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'Kings of the East' haunt U.S.

A typical South Korean traditional structure. Inside is a large drum. In ancient times, villagers would bang on it to summon a local or regional leader who could help with large problems and emergencies. (Photo: Anthony LoBaido)

(Editor’s note: Journalist and photographer Anthony C. LoBaido has lived and worked in South Korea for five years. He has studied the Korean language, worked as a radio reporter for e-FM and trained South Korean army officers up to the rank of brigadier general. This is Part 1 of a special two-part series on North and South Korea by LoBaido. Don’t miss Part 2. )

SEOUL, South Korea – North Korea is problematic not so much because of the “North” but because of the “Korea.” North Koreans feature almost all of the same traits as South Koreans – brilliant, united, devoted and adaptable. Yet almost a century of apocalyptic events like the horrific occupation by Japan, the Korean War and three dynasties of archetype Stalinism have led the nation into famine, slave labor, religious persecution and war lust.

The New York Times recently reported Russia is forgiving North Korea’s $11 billion debt almost in full and is actually looking to make new investments in the Hermit Kingdom. Support of this magnitude will only embolden Pyongyang’s stance toward Seoul and Washington, D.C., hence understanding the North Korean mind and its bravado is both wise and prudent. Most of North Korea’s threatening language toward her real and perceived enemies is aimed at internal consumption and not at the outside world. This is but one of many keys to unlocking the most alien culture on planet Earth.

As the U.S. winds down the grueling wars in the so-called “Arc of Instability” and doubles down on the Pacific theater through the “Pacific Pivot” aimed at encircling and containing the political, economic and military emergence of mainland China, effectively dealing with North Korea remains an elusive piece of the West’s strategic, operational and tactical multidimensional jigsaw puzzle.

Most Americans understand North Korea is a slave-labor Stalinist cult armed with nuclear, chemical and biological weapons. Less understood is just how strong and dangerous North Korea remains.

According to the CIA World Fact Book, Koreans possess the highest average IQ of any people on Earth. North Korea’s soldiers are well-trained, devoted, fanatical and brave. But the safest countries in the world don’t merely deploy the bravest soldiers; rather, they have also cultivated the most innovative and brilliant scientists. North Korea’s scientists, rocket engineers and military strategists are not to be underestimated. North Korea has more than 200,000 soldiers in its Special Operations Force and has most likely perfected an EMP-burst weapon that could reach the outskirts of Miami, Fla.

Those who have failed to enhance North Korea’s missile program, such as Pak Se-il, former leader of the Missile Research Institute, and Lee Cha-bang, who not long ago was in charge of the nation’s science and technology division, have been sacked and sent to slave-labor gulags. Failure is a death sentence.

The distractions Westerners and South Koreans receive in the popular, establishment and social media about North Korea’s leaders (as typified by the MADtv skits of Bobby Lee. Caution: Skit contains vulgarity that may offend some readers) hide realities such as the fact that the late Kim Jong-il was a fully qualified Mig fighter pilot trained in East Germany. North Korea is poor, amongst many reasons, because money that would normally go for Corn Flakes, Hello Kitty and Gumby is diverted to nuclear, missile and biological weapons manufacture and testing. North Korea is your neighbor’s unfed pit bull.

The following video of a North Korean military parade reveals the reality of their discipline:

After the Korean War ended in 1953, North Korea received more aid from the ex-Soviet bloc than South Korea received from the West. Thus, North Korea was growing at a faster rate by the end of the Eisenhower administration. Mao’s son, Mao Anying, died in the Korean War, and this touched Mao deeply. North Korea was deemed a important piece of the Soviet Union’s and China’s international global communist community.

Since the fall of the Berlin War and the Soviet Union, much has changed. Both China and Russia have formally recognized South Korea. North Korea, like Cuba, has seen a reduction in subsidies. Still North Korea is used as an attack dog by both China and Russia to tie down American forces in South Korea and Japan. North Korea also gives China and Russia plausible deniability in any future stealthy war scenario versus the U.S.

In the 1990s, a North Korean pilot claimed Russia was selling North Korea sensitive satellite photos of U.S. troop logistics and deployments in South Korea. He defected to warn South Korea and America of North Korea's war plans.

 Dead like me

For example, in the 1990s, a defecting North Korean pilot claimed Russia was selling North Korea sensitive satellite photos of U.S. troop logistics and deployments in South Korea. His family was sent away to die in a North Korean gulag after he defected. He defected to warn South Korea and America of North Korea’s war plans. His wife feared millions would die, so she, in effect, sacrificed herself and her children for the greater good.

