Sunday, July 20, 2003

One of the most interesting strategies I've seen for dealing with North Korea is hidden between the lines of a Washington Post op-ed column by Senator Richard Lugar:
[W]e should authorize the resettlement of some North Korean refugees in this country, and press our allies to do the same. If this sparks a greater flow of North Koreans from their gulag-like country, some would argue, that could help keep pressure on North Korea or even hasten the fall of the Pyongyang regime, much as the flight of East Germans in 1989 helped undermine the Communist system there.
Of course, the number of refugees that the US and its allies would be willing to take would have little effect on the North Korean government. Moreover, by encouraging further flight, such half-measures would only increase China's North Korean refugee problem--and thus encourage China to return to its current policy of repatriating all North Korean refugees found on its soil.

There is one country, however, that has real reasons to accept North Korean refugees in large numbers: South Korea. Apart from cultural, ethnic and even family affinities with the North, South Koreans have a long-term desire to reunify their peninsula, and thus an incentive to adopt policies that will hasten that end. Also, since such an outcome would result in a Southward flood of refugees in any event--and it seems very likely that that flood will occur some day, one way or another--it may actually be in South Korea's interest to absorb as many fleeing refugees as it can today.

If the South were to promise to grant asylum to any North Korean captured in China--thus unburdening China of its Korean refugee problem--then China might well consider changing its repatriation policy. The resulting flow of refugees, in addition to powerfully undermining the Northern tyranny, would be a humanitarian godsend for those who managed to escape.

All that's missing, of course, is the political will in South Korea, where the arrival of millions of terrorized, malnourished, destitute, uneducated Northerners is unfortunately viewed as a terrible threat rather than a sparkling opportunity. Perhaps South Koreans should look to the example of Israel, which has for decades absorbed Jewish refugees from all over the world, in numbers well beyond its "natural" capacity to do so. Sadly, the achievements of the Israeli model are rarely even given credit--let alone emulated--elsewhere.

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