Do We Patronize North Korea?

Professor Sung-Yoon Lee of Tufts University gave an erudite talk today on a rather gruesome subject: the true nature of the North Korean regime that we so often mock but rarely take seriously.  I was especially moved by his account of the country’s 1990s famine, which could have been eradicated for $100 million, if only the North Korean regime had thought millions of lives were worth cutting a slice off its $7 billion military budget.

I was left reconsidering my own attitude towards the “Hermit Kingdom.”  Do we patronize North Korea when we laugh at its leader’s haircut?  If we reward the North Koreans — again — for pausing their nuclear tests, are we giving them the tools to continue oppressing their population?  Do we lose sight of the true nature of the North Korea problem if we get so caught up in negotiations that we overlook the sheer viciousness of the regime?

But no doubt you have your own responses to Professor Lee’s talk.  What did you hear that changed the way you think about the problem of North Korea’s nuclear weapons program?

15 Replies to “Do We Patronize North Korea?”

  1. My take away from this talk was the power of underestimation and ridicule when it comes to the topic of North Korea. Through constant infantilization and patronization of Kim Jung-un, the American public has overlooked the strategic capabilities of the country. North Korea is the only literate, industrialized state to endure famine, a famine sponsored by the government.This and many more atrocities perpetrated by the regime have been overlooked as politicians continue to belittle North Korea. Furthermore, North Korea has long been viewed as an irrational actor, but the simple fact that their nuclear tests have been executed on holidays and days of national importance to maximize the emotional impact shows that this is untrue.

  2. I am assuming that the word “we,” is used in terms of the current political administration in the United States. Therefore, I believe that we do not patronize North Korea. In fact, our current president constantly makes negative remarks on the dictator.

    One thing that I heard that changed my thinking about the North Korean problem was the letter/document that Kim Jong Un sent to President Obama calling him and his wife these horrific racist insults. It shows that they are using some way to show that they are not playing around. However, it could be seen as somewhat immature for Kim Jong Un to write that, but it just shows the devotion that he has in order to try to intimidate the United States.

  3. As Professor Sung-Yoon Lee stresses, people today patronize North Korea unconsciously without realizing that it is not subject as much as we thought. In the past 25 years, North Korea has taken enormous aid from United States while did not improve and change its diplomacy. This “closed nature” of North Korea is actually posing threat to us when people are laughing at it and assumably, it could do huge damage to America when it comes to military confrontations while the world is still patronizing.

    The fact that North Korea is trying to impose threat is serious to some extent should arouse people to change their attitude and be aware that this country is virtually a real threat. As the speech highlights how North Korea is more serious than we thought, I agree that global effort is needed in reducing this threat and impose sanction to North Korea in order to effectively stop and “contain Kim Jung Un”.

  4. I think that, at least the American public, has a tendency to not take the North Korean government particularly seriously. When referring to Kim Jung-un we often refer to him as crazy/outrageous. Americans see Kim as both arrogant and ignorant. Arrogant in thinking he can stand up to the greatest military power in the world, and ignorant in his understanding of international relations, governance, etc. Some may even think of him as he is portrayed in the film “The Interview”, an child-like figure who has no real concept of the consequences of his actions. All and all North Korea is often disregarded, brushed off as a joke.

    However, Professor Sung-Yoon pressed the Idea that Kim Jung-un is not a childish, incompetent leader. Kim’s regime continuously oppresses and entire nation of people. The regime controls every aspect of the lives of an entire population. That feat in itself is fairly impressive. On the world stage, North Korea has fallen into a pattern of playing stick and carrot with some of the most powerful governments in the world. The North Korea regime has a tendency to goat the US and other world powers, before going back on their threats and placating. This is a well thought out strategy and technique the North Korean government it using to draw attention and gain power on the world stage. Essentially, North Korea is purposely toying with some of the most powerful nations in the world, manipulating them. Therefore, maybe the North Korea is more of a threat than they are given credit for.