The North Korean pilot's family was sent away to die in a North Korean gulag after he defected.

In 1986, China and North Korea signed a bilateral agreement to repatriate one another’s fleeing refugees. In reality, no thinking Chinese person would cross into famine-stricken North Korea. Yet because of the abortion gendercide against female babies in China, as well as a lack of potential wives, North Korean women are smuggled into China to become mail-order brides or work in brothels. Korean women are pretty, often with high cheekbones and nice legs, and they are seen as attractive mates for Chinese men.

Yet the average Chinese citizen is now becoming alarmed at the treatment North Korean refugees receive inside mainland China. However, one must not confuse tens of thousands of refugees with an influx of millions of North Koreans across China’s borders if North Korea were to fully implode. Benign neglect in enforcing China’s bilateral repatriation agreement with North Korea is the order of the day.

WND had an opportunity to interview, through Durihana Church (meaning “from many – one”), the only woman to have escaped from North Korea twice. Speaking at Durihana (which was featured in the February 2003 edition of National Geographic) in Seoul, South Korea, this woman told her story in Korean through translator Yeseul Park.

“I grew up in North Korea,” she began. “When I left North Korea and fled to China the first time, I got caught by the authorities inside mainland China. And so I was sent back to North Korea. Back then I wasn’t a Christian. But I can see now that God made that happen so I could see my parents one last time. … And so I ran away again because now the North Korean officials were watching me very closely. I walked all the way from North Korea, through China and through Laos … and then finally we got to the river between Laos and Thailand – the final barrier to freedom.

“But the government in Laos is Stalinist and has an agreement with North Korea to send back the fleeing refugees … where they will be executed. But then, as we crossed the Mekong River on this beautiful clear day … a perfect day really … well, out of the blue an incredible storm swept down into the river valley. It was raining so hard that I couldn’t even see my own hand right in front of my face. But that meant that neither could the soldiers and border guards on the Laos side of the Mekong see us. God was protecting me the whole time.”

North Korean defector who escaped twice. (Photo: Anthony LoBaido)

This woman had walked the equivalent of New York to San Diego and back.

About 75 percent of North Korean defectors are women. Some get caught up in the sex-slave trade. Some are sold as brides to Chinese farmers. Some make it to Thailand after a 6,000-mile journey. They get help from those working secretly with the Durihana Church in Seoul, which specializes in defections through Southeast Asia. They might also receive help from ex-smugglers of women, drugs and or exotic animal parts.

Some might be tricked into defecting and then they’ll be locked in a room in China selling sex for a year until they are allowed to leave.

Some are asked to carry money and drugs back and forth across the border between China and North Korea.

Some are caught and sent back to North Korea, where they will be executed or sentenced to a slave labor camp. (The defector WND interviewed was not executed after the first time she escaped, possibly because she is attractive.)

Additionally, there are also fake “defectors,” who are in reality highly trained North Korean agents (like the “Sarah Mason” character from TV’s “Jericho”) and hunt down and kill high-value North Korean defectors living in Seoul and elsewhere who have information on North Korea’s armed forces and WMDs.

Christians in North Korea can be summarily executed for carrying a Bible. One little girl was shot on the grounds of her primary school for telling the teacher that Jesus helped her do well on a spelling test after a series of prayers to Him.

These days, North Korea’s Christians and other dissidents must meet in secret or attempt to run away to Thailand, as noted, often with the help of ex-drug runners who know the backwaters of the Golden Triangle. There are many dangerous trails that lead to the end of the rainbow – the sleepy border town of Chiang Saen, Thailand. This trip can take many months to complete. In Chiang Saen, these North Koreans will be “arrested” by the Thai police for entering without a visa, ask for sanctuary, go to Bangkok for processing at the South Korean Embassy and then be reposted to Seoul.

The woman interviewed by WND was given the choice to go to New York. There she met other Koreans who hired her to work at a salon. She then met a Korean-American man, married him and journeyed to Seoul to meet his family. That is where and how WND met her. She agreed to have her photo taken and offer her story.

Meet the new boss, same as the old boss

Kim Jong Un

The new star in North Korea is Kim Jong Un, who was groomed in Switzerland for his ascendant position while still a student by Ri Su-yong, the former North Korean ambassador to Switzerland. The pomp and celebrity of Kim Jong Un’s third generation dynasty status pales in comparison to other Asian rivals and friends. For example, Than Shwe, the leading general in Myanmar, used to work at the post office. South Korean President Lee Myung-bak (known as “M.B.”) used to be a garbage man. Ri Su-yong, who is the director of the Workers Party’s secretary office, was Jong Un’s mentor in the Alps. He was in charge of Jong Un’s academic curricula. Strangely, he served for 18 years as the ambassador to Switzerland under a separate identity – that being Ri Chol. Ri Su-yong is well into his 70s now and has accumulated a great deal of power in North Korea. He recently went to China in an effort to pave the way for an official state visit to Beijing for Kim Jong Un. Su-yong slept at the Diaoyutai State Guesthouse in Beijing and met with Liu Hongcai, the Chinese ambassador to North Korea.

