North Korean Defectors and Korea Experts Urge Hi-Tech Information Campaign to Open North Korea, Advance Reunification

Eric Olsen
July 19, 2016

Global Peace Foundation, U.S.-Korea Institute at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies Co-Host Washington, DC Forum and Congressional Briefing

WASHINGTON, DC—North Korean defectors and Korea experts appealed for greater international responses to the grave human rights crisis in North Korea through stepped up support for information technology access at a forum and Congressional briefing on July 13 in Washington. Panelists also encouraged support for a major Korean reunification campaign to advance development, human rights and denuclearization of the peninsula.

U.S. Rep. Matt Salmon, co-host of the Congressional briefing, “Empowering the Voice of North Korean Defectors,” expresses thanks to North Korean defectors for their bravery and dedication to the cause of human rights.

The One Korea Forum: “The Power of Freedom in Addressing the Divided Human Family—Empowering the Voice of North Korean Defectors,” was hosted at the U.S.-Korea Institute at the School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) at Johns Hopkins University and at the U.S. House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Hearing Room on Capitol Hill.

The forum and briefing are part of a comprehensive initiative by the Global Peace Foundation, which co-hosted the events, to raise awareness of the importance of Korean reunification for regional peace and the role of civil society in supporting the reunification process.

North Korean defector Grace Jo survived bitter hardship before escaping in 2008. She contrasted her daily life in the United State—from brushing her teeth, selecting clothes to wear, driving to her classes at the community college, turning on the radio for news and music—with the desperation of her early life, where her father was tortured and killed for stealing rice to feed the family, and grandmother and siblings died from abuse and starvation. “You can imagine that a defector’s journey is like walking a tightrope,” she said. “With the cost so high there is little chance you will be the same if you fall.”

North Korean defectors Grace Jo (above) and Cheol Hwan Kang (below, at left) advocate for refugees and for Koreans living in the North.

Ms. Jo called for political and civil society responses that address the human costs incurred as much as the political provocations and nuclear threats that the North Korean regime poses to the international order. She now serves as vice president of NK in USA, which supports North Korean refugees in the United States to adapt to life in the West.

Cheol Hwan Kang was imprisoned for 10 years as a child in a concentration camp and is now head of​ the North Korea Strategy Center, co-president of Action for Korea United and author of The Aquariums of Pyongyang. He discussed the deepening suppression of rights in the regime of Kim Jong Un and largely ineffective outcomes of international sanctions. He said the infusion of information from the outside is one way of effecting change. And he urged private organizations, rather than government, to take a leading role.

Dr. Edwin Feulner, the founder and former president of the Heritage Foundation, told the forum that current events suggest a “critical transitional period,” with the regime “upping the ante” in its threats to global security. He also noted that North Korean society is becoming slightly more open with the nascent appearance of markets that signal personal initiative, creativity and responsibility. “The informal economy, despite governmental attempts to suppress it, now appears to be such an integral part of the total economy that its existence seems irreversible,” he said.

Dr. Edwin Feulner, the founder and former president of the Heritage Foundation (above), says an emerging informal economy in North Korea presents potential for change. Hon. Choon Whan Kim, former Republic of Korea National Assembly member and co-chair of Action for Korea United (below), appealed for greater international support for Korean reunification.

Hon. Choon Whan Kim, former Republic of Korea National Assembly member and co-chair of Action for Korea United, reminded the forum of the key role of the United States in the region. He and other speakers called for the United States to support the process of reunification and ending the painful division of Korea and its people.

Action for Korea United is the largest Korean reunification movement representing more than 800 civil society organizations, and has engaged the support of North Korean defectors as well as Mr. Kim, the former Chairman of the Korean National Assembly Foreign Relations, Trade and Unification Committee.

Also addressing the Capitol Hill briefing, U.S.-Korea Institute at SAIS senior researcher Yon Ho Kim described possible strategies to facilitate change in North Korea. He urged a more aggressive infusion of information into the closed society through mass distribution of USB thumb drives, increased cellular phone platforms, miniature drones, and other broadcast media that can more specifically speak to the interests and concerns of the North Korean people.

Mr. Yon-ho Kim

SAIS senior researcher Yon Ho Kim said mass diffusion of information through new technologies can facilitate change in North Korea.

The forum and briefing were co-sponsored by Action for Korea United, North Korea Strategy Center, National Unification Advisory Council-Washington, NK in USA, Global Haninyondai, and One Korea Foundation.

U.S. Rep. Matt Salmon (R-AZ) and Rep. Charles Rangel (D-NY) served as Congressional hosts for the briefing.

Bipartisan legislation authorizing the State Department to provide support for greater information technology access was recently introduced by the House Asia and the Pacific Subcommittee chaired by Rep. Matt Salmon.

The Korean Dream

The Global Peace Foundation has placed special emphasis on the continuing division of Korea and prospects for reunification, as well as supported diverse public education and humanitarian campaigns and civil society partnerships to raise awareness of approaches and implications of a reunified Korea for regional peace, shared prosperity and global stability.


The Korean Dream: A
Vision of a Unified Korea

A vision and framework for reunification called the “Korean Dream,” advanced by GPF chairman Dr. Hyun Jin P. Moon in a 2014 book, is engaging all sectors and generations of Korean society based on an ancient cultural ethos that calls upon Koreans to live for the benefit of others, and by the Global Peace Foundation’s reunifying vision of One Family under God.

Initiatives include international conferences of leading scholars, policymakers and business leaders; a forum series co-sponsored by the Center for Strategic and International Studies with experts from Russia, China, Japan, Mongolia and the United States; and popular campaigns, rallies and concerts throughout South Korea with leading K-Pop artists to strengthen awareness of reunification among youth as the surest path to resolving conflict and expanding economic opportunity and prosperity.

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