North Korea: No meeting of minds

A North Korean propaganda poster

As a member of the European parliament’s delegation to Korea, I was able today to attend a meeting with members of the Delegation of the Supreme People’s Assembly of North Korea.  I have attended such meetings many times before, and we usually find ourselves talking past each other’s heads, with no meeting of minds.  We know what’s going on in NK.  They know what’s going on in NK.  But they’re not allowed to admit what they know.

We had an “incident”.  An  MEP, Lucas Hartong (Non Inscrit, Netherlands), jumped up early in the proceedings with a pre-prepared banner reading “Freedom for North Korea”, and shouting the same slogan he paraded in front of the visitors.  I understand his strength of feeling, but it was rather unparliamentary behaviour.  He’d brought his own photographer with him, so I suppose we should have guessed that something was afoot.

For those who don’t follow these matters, NK is dirt-poor and the people are close to starving.  They rely on gifts of food aid from the USA, EU, South Korea, China and so on.  They also rely on energy supplies from China and elsewhere.  Dependent on charity from their neighbours, they are a mendicant state.  Their South Korean neighbours, facing generally the same sort of challenges, have a per capita GDP twenty times higher.  That’s such a huge figure that I’ll repeat it.  Not 20% higher. Twenty times higher.  And the reason for the difference is that NK has a totally dysfunctional economy — or you could say, no economy at all.

And no human rights.  The country is run by and for the ruling Kim family and the small clique who surround them.  They get imported Hennessey brandy, Cuban cigars and caviar, while the people starve.  Credible estimates from respected NGOs suggest that some 200,000 North Koreans are actually in prison camps — something like 1% of the population.  But it would not be stretching the point too far to say that the whole country is a prison camp, where everyone lives in fear of denunciation from their neighbours, denied basic freedoms and information, in dread of the midnight knock on the door.

I asked a question about the food situation, and they listed all the exciting things they were doing to improve food production, including new types of seeds — “We call it Seed Revolution”.  I scribbled a note to my neighbour, a Slovene MEP.  “Let Them Eat Slogans”.

But I also asked a question which you may find amusing — it certainly amused me.  A couple of years back, the NKs undertook a “currency reform”.  It was designed to undermine the thriving black market in food, which was a lifeline for many Koreans.  In the process it also devalued what pitiful savings they might have.  In retrospect, it was an all-round disaster.

So I asked: “A couple of years back, you undertook a process of currency reform, which resulted in very significant problems.  Could you tell us how that is going now?  You will be aware that we in Europe have also spent the last ten years undertaking our own currency reform, the euro, which is now facing very serious problems indeed.  Would you agree with me that major currency reforms based on political or ideological principles are fraught with very serious risks?”.

Collapse of stout party.

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10 Responses to North Korea: No meeting of minds

  1. All I knew about North Korea was from the South Park film with the little song about Kim Jong Il being so ronory!
    Well done with the question!
    PS Don’t ask it is the European Parliament!

  2. maureen gannon says:

    Surely MEPs should be looking nearer home? rather than spending money on jaunts to other parts of the world, there are people in Southern
    Europe who will be made homeless and hungry because of the ideological theory’s of the marxists that run Europe , the land mass that was countries run by the people of that country are now being turned into the ESSR run by unelected fanatics. did you see the motorcade for David CambLiaron how much did that cost us . they really should get our house in order ber our PM decides it’s our business to save the N.Koreans.

    • “Spending money on jaunts to other parts of the world”? The meeting I describe above took place in Strasbourg!

      But I don’t myself join the knee-jerk chorus against parliamentarians’ “jaunts”. If I had my way, I’d be glad to close down the European parliament wholesale. We’d save a lot of money, and we’d be Better Off Out. But if we are going to have MEPs at all, we have to let them do their job, and that includes meeting people from other countries — sometimes in Brux or Straz, but sometimes in the other countries.

      • maureen gannon says:

        Sorry Roger but as the Kinnocks are now reportedly worth 10million going to Strasberg is some jaunt. wasn’t he laughingly put in place to erase corruption? and still after 17 years no audit ,back to the topic.
        I still find it hard to accept that our parliamentarians are elected to sort out the problems of the places like NK when their own houses are in such dissaray. if as you say they are receiving help from China why are we sticking our nose in.
        If I sound bitter you could be right although I do try not to be emotive in response to your blogs,but when I hear of people of my age who have put into the pot all their lives, are going to die of the cold where their winter fuel payments are cut and fuel prices have risen, and we are supposed to worry about NK and money spent for MEPs to talk about it the whole setup would be done for fraud if it was a private company and I would rather be poor without the counting house in Brussels[sprouts stink if overcooked]than poor with them.

        This is not meant to sound offensive towards you just the whole caboodle from our CONlib govt to Mr unelected Barruso and his ilk.

      • I don’t deny the problems closer to home, but nonetheless NK represents a geo-political risk in global terms, and it would be remiss to ignore it.

  3. matthu says:

    Roger – just wondering what you know about the so-called Climate Parliament which apparently has LibDem MEP Sir Graham Watson as a member.

    Is this a new official public body? Or is it a self-proclaimed group of MEPs and others masquerading as a public body?

    Were you aware of this?

  4. David W. says:

    Seems providing food aid to the people of NK is enabling the Kim family to maintain power. Am I wrong?

    They can only keep 20 million others suppressed for so long — the less we meddle, perhaps the sooner this travesty will end.

    • Universal dilemma. Do you help the starving NKs at risk of keeping the Kims in power? Or cut off the Kims and watch millions starve to death? Plus the problems of migration by millions of starving refugees (a fear shared by China & South Korea) — and the NK nuclear capability.

  5. Pingback: Another non-meeting with North Korea | Roger Helmer MEP

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