This was an important visit because the new Chinese leader, Xi Jinping, is a man North Koreans want Jong Un to meet first before any South Korean leader. Jong Un will be looking for his allowance of sorts. Each year, North Korea and China’s leaders hammer out an agreement on how much and what kind of aid China will give to North Korea. With China’s help, North Korea will continue to engage in its nuclear development and missile testing. North Korea’s elite weapons programs have links to Pakistan and Syria as well as Myanmar. Myanmar, once part of the British Empire, is home to some of the world’s most strategically vital uranium mines. Uranium is a cash cow for the Burmese junta and the elixir both Russia and North Korea require to build and enhance their nuclear weapons stockpiles.

To meet this challenge within the “Pacific Pivot,” America will continue to expand its X-Band Radar missile defense system, which is manufactured by Raytheon. According to the Aug. 23 issue of the Wall Street Journal, “One goal of the Pentagon is to reassure its anxious regional allies which are walking a fine line. Many want the U.S.’s backing but also don’t want to provoke China, and they aren’t sure Washington, given its fiscal constraints, can counter Beijing’s rapid military modernization. … U.S. officials say some of these allies have, until now, resisted sharing real-time intelligence, complicating U.S. efforts. … The U.S. has faced a similar problem building an integrated missile-defense in the Persian Gulf.”

The article continued, “In April, North Korea launched a multistage rocket that blew up less than two minutes into its flight. [That followed] launches in August 1998, July 2006 and April of 2009. The Pentagon sent a sea-based X-Band, normally docked in Pearl Harbor, to the Pacific to monitor that most recent launch as a precaution … A 2010 Pentagon report on ballistic missile defenses said the system can’t cope with large-scale Russian or Chinese missile attacks and isn’t intended to affect the strategic balance with those countries.”

China will see the X-Band system as a provocation in regard to the U.S. defending Taiwan. Yet America is more worried about Chinese Silkworm cruise missiles, which can hit and sink the Navy’s aircraft carriers from 1,500 kilometers, or roughly 700 miles away. Then there are worries about Chinese and Russian submarines off of the U.S. West Coast and in the Gulf of Mexico.

This cat-and-mouse game continues with newly deployed military toys abounding. The main players in this contest are, of course, mainland China and the United States. The prizes they covet are the future direction of Burma/Myanmar and North and South Korea. Burma and North Korea are very different countries (it is “cool, hip and chic” to be against the regime in Burma), while North and South Koreans are all Koreans at the end of the day.

Burma/Myanmar has been able to play China against America because China wishes to build a naval air station off of the southern coast of Burma. This would enable China to interdict the oil flowing from the Middle East into Asia. And this is one of the major reasons why sanctions against Burma have been lifted.

Burma is the gateway to more than 2 billion people in India and China. Burma has oil, natural gas, jade and uranium. Russia is busy digging up major loads of uranium inside Burma. This uranium will eventually find its way into new intercontinental ballistic missiles.

One might consider the parallel between U.S.-Myanmar relations in 2011-2012 and that of the West’s delicate dance with Nelson Mandela and South Africa, which maintains titanium, zirconium oxide, gold, diamonds and other precious metals – not to mention its status as a GMO (genetically modified organism) experimental playground for American multinational corporations. The New South Africa agreed to preconditions so as to become an accepted player in the new global strategic order. Similarly, Myanmar now holds all of the cards – a potential arsenal and garrison for the U.S. and U.K., or for China and North Korea.

In the case of Burma and the Koreas, the puzzle pieces seem almost limitless, and the overall picture remains elusive at best. The kaleidoscopic mirage of archetype Oriental order, tradition, custom, language and respect finds itself overwhelmed by a mad cocktail of regional factionalism, fascism, cultic leadership, communism, racism, greed, abortion/female gendercide, drugs ranging from crystal meth to ecstasy and heroin, timber, the smuggling of exotic animal parts, elephant smuggling, trade (both legal and illegal), migrant workers, rice, oil, natural gas, jade, high technology, the war on monks seeking democracy, control of the Internet, tourist dollars, uranium and nuclear weapons, counterfeiting, arms dealing and even human trafficking.