  5. Professor Sung-Yoon Lee provide me with a lot of information about North Korea which I have never pay a big attention to. I saw some other classmates’ responses above me that American might not take North Korea seriously before. I want to say that so do Chinese. We did not regard North Korea as a strong or threatening competitor over the years. I am not sure that whether or not the United States provides aid to North Korea, but I am sure that China provide some towards them. Back to the 1950, when there is war between America and North Korea, China sent soldiers over North Korea for help even China itself was not that strong at that time.

    Back to the topic, I think this is the time to treat North Korea more seriously. The nucleus Weapons they have become a big threats to America. It can cause a unimaginable consequence. Based Professor Sung-Yoon Lee’s description, I think North Korea has ambition to become one of the biggest powers in the world and exerts threats to other powerful nations.

  6. It is a precious chance for me to hear the lecture of Professor Sung-Yoon Lee since there is little chance to know about the North Korea’s real situation. During the lecture, Professor Sung-Yoon Lee mentions several times that the history repeat itself, which is exactly what the current event is about. These days, Korean President Kim Jong-un is visiting China secretly, which is exactly what the previous president have done years ago. It is inspiring to hear Professor Sung-Yoon Lee explains that the visiting of Kim Jong-un is a strategy of balancing the international relationship. Due to the special location and political position of North Korea, the actions of it can change the relationship between North Korea, China, Japan and the U.S. significantly.

    After hearing the lecture, I have more interest in the position of North Korea now. Since North Korea is going to visit the state soon, it is interesting to see the change of the political relationship after the special visiting. I also think that the denuclearization of North Korea is actually the battle between China and the U.S., so that the discussion about this problem can also reflect the changing political view of the third world.

  7. Professor Sung-Yoon Lee began his lecture about North Korea with an interesting question ” Who is the most famous Korean?” Undoubtedly, the most famous Korean is the current North Korea leader Kim Jong-un. We might think what counts for his fame? Professor Lee explains this by stating that it is because of his little regard for human lives. Even though North Korea is right now an industrialized country, many people in North Korea still suffer from famine and lack of basic human rights. South Korea is 50 times richer than North Korea and each year, the number is gap is growing wider and wider. This truth also lead me to think about what cause this huge divergence in the development of these two close countries.
    Some people say North Korea right now is like China 40,50 years ago. I personally doubt this argument. Comparing two communism nations itself is understandable but there are still many differences between China and North Korea. Even before China opened its trade in 1978, the country was not completely closed. North Korea, nevertheless, has no connection with outside world at all. People in North Korea can’t use the Internet freely and can’t even speak freely. More importantly, China is not a threat to the world in terms of security but North Korea developing nuclear weapons is a huge threat to a secure and safe international society. Though both are communism countries, North Korea is currently in a dangerous position, threatening the rest of the whole world and violating basic human rights.
    The only thing we can hope, also according to Professor Lee, is that North Korea can open its trade to the outside world. Otherwise, some will probably predict the collapse of this nation. However, personally, before it collapses, I want to go visiting there once and to get a sense of “China 50 years” with my own eyes.
    Overall, I found this lecture very interesting and it introduced to us a clearer picture of North Korea and inform us also the dangerous position of this country. The North Korea leader Kim Jong-un is currently visiting China. I am expecting and curious to know what will happen between China and North Korea and how will this relationship change a little bit the international society.

