Essay / Politics

Unfavorable Favored Nations

Both China and the Russian Federation have “Most Favored Nation” trading status. Just last week China’s President Hu Jintao visitied the United States. He was courted by capitalist greats like Microsoft’s Bill Gates and Boeing’s CEO Alan Mulally who exclaimed that “China rocks!” in light of their purchase of over 80 aircraft from Boeing in the next few years. The amount of money that is generated by trade with China is in the billions.

Vladimir Putin has made numerous trips to the United States. Russia has most recently become the largest producer of oil in the world—this moves Saudi Arabia from the number one spot. The advantage of Russian oil is that it only takes 9 days for oil to travel to the United States as opposed to 40 from the Middle East. Many fortune 500 companies such as ExxonMobil, General Motors, Boeing, Caterpillar, Pepsi-Cola and Coca-Cola have invested billions in the Russian market.

Economically it makes great sense for the United States and for its business to have a fiduciary relationship with China and Russia. The difficulty is that this hamstrings the United States from saying anything truly meaningful about the egregious behavior of both China and Russia as they deal with, and enable, the rouge state of North Korea.

Over 300,000 North Koreans try to cross the Tumen and Yalu rivers into China each year trying to find food and a better way of life. China has taken a hard stance against these illegal crossings. Any Chinese aiding these individuals illegally crossing into China can get up to seven years in prison. Foreign aid workers have been sentenced to prison terms by the Chinese for helping the North Korean refugees.

When President Bush recently raised with President Hu the issue of the plight of North Korean refugee Kim Chung-Hee. Hu offered no comment. China recently deported her from China back to North Korea after her attempt to escape to China. This woman, if not dead, is now in some North Korean gulag probably wishing she were dead.

I recently read an article in the Le Monde diplomatique about the plight of the North Korean slaves. I knew that Kim Jong-il and his followers were monsters, but this information is almost beyond belief. North Korean men, looking for work, are allowed to apply for work in Russian lumber camps. This is often seen as a great opportunity to make a better life for oneself and family by working for good money outside of the country. Over 10,000 men work for almost nothing and the conditions in the Russian slave camps is appalling.

One survivor of the camp described the conditions:

Working hours vary from camp to camp. I was working way up in a remote camp, for 16 or 17 hours every day of the week. Those employed at the main camp, on distribution or other jobs, worked only 12 or 14 hours. Counting New Year, Kim Il-sung’s birthday, Kim Jong-il’s birthday and the anniversary of the founding of the party, we used to get one week’s holiday a year. In winter it’s very cold, at night the temperature can reach -60C. Your hands, feet and face all freeze. But the hardest thing was the food. They only gave us 150gm of rice and a bowl of soup per meal. That was all.

Russia is complicit in the movement of slaves from North Korea to Siberia. If the workers try to leave (escape) they are severely punished or beaten. If the escapee is caught by the Russian police they will deport him back to North Korea where more punishment awaits him.

The devastation in North Korea is overwhelming. The United States has no real diplomatic relations with North Korea. The United States can put no real diplomatic pressure on North Korea to change its treatment of its citizenry. But, why is it that we allow nations to have “Favored Nation Status” when they enable or are complicit in these flagrant human rights violations? How many more North Korean need to die at the hand of their “benevolent leader” before we realize that this must be stopped. Perhaps the only way to pressure North Korea is to pressure those who enable their evil empire. I hope that President Bush does more than just has conversations with Hu and Putin, and pressures them were it really hurts—in their GNP.

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