To understand how this new arrangement is being played out, on various levels one must consider North Korea’s triangulation between Burma and China. Then there’s China’s one-on-one relationship with both Burma and North Korea – ­and, of course, cross-trade between those three nations. They all form a three-headed snake.

Add to that China’s contentious relationship with the U.S., as well as the often rocky U.S. relationship with an increasingly uppity South Korea, which is watching America’s rapid decline with fear, loathing and sadness. South Korea also must contend with North Korea’s new boy ruler, Kim Jong Un, who has tasted what the West has to offer during his time in Switzerland – mainly a steady dose of Jean-Claude Van Damme films like “The Quest,” uptight, white blond people, savory chocolates, lots of yodeling and Jason Bourne looking for his lost identity. Kim Jong Un’s wife is a former cheerleader who will most likely embrace the wearing of earrings and the use of cell phones while armies of committed North Korean Christians are locked away in concentration camps. South Koreans call North Korea “Pook Han” and view Kim Jong Un as Tony Soprano with weapons of mass destruction.

The youngest Kim seems more relaxed than his late father, yet he has already flexed his muscles by shelling the South. Jong Un has also reshuffled his generals, promoted Western junk food and made a paean for a holy and sacred war against America and South Korea – a plea that has been mostly met by his adversaries with a giant “whatever.”

Cherry blossoms in South Korea (Photo: Anthony LoBaido)

Since South Koreans are some of the keenest gardeners on the face of planet Earth, it seems a great shame that North Korea languishes in agricultural privation. This has not been lost on Jong Un, whose words have been recently quoted in the Sept. 6, 2012, issue of the New York Times, saying, he wishes the North Korean people would “never have to tighten their belts again.” Some say their belts will only be used to hang themselves.

On Sept. 25, North Korea’s Supreme People’s Assembly will meet to work on vital domestic and foreign policies, including the agenda Jong Un and his Swiss mentor have honed over the past decades. Some of North Korea’s top leaders are as old as 87. Their vision of expanding North Korea’s nuclear arsenal “beyond imagination” was also recently reported by the New York Times. The game they are playing is as multi-generational as it is deadly. Again, North Korea, like China and Russia, is actively planning and seeking any and all advantages it can accumulate in a future strategic nuclear war scenario.

What about South Korean culture, in which traditional values are under assault from seedy, classless U.S. and U.K. archetype MTV values? How would South Korea react to a merger with North Korea, and how is this hypothetical future merger viewed by both China and the U.S.? What would happen to the balance of power in East Asia, and, in fact, all of Asia, if such a merger were to take place – especially since China has gone on record stating it no longer views North Korea as a “reliable partner” and more like a crazy aunt chained in the attic?

North Korea is a mutual headache for China, South Korea and the U.S. Yet the U.S. worries about China’s increasing influence in Africa and the Americas – her astounding economic growth, ability to poison America’s food supply, alleged currency manipulation, thirst for oil and various raw minerals, her de facto control of the critical Panama Canal, forced abortions and gendercide vs. females, cyber attacks, espionage, purchasing political influence and intellectual pirating of U.S. entertainment products – more than it does over China’s influence with Burma and North Korea. Yet China and North Korea fought the U.S. and her allies to a standstill during the Korean War. China, under the Khan, conquered the entire Korean peninsula in a matter of weeks, bringing soju (Korean vodka), which the invading Chinese had in turn discovered in Arak, Persia. Thus soju is also called “arak-ju” and is a gift from modern Iran.

To help North Korean refugees:

Life Funds for North Korean Refugees
Representative: Kato Hiroshi
A-101 Nishi Kata Hyteru
2-2-8 Nishi Kata, Bunkyo-ku
Tokyo, Japan 113-0024
Tel / Fax +81-3-3815-8127

Related articles by Anthony LoBaido:

Harry Wu talks about China

North Korea made easy

Korea rising

Soldiers who care: Aki Ra land mine story in Cambodia

Leper Nation: Myanmar’s Sisters of Charity care for 400 lepers

Elephant nation: Meet Lek Chailert, Time magazine’s ‘Hero of Asia’

Thousands of Hmong exiles deported from Thailand

(Editor’s note: Journalist and photographer Anthony C. LoBaido has lived and worked in South Korea for five years. He has studied the Korean language, worked as a radio reporter for e-FM and trained South Korean army officers up to the rank of brigadier general. This is Part 1 of a special two-part series on North and South Korea by LoBaido. Don’t miss Part 2. )