  8. Professor Lee’s lecture totally turned my perception of North Korea upside down, especially about how the regime deliberately starved its population to death in the 1990’s famine. He reminds us about the dangerous tendency of oversimplification and stereotype, that North Korea is far more calculating and ruthless than we imagined. Media seems to exaggerate and making fun of Kim Jong Un’s funny gestures and profanity used against other country’s leaders. And people like t think that he is a crazy “rocket man” because his madness seems to explain his bizarre behavior. So, the US wishes to keep him calm for a few months by promising him aid whenever another nuclear test is conducted. It is reasonable to come to the conclusion that the US is patronizing North Korea.
    However, I am suspicious with the argument that South Korea will not engage in direct confront with North Korea because South Korea has too much to lose. Indeed ,it is expensive to have its filming, shipping, chemical, and high-tech industries to be destroyed by missiles and probably nuclear war head. But it is under the umbrella of US protection, even though Trump threats to cut off military spending of its oversea bases. And the idea of living under the Kim family’s ruling is frightening enough. Even though South Korea has its own thoughts of its position between China, Japan, and the US on this issue, Moon Jae-in may not disobey Trump’s order on North Korea crisis.

  9. One thing I didn’t know a lot before the lecture is the famine occurred in North Korea from 1994 to 1998. Professor Sung-Yoon Lee provided a unique perspective to view this famine. Before introducing the food problem, Professor Lee emphasized several times that North Korea was an “Industrialized, urbanized, literate” country decades ago. North Korea was also prosperous back then. This made me think about whether I did patronize North Korea or not. Since it seems like the economy of North Korea today is no longer developing, and the society of North Korea seems to remain the same as that decades ago. Maybe I was wrong.

    Professor Lee described this famines as a “man-made” famine, and the North Korea government “chose not to feed its population”. This sounds extremely scary to me since I couldn’t imagine a government would pursue its own interests at the cost of letting its people starve to death, which was certainly a serious violator of humanitarian. The day after, we discussed the famine occurred in China from 1959-1961 in the history class that I’m taking. Seemingly, Chinese government chose the strategy back then. I pointed out the similarity between these two famines. Also, Kim Jung-un is visiting China these days, and Kim’s visit and Professor Lee’s lecture make me think more about the future of China and North Korea. As an international student from China, I would say the relationship between China and neighboring countries like North Korea really matters a lot to the future of China. I’ll keep a watchful eye on this relationship.

  10. Last year, I wrote an op-ed for the Introduction to International Relations class relating to the US-South Korea agreement to deploy the Terminal High Altitude Defense System (THAAD) in South Korea. I argued that the US should clearly communicate to China that they would not use the radar system for purposes other than to protect itself and its allies against North Korean hostilities. The talk reminded me of my assignment and I discovered that my THAAD arguments were reminiscent of Professor Lee’s talk.

    The THAAD program is an attempt to enhance security of US allies in the area. This shows that the US does believe that a military North Korean threat is real. However, other the US has not taken other, harsher measures to prevent the North Korea weapons program from developing. Professor Lee argued that we have entertained the false hope that we can treat North Korea differently than other countries with nuclear capabilities. It is not enough anymore to put up defensive systems, the US has to take the offensive which requires a change in outlook. We should not patronize the country, but rather view North Korea as the dangerous country it actually is.

  11. I am always curious about the situation and position of North Korea, Professor Sung-Yoon Lee gives me a lot of new information about North Korea, and providing me a deep thinking about such a country. First of all, as a Chinese, I do not think that our government patronize North Korea, and I think Chinese government is paying less attention to North Korea than other country.
    In my opinion, we do lose sight of the true nature of the North Korea problem. NK is not as weak as we think, although it is a closed country, it does not mean that they do not have advanced technology. Nuclear weapon is not a trifling matter, it would cause a huge matter if it really happens. We should definitely treat NK seriously.

