the Grand National Party, the conservative opposition, is publicly challenging them to honor their moral responsibilities to their fellow Koreans.
Many American citizens are involved in the rescue effort including the indomitable Suzanne Scholte of the Defense Forum Foundation in Washington, D.C., who has been amazing in her energy and example in saving defector's lives. If you are looking for a worthy cause, you can find few more deserving of your assistance.
But it's not without danger. Several American citizens - native and naturalized - now are being held in Chinese prisons for assisting North Korean defectors. We won't raise names here for fear of jeopardizing their welfare, but action is being taken on their behalf. Most of the pressure on China to release these American prisoners for the "crime" of helping the less fortunate comes at the initiative of the North Korea Freedom Coalition (which includes Scholte among several others) through Capitol Hill. Senators Brownback and Lugar, and Congressmen Hyde and Cox, are among the most involved members.
We've heard a lot of nonsense in this campaign including extravagant promises and unfounded criticism. Be advised that the Bush policy in dealing with North Korea is the most viable and effective. We must keep talks multilateral, maintain firm pressure, and address all issues equally. To return to the appeasement and accommodation of Clinton/Carter would permit the already dangerous situation to deteriorate further.