US seeks change in NK by sending more info
By Kim Young-jin
The United States will work to increase the flow of information into North Korea amid signs of change in the repressive state’s media landscape, a U.S. human rights envoy said Thursday.
“In the North Korean context, small but significant changes are underway, and the United States remains committed to increasing information into the DPRK,” Robert King, U.S. special envoy for North Korean human rights issues, told a forum in Seoul. “Breaking the information blockade is the key to positive change in North Korea.”
Washington sends broadcasts into the North via networks such as Radio Free Asia and Voice of America and finances NGOs promoting human rights and economic reform in the Stalinist state.
Pyongyang remains one of the worst repressors of information in the world, doling out harsh punishments for offenses such as owning a tunable radio. King said the North’s ability to control information flow was not only key to maintaining its isolated system but also behind a dearth of concern over its abuses.
Observers have noted slight improvements in recent years including the introduction of a mobile phone network and the circulation of foreign DVDs via informal markets.
King pointed to Pyongyang’s announcement of its botched satellite launch in April, a move it did not make after previous failures, as a positive sign that such efforts are making a difference.
“One thing I am convinced of is that the decision…was largely because people would know that in fact the satellite was at the bottom of the Yellow (West) Sea. (It) reflects the effect of information getting into North Korea and constraints it places on the government,” he said.
King’s remarks come at a sensitive time for Pyongyang as it works to consolidate popular support for new leader Kim Jong-un following the death of his father Kim Jong-il late last year. Observers say factors such as low food rations and a poor harvest could deliver a blow to his standing among the people.
King traveled to the North last year to assess the food situation in the country, and the sides eventually hammered out a deal under which Pyongyang would receive food aid in return for denuclearization steps. The North scuttled the agreement with its April 13 launch that was seen as a test of ballistic missile technology.
King reiterated the Barack Obama administration’s stance that while Washington is ready to engage Pyongyang it will not perpetuate the North’s cycle of provocation and negotiation.
“The path toward prosperity and security is to live up to its international obligations and commitments. The DPRK will achieve nothing by threats or by provocations, which undermine international efforts to ensure peace and stability in Northeast Asia,” he said.
The North Korean Human Rights Act of 2004 directs Washington to provide humanitarian assistance to the North Korean population, finance human rights groups, increase information flow and provide legal assistance to North Korean refugees.