  12. Before listening to this speech, I think I largely patronize North Korea’s conceive diplomacy mainly because “their ways” seem too far away from what I believe as a “rationalized nation”. However, after listening to Professor Lee, I wonder if every nation-state in this world can completely stay out of the influence of North Korea under big environment of globalization. Rather than patronizing “their ways”, countries should reflect on the mistakes that North Korea make and find ways to suppress the wild spread of “craziness”. I think that a proper government should be based on the foundation of people’s wills, so that when sudden challenges occur, the priority will always be nation’s benefits instead of the governor’s politic powers. The story of famines in North Korea teaches us the lesson that if a government doesn’t truly focus on its citizens’ well-beings, the consequence will be devastating. Also, while encountering with the uncontrollable nations like North Korea, corporations between nations become more vital because they can attenuate the risks of war at the maximum extent. Past attitudes towards North Korea’s nuclear threats may have accelerated Kim’s belief that his strategies are working, and this is the worst thing that the world wants to witness. On the progress of denuclearization, countries and world organizations should be more careful of North Korea’s next move and bear in mind that the “craziness always spreads faster than rationalism”.

  13. After attending the talk by Professor Sung-Yoon Lee, I became aware of how I see North Korea. I often think of the Kim Jung-un and his policies as being extremely radical. The way he runs North Korea makes for a sheltered, controlled and strict society that I am very unfamiliar with. I see North Korea as so far removed from my own way of living that I do find myself, at least at first, dismissing his policies as just more of his brutal and isolating laws. However, once I begin to really think of the impact his decisions are making on North Korea citizens, I am horrified that a leader can consciously decide to enact such laws that have such destructive effects. One that has really stuck with me since the talk by Professor Lee was Kim Jung-un’s starvation of his own people. If the President of United States put that law in place in America, it would have been taken much more seriously by not only US citizens but by the rest of the world. I think that the US administration and the governments of a lot of other global powers are scared to intervene in North Korea politics, especially because of the nuclear weapons that North Korea possess. After the talk, I came away being stumped as to how we should properly address this humanitarian crisis that is effecting North Korea.

  14. Professor Sung-Yoon Lee’s lecture really gives me a good sense of what the country North Korea is like. Before, I have heard that North Korea is totally a strict and controlled society. As known, North Korea is famous for its political system and poverty. However, compared to North Korea, South Korea is in an absolutely different situation: it is more open and much richer. I have been thinking that the main reason which causes their opposite situations is their different political system. As a country which is dominated by only one party, North Korea often makes some wrong decisions because all decisions are only made by the North Korea’s chairman, that is, Kim Jung-un. This reminds me of the 1950s and 1960s’ China. At that time, China was like North Korea. It was poor, and it was against the rest of the world. In addition, It was ruled by the Community Party and Zedong Mao. However, when the time comes to the 1980s and 1990s, China finally reformed and become more open. Until now, it has become the second largest economic body. Therefore, based on Professor Sung-Yoon Lee’s lecture, I made a conclusion that it is the different political systems which make North Korea feel distant from the rest of the world.

  15. After listening to Professor Sung-Yoon Lee’s lecture, I learned a lot about North Korea’s history and why North Korea now has many problems in its current situation. Although nowadays, many people think North Korea is poor and kind of separated from the whole global society, it’s true that North Korea has already removed the illiteracy among the majority of citizens, industrialized, and urbanized decades ago. From my own perspective, I consider the reason why North Korea now kind of problematic is mainly due to government system and its leader, Kim Jong-un. I think the major factor of increasing the instability between North Korea and other countries, especially with South Korea, is the issue of nuclear weapon. According to Professor Sung-Yoon Lee’s explanation, I knew that since North Korea doesn’t join the international organization of banning the nuclear weapon in military usage, Kim Jong-un seizes on threatening others by using the nuclear weapon as an opportunity to negotiate with other countries. As for South Korea, they strongly argue that North Korea should ban the usage of nuclear weapon, since that kind of military weapon in North Korea can directly attack and cause a huge disaster in Seoul, a core city containing the largest population in South Korea. But except talking about the issue of nuclear weapon using, North Korea indeed tries to negotiate with and blend into the global community currently. In recent days, Kim Jong-un visited China and talked with Chinese leader Xi Jinping. This visiting has showed that North Korea is trying to enhance its influence nowadays in global community and cooperate with other bigger countries. In a word, I think the relationship between North Korea and other countries is really significant and matters a lot in the future.

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