Secretary of State Hillary R. Clinton met Japan’s Foreign Minister Dec. 19 to plan a strategy with regards to North Korea as humanitarians worldwide expressed hope–and fear–in the wake of Kim Jong Il’s death.
“We share the recognition that it is important to make sure that the latest event would not negatively affect the peace and stability on the Korean peninsula,” said Foreign Minister Koichiro Genba. “For this purpose we affirm to closely monitor the situation concerned and to coordinate closely with each other by sharing information.”
Dictator Kim Jong Il died from working tirelessly for the North Korean people, said Ri Chung Hee, the same news anchor from the Korean Central News Agency who announced Kim’s father’s death.
“He died of a sudden illness on Dec. 17. We make this announcement with great sorrow,” she said, dressed in black and weeping.
Genba said he hopes to see concrete efforts towards denuclearization of North Korea, and also expresses gratitude to the United States for raising the issue of North Korea’s abduction of Japanese citizens during every North Korea/US dialogue, he said.
“Due to the most recent developments we are seeing an increasing bubble of interest and attention to how the process of dealing with the abduction issue develops in Japan,” he said.
Clinton said the Obama administration is relying closely on the advice of other countries in the region in the aftermath of Kim’s death. “We reiterate our hope for improved relations with the people of North Korea, and remain deeply concerned about their wellbeing.”
Prof. Ronald G. Dimberg of the University of Virginia, who teaches the history of inter-Korean affairs, said without understanding Kim’s successor, Kim Jong-un, it is difficult to tell whether possibilities for healthy US/North Korea relations have improved or not.
“No one knows much of anything about him, including the extent of his apprenticeship. We know that his father had several years of training before succeeding Kim Il-sung, but the same is clearly not the case with Kim Jong-un,” he said.
Kim Jong-un received part of his education in Switzerland–more exposure to the outside world than most North Koreans, including most of his family members, could imagine, said Paul M. F. Estabrooks, Canadian senior communications specialist with the humanitarian advocacy group Open Doors International.
“No one knows for sure if that’s a positive thing in his outlook on the world,” he said.
Dimberg said the US should tread lightly. “Of utmost importance now is to stay alert and to do nothing to raise fears and concerns in Pyongyang. Remember the importance of the year 2012 for the DPRK, marking the 100th anniversary of the birth of Kim Il-sung. That was to have been, and will be, a very special year for North Korea, but now for reasons unimagined originally.”
Dr. Carl Moeller, president of ODI, said with increased government surveillance following Kim’s death; some underground Christians in North Korea have become fearful they might face more suffering. “Though this brutal dictator who was responsible for so many atrocities has died, the future is still unknown.”
North Korean prison camps hold an estimated 50,000 to 70,000 Christians, he said.
Todd Nettleton, spokesman for Voice of the Martyrs, another persecution advocacy group, said his contacts in North Korea do not expect much change in the government’s attitude towards Christians following Kim Jong Il’s death.
“North Korea doesn’t announce anything publicly until they are ready to deal with the situation and maintain control,” he said. “So this public announcement means they think they are ready to deal with the situation and maintain control and power within the country.”
However, officials have stepped up house raids on hidden Christians since the Oct. 2010 annunciation of Kim Jong-un as next leader, said “Simon,” a Christian in North Korea whose last name was withheld for protection.
Simon helps ODI, which delivered food and clothing to 56,000 North Koreans in 2011, secretly distributing more than 30,000 Christian texts, according to a Dec. 19 report.
Simon said he has reservations about the certainty of Kim Jong-un’s succession.
“There may be a power struggle, which he may not win,” he said. “On the other hand, the clique around the Kims has been able to hold the ropes for over six decades. They have made it very difficult for opponents to get organized. Something special is needed to topple the regime.”
Clinton said the Administration stands ready to help the North Koreans amidst these difficult times. “The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea is now in a period of national mourning.”
A North Korean refugee said Kim Jong Il’s death brought back memories of feigning sadness when Jong Il’s predecessor Kim Il Sung died in 1994: “We had to cry or we would be punished. I brought a needle and punched it in my skin real hard, just so I would cry. I think that most of the people who weep for Kim Jong Il in public are acting.”
Another refugee said she has mixed feelings about Kim’s death. “I always thought I’d be happy when he was dead. I hated him but God taught me to love my enemies.”
Nettleton and Estabrooks both said that while they cannot expect Dec. 17’s death announcement to bring about sweeping freedoms, they have hope for the future.
Simon said he hopes 2012 brings freedom to believe.
“We pray for freedom for all citizens so that they may be free to live how they want and allowed to believe what they want. We want those prison camps to open up so we can embrace our brothers and sisters in Christ who have suffered there under terrible circumstances.”
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