In the view of people hardly on the earth there are more unattractive and dangerous place to travel than Pyongyang. Never before (if it was not about war zones) so many people had asked me if I was kidding when I mentioned that the food in the Democratic people’s Republic. Some were convinced that everything will end for me the same than for Americans, which was shown on TV in the demonstration trial.
In principle, I wasn’t worried. I went there as an official guest at the invitation of the Institute of American studies of the Ministry of foreign Affairs. I’ve been there before — twenty-five years ago. That trip was fascinating, and all without incident — at least in terms of returning home as planned. Inviting me, the North Koreans wanted my trip went smoothly and without problems. I also knew what not to do.
The inability to understand what not to do, was the cause of all the ills and tragedies for some Americans. The most telling example of this was the fate of the student Warmbier Otto (Otto Warmbier), who died after the liberation, in a state that, according to Pyongyang, was medicated coma. Three other Americans remain in custody: two of them worked in a Christian school, which leads to the suspicion that they were engaged in missionary activities, and the third is an American businessman of Korean descent, who was convicted of espionage and about which almost nothing is known.
Some have tied the release of Wormbase with the fact that the trump has taken a more aggressive stance, although the leverage to pressure from this administration is no more than the former. The us diplomat held talks with the authorities of the DPRK, but the request allegedly concerned only four Americans who are in prison. If the President made a deal, the administration does not disclose information that the DPRK received in return.
Although Washington and demanded the release of Wormbase, he did so only after Pyongyang on his own initiative announced the condition of the prisoner. In addition, the President has not demanded the release similar to this and three other American citizens — perhaps because he knew that the answer will be negative.
Being last week in Korea, I asked whether to send home Warmbir conciliatory gesture of the authorities to the administration trump. The answer was unequivocal — this was done solely for humanitarian reasons. Moreover, the official representative the Ministry of foreign Affairs told me that Warmbir dismissed the court, rejecting any assumption that the DPRK is seeking to establish diplomatic relations with Washington.
© REUTERS Mandatory credit REUTERS/Kyodo/File PhotoАмериканский student Otto Warmbier detained in the DPRK
Although the United States should demand the release of their citizens, they have no right to dictate. Successive administrations have used almost all the tools trying to prevent Pyongyang develop missiles and nuclear weapons tests, but no success. War is not an option, sanctions without China’s consent will not work, and the contract has not yet obtained. And some other ways to release those Americans who are believed to be imprisoned unjustly, not so much.
The family of Otto Warmbier accuses the Obama administration of failing to secure his release, but the solution has always been outside of Pyongyang, not Washington. Why North Korea released him now, impossible to know: apparently, Kim Jong-UN, decided that the imprisonment of a prisoner who is in a coma, harm to his political reputation. And that now is the opportune moment to sacrifice a pawn for the sake of further gains in the global chess game. Making a conciliatory gesture to the new President of Donald trump, who built his career on extravagant gestures and declarations of victory, the DPRK could obtain more from him than from completes his last term of Barack Obama, who, as a rule, avoided serious negotiations with North Korea.
Cases with Warmbir and other Americans, some of which happened a few years ago, is equally tragic. People get punishment and sometimes cruel and almost deadly (as it happened with Warmia), for actions that cannot be considered criminal. But the Americans are not the only victims. Currently, Korea holds in the conclusion of the six citizens of South Korea and seven citizens of other countries
In addition, North Korea is not the only country that puts the punishment of foreigners for ambiguous crimes, such as, for missionary activity. Although China has loosened harsh restrictions on religion, harassment still has not stopped. And most of the authoritarian States would be sensitive to the activities which, in their opinion, are directed against the control of the regime. The main difference, perhaps, is that Pyongyang is in a greater degree than most other “hostile” States, says imprisoned Americans potential political value.
And yet, while no American wants to be in a North Korean prison (with respect to those seventeen prisoners in recent years has changed dramatically), there is no reason to believe that any American should be. Moreover, several hundred Americans every year come to this country, and they don’t get arrested. There is no evidence that North Korea lures tourists to put them in jail, says — understandably — distraught father of Warmbier. What happened to Warmbier remains a mystery. The medical examiner doubted the truth of the version proposed by Pyongyang, but no trace of physical violence was found.
In North Korea a lot of people. According to representatives of the travel company Young Pioneer Tours, who organized the trip, which was attended by Warmbir, in their tours visited the country more than eight thousand other tourists, and their stay went without incident. When I flew to North Korea on the plane next to me sat a British citizen, for whom this was already the third trip to this country. This time he planned to make trips over Pyongyang by helicopter and ultralight aircraft. He flew in a group that included other seasoned travelers, and introduced me to the head of the group is representative of this Agency, which regularly carries tourists to the DPRK. The biggest annoyance, which was previously faced my companion, was a request to remove photos, deemed “unacceptable.”
