My edited question to my instructor, about the North Korean refugees in China that were previously mention:
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I want to know what your thoughts are on this issue. Personally, I do think China could do better in this field. However, even if China does give all of the refugees to South Korea (or even forces them all into South Korea), what’s not to stop these people from being exploited in the South? More refugees in South Korea, means going from being exploited in China, to being exploited in South Korea. The timing of raising this issue is also questionable, and it seems like it’s a way for the Right and the 새누리당 to garner more votes (동정표).
To me, most of the rhetoric is just anti-Chinese, and sounds like a chance to blame a lot of things on China. I mean, if South Korea were serious about saving North Koreans, the Lee, Myung-Bak administration should have continued on with the Sunshine policy. Even though some may criticize opening North Korea’s economy doesn’t necessarily mean North Korea is opening up as a whole, I think freedom in economic policies eventually bleeds into freedom at large, slowly but surely. Take China and South Korea for instance: South Korea’s totalitarian government took almost 40 years to transform into a full-fledged democracy, and although there may be issues with Freedom of Speech (à la “National Security Laws” which put people in jail for praising the North, even out of sarcasm), South Korea overall is better today than it was before, and a major factor is due to its economic development. Granted, I don’t mean to discount the democracy demonstrations and protests, but economic freedom, did indeed brought in more foreign contact and exchange of information, international dialogue, etc…
China’s Communist Party may be stubbornly holding its grip on its people, but nonetheless, it is opening up economically, culturally, and slowly but surely, politically as well. Although you won’t see protests for democracy in China like you had in South Korea in the 1980s, there are many protests going on in China challenging the unjustices of big business, one in which, the leader of such protests, was voted in as a village leader. That’s right, the guy wasn’t even put to prison! Hard to believe, after the events of 1989, with laws against mass public organizations.
Back to the ineffectiveness of South Korea’s policies towards refugees: Bringing in refugees to the South, I believe, is less fruitful than expanding the Kaesong Industrial Complex. After going through hell to escape China and other countries, they end up in the South, basically being put in a sort of internment camp, where they are interrogated to ensure they aren’t spies, then given months of readjustment education, and then, on top of that, they are given a slight stipend to the day of their death, along with other social services. Not saying they don’t deserve this, but it’s costing the South Korean taxpayer much more than it would take a private company to invest in North Korea and directly improve the lives of North Koreans, by giving them employment in a South Korean company, which means these people don’t have to “work” at a North Korean company that only keeps its peoples names on the books, but can’t afford to pay them anything.
Back to China, bashing it isn’t going to do a damn thing, unless the international community is willing to step up to the plate. Why is China alone responsible for the safety of the North Korean refugees in its country? That’s like saying Americans should care for all illegal immigrants in the United States. You ask any right-wing Republican, and I want to see how quickly they would blast that idea. What incentive does China have to hand these refugees over? It’s risking its business ventures in North Korea, and losing political capital at the same time. This isn’t just about business though, now that South Korea has essentially ended the Sunshine policy, China is now picking up North Korea’s slack, investing in North Korea, giving everyday North Koreans employment, and evermore increasing those business ventures in new areas. Not only do they bring in capital to North Korea, they also bring in outside information (i.e. South Korean dramas). So what is China supposed to do then?
My instructor’s edited response:
There is controversy over China’s dealing with N.K defectors in international community.
The international community (including the U.S.) raises questions about N.K’s human rights and criticizes both N.K. and China about violation of human rights.
South Korea has also come to realized the gravity of these issues. S.K. has been reluctant to pass N.K. human rights laws and press N.K. about it, because N.K. defectors are a “hot potato” for both the liberals and the conservatives in South Korea’s political terrain. If S.K. increases its pressure on N.K. with human rights issues and incites N.K., they would bear animosity against S.K. and claim that it’s interruption of domestic affairs.
(N.K may also bring up the National Security Law issues to fire back and stir up international community’s opinion)
If massive N.K. defectors are allowed to go to S.K. or a third country (i.e. America), it could cause two possible negative problems (socio-economic, and foreign relations problems between S.K. and China, and S.K. and the U.S.)
First, I think S.K is economically not ready to absorb or control the influx of massive N.K. defectors to S.K. even China allows N.K defectors to go to S.K as political refugee.
S.K already learned this lesson about negative aspects (economic burden) of unification from Germany after East Germany’s collapse. S.K does not have enough of a safety net to accept N.K defectors.
That’s why even the conservative regime (이명박 administration) does not sternly stand up against N.K’s terrible human rights situation, despite the conservative wing’s calling for economic sanctions (stopping economic aids).
As you mentioned, N.K. defectors are likely to be discriminated or to be exploited due to lack of understanding capitalism. Especially low skilled N.K defectors may compete with third world labors and struggle with surviving in capitalism) It may result in socio-economic disparity between South Koreans and North Korean defectors. That would be a potential hinderance on unification.
Second, Political tensions between two Koreas, China, and the U.S may escalate depending on the choices they make over the N.K. defectors. This is a possible scenario. If massive N.K defectors stay and cause social unrest in China it may result in N.K.’s tighter border security and more oppression on defectors. It would finally lead to further deteriorating N.K human rights.
If the majority of N.K defectors choose to go to America instead of S.K. for political reasons, and the U.S. accepts more N.K defectors, It would severely damage the image of S.K. as a democratic country or member of the OECD. This scenario is the same as the POWs of the Korean War who were exiled to third-party countries (South America).
In conclusion, In order to raise questions about N.K. human rights and to respond to international community’s calling for harsher policies against N.K., S.K. needs to be superior to N.K in terms of human rights. Then, S.K needs to use effectively both sticks and carrots to deal with N.K.
Unfortunately at this moment, South Korea does not have any effective tools to break the current impasse between two Koreas. Because N.K. does not want economic aids from S.K, instead, N.K. wants to make a deal with the U.S to shrink S.K.’s influence. The worst scenario may come to reality.