The friendly competition for medals between athletes and nations are usually the focus of the Olympic games. The 2018 Winter Olympic Games in PyeongChang, South Korea proved otherwise.
At these games, North Korean leaders seemed to pull off one of the biggest propaganda victories in history, with a big assist from certain media elements. Thankfully, many freedom-loving souls saw through the charade, because it’s difficult to put a humane face on the inhumane North Korean terrorist regime.
The prime focus of the fawning media attention is Kim Yo-jong – the younger, attractive sister of North Korea’s brutal dictator Kim Jong-un. She serves as one of her brother’s closest confidantes and as Director of North Korea’s Workers Party Propaganda and Agitation Department. She showed up at the games with an entourage of associates and cheerleaders to support the North Korean team and to hand-deliver an invitation from her brother for South Korea’s leader, Moon Jae-in, to visit North Korea and engage in reconciliation and dialogue.
To some members of the press, this seemed like a remarkable diplomatic development. For example: CNN reported, “If ‘diplomatic dance’ were an event at the Winter Olympics, Kim Jong Un’s younger sister would be favored to win gold.” The New York Times tweeted, “Without a word, only flashing smiles, Kim Jong Un’s sister outflanked Vice President Mike Pence in diplomacy.”
However, when it comes to North Korea, a good dose of reality is sometimes necessary to see through its charm offensive smokescreen to see that what seems like “diplomacy” to some is really “propaganda” neatly wrapped in a pretty package. The Kim family dynasty (Kim Il-sung, his son Kim Jong-il, and his grandson Kim Jong-un) – which came to power in 1948 courtesy of the Soviet Union’s Joseph Stalin and remains so to this day – is a brutal totalitarian dictatorship which can’t be trusted. It denies its people basic freedoms, liberties, and human rights while reneging on promises and legal obligations to the international community. And its ultimate goal is for the dynasty to survive.
- This country of 25 million people is located on the Korean Peninsula and shares borders with China, Russia, and South Korea. It is one of the most isolated and belligerent nations on earth, propped up by Russia and China in the U.N. Security Council. China accounts for three-quarters of its imports and exports and is the ultimate guarantor of the regime’s existence.
- Freedom House – a global freedom watchdog – reported in 2018 that North Korea is one of the world’s worst regimes, depriving its citizens of political rights, civil liberties, and a free press. Among other things, it also maintains political prisoner camps where torture, forced labor, starvation, and other atrocities take place that a United Nations inquiry found to rise to the level of crimes against humanity.
- Transparency International – a global coalition against corruption – ranked North Korea as the world’s third most corrupt nation in its 2016 evaluations. It considers countries such as this plagued with untrustworthy and badly functioning public institutions like the police and judiciary.
- The CIA World Factbook reports the average annual income of North Koreans is currently $1,800, which is unevenly distributed between the ruling class who live in splendor and millions of downtrodden residents living in squalor and misery. Conversely, the per-capita GDP of residents in neighboring countries of China is $16,600; Russia is $27,900; South Korea is $39,400; and Japan is $42,700.
- A 2017 United Nations report estimated that about 18 million people across North Korea (70 percent of the population) suffer from food insecurity and undernutrition. While millions of North Koreans go hungry, the Global Firepower and The American Federation of Scientists report that North Korean leaders invest scarce resources into maintaining one of the world’s largest militaries (ranked 23rd) and a burgeoning nuclear weapons program (currently about ten to 20 weapons in stock) and missile delivery programs, respectively. The heavy military investment and sales serve to perpetuate the Kim dynasty at the expense of the people.
- During 2017, the rogue regime claimed it detonated its sixth nuclear test (first hydrogen bomb) and reportedly tested 20 missiles, some endangering its South Korean and Japanese neighbors. North Korea has also reportedly illegally shipped weapons of mass destruction technology to dangerous places like Iran, Libya, Pakistan, Syria, and Yemen over the years.
The Clinton, Bush and Obama administrations tried diplomacy, including $2 billion in food and fuel enticements to induce North Korea to conform with international norms. The result: North Korea broke every major promise in President Clinton’s 1994 bilateral Agreed Framework, President Bush’s 2003 multilateral Six-Party Talks, and President Obama’s 2012 bilateral Leap Day Agreement. It also violated every U.N. Security Council resolution (including UNSC 1695, 1718, 1874 and 2087) aimed at stopping the regime’s nuclear weapons program.
Unlike some of his critics in the press and elsewhere, President Donald Trump recognizes that past diplomatic initiatives have failed and the North Korean regime poses a clear and present danger to its people, the region, and the global community. And he seeks a different path. Accordingly, he re-designated the regime as a state sponsor of terror and has been working with U.N. Security Council Members like China and Russia and others to install more rigid economic sanctions.
It is quite ironic that in these 2018 Winter Olympic Games, some members of the free Western press would become so enamored with the presence of North Korea’s most powerful woman – especially when her own country doesn’t allow a free press – that they would view her propaganda efforts as some sort of Olympic sport. It isn’t. In the real world, millions of people are suffering and dying because of the actions of the regime she represents. And that is something no amount of press fawning can fix. Action, not words, is needed. And hopefully President Trump’s recent initiatives succeed for the sake of the North Korean people and humanity.
Fred Gedrich is a foreign policy and national security analyst. He served in the U.S. departments of State and Defense.