In this officially atheistic country has several humanitarian groups, some of which are explicitly religious. When the first day I went for Breakfast on the way to the Elevator near the lobby, I heard Christian hymns. A few employees of non-governmental organizations and volunteers were in the country for quite a long time with the mission to provide medical care, gathered for morning prayer. They were clothes with the logo of their organization, they traveled in cars with the logo of their organization and brought medicines in the boxes with the same logo. And none of them in jail were not included.
There is quite a lot of citizens of Western countries who, like me, come to North Korea with more official visits. Most of them are better known in their countries, including in America than average tourists. But most likely, none of them had ever been persecuted.
Generally there arrests are not random, but are made, according to North Korea, in the presence of a base. According to the authorities of the DPRK, they are not punished for accidental violation of rules and laws, and the willful. I talked to the head of one of working in North Korea, the Western NGOs, which explained that her group examined the cases of those in prison: all these people have committed some wrongful action. This does not mean that their behavior deserves punishment. Similarly, the North Koreans don’t deserve those oppressions, to which they are subjected. But those people who come to North Korea, are obliged to obey its laws. Violating its laws, they separated themselves from the crowd and attracted attention.
Some did missionary work or helping the deserters. After their exposure that they inevitably waited for the arrest, no matter how they are brave. Washington might require to release them for humanitarian reasons, but he couldn’t say that to punish Pyongyang has no legal basis. Just as in cases when in other countries of Americans and other foreigners are sometimes sentenced to death for drug smuggling. This penalty is disproportionate to the gravity of the crimes and American law even too cruel. But other States have the right to assign.
The case Warmbier looks extraordinary even by the standards of North Korea. Other people who came to the country, was caught trying to take home the items used in North Korea’s propaganda. But them in jail for it is not planted. Some knowledgeable people from Western countries say that his offence was more obvious and more humiliating for North Korea — it was a deliberate insult to the North Korean state system and the Supreme leader of the country Kim Jong UN. And the incident the poster was just a cover, “legend” — to better explain public “confession” of Warmbir and to justify a harsh sentence to a prison term of 15 years. But we are unlikely to ever know for sure.
The state Department warns against travel to North Korea, but Americans can still travel there freely. Now in Congress raise the question of whether to ban on travel to the DPRK. It’s a bad idea. A free society must protect the right to freedom to travel and explore the world. This right cannot be restricted without good reason. The fact that some tourists can make a mistake and get arrested, is not a valid reason for a ban on travel for everybody else.
In addition, trips to the DPRK have educational value. Those who spend time in North Korea is likely to be able to understand this country. Because, the US authorities have no diplomatic presence in the country, the best alternative diplomats are visiting the DPRK by the Americans. And just is useful to learn more about the culture of this country and how it operates, about what makes people tick, what they think and how to relate to each other.
In addition, through visits to North Korea, the people living in free societies, you begin to appreciate the system that exists in their homeland. Such as in North Korea, indeed, nowhere else on earth no more. Perhaps the same system of brutal repression exist in Eritrea, but symbols of power and control system of the DPRK is more developed. People need to see this system. And in both cases, leaving after a visit to that country, I was even more clutching my American passport, thanks to the fate that we live in a society where the value is will not only one person. But when I arrived in Beijing, I had the feeling I landed in a free country.
In addition, Americans also have much to teach the North Koreans. The libertarian revolution in this may not happen. But watching people who do not fit the official stereotype, met with them, and particularly working with them, the North Koreans learned something, too. My British friend during the return trip met with some of the already familiar guides, and they have a friendly attitude. Humanitarian workers say that, over time, better acquainted with the patients. During such communication is transmitted is of interest. Communication, interaction and interest is not a panacea. But most likely, it is this — not isolation — will help guide the evolution of Pyongyang in a more liberal and peaceful course.
Ban travel to North Korea, the Americans will be a step especially absurd and incorrect, given that the rest of the world still travels to this country freely. The same character has an embargo against Cuba is a politicized step without any serious chance of weakening the ruling regime. Congress should consider how best to do that in the future, the people and the government of the DPRK has changed.
We may never know what happened to Otto Warmbier. It was a tragic accident (none of his actions can justify his fate) is a stark warning: when visiting the DPRK need to be more circumspect and careful than when you travel abroad at all. But this is not a reason to prohibit Americans to travel to this country. They have much to learn and much to teach. While North Korea does not change comes, individual travelers can be the most important and perhaps the only U.S. Ambassador to North Korea.