Defector: North Korea uses food to keep people under control

"If you work you would be given something to eat," defector Jihyun Park said of life in North Korea. "If you don't work, you don't get to eat."
By Elizabeth Shim  |  Oct. 12, 2017 at 8:15 AM
share with facebook
share with twitter
Sign up for our weekly Korea Now newsletter
An exclusive report putting perspective on the week's most important developments.

Oct. 12 (UPI) -- North Korea's public distribution system is part of the reason defectors have a hard time adjusting to life in South Korea -- and socioeconomic change in the North is driving Kim Jong Un's need to impress the population with nuclear weapons, according to a woman who fled after time in detention.

Jihyun Park, a North Korean defector and activist based in Britain, told UPI Wednesday in a Skype interview that North Korea's public food distribution system has encumbered the ability of North Korean refugees to cope with South Korea's capitalist economy.

"North Korea is a distribution country," Park said. "The government always gave us food."

While the distribution of "free" staples such as rice, barley or corn precluded the need for currency, North Korea founder Kim Il Sung used the public distribution system to control the population.

Park said a system in which you are given food as compensation, instead of payments in currency, is slavery.

North Korea used this system to keep the people in check, Park said.

"If you work you would be given something to eat," Park said. "If you don't work, you don't get to eat."

The defector said the system is comparable to slavery in the American South, where those enslaved enjoyed few material benefits aside from basic housing, rationed food and cotton clothing.

"The North Korean system is responsible for defectors who are unable to adjust," Park said. "Capitalism in the South is totally different from the North."

Defectors in the South are known to struggle in menial jobs in an unfamiliar social environment and cope with discrimination.

One defector who spoke to UPI in August said he "hated" his new life in South Korea and North Koreans continue to exercise loyalty to Kim Jong Un because they "reap benefits" from the state.

Park said North Korean defectors who speak of the merits of the regime are "oblivious" of how the system actually works.

Park was forcibly repatriated to the North from China after being forced into a marriage with a Chinese national.

Her experience in a North Korean prison camp and disease pushed her to gain "real insight into the reality of North Korea."

"It is people like us who have been forcibly repatriated to the North," Park said. "What we realized is that it is a country run by dictators."

"We also realize North Korea is not a socialist country, it is a slave state."

Defectors who speak fondly of North Korea have not had the bitter experience of rights abuses or walking with bleeding bare feet while laboring in a North Korean prison camp, Park said.

Park, who said she was released while ill because guards wanted her to "die outside the prison camp," also said North Korea will not give up its weapons of mass destruction.

The 48-year-old defector said during her university days in the '80s the state was teaching students about the "need for nuclear weapons."

"Kim Il Sung taught peace on the peninsula can only be achieved if U.S. forces leave," Park said, which means war.

But Park also said while the North Korea founder was "able to control the North Korean people" his successors are having a more difficult time maintaining authority.

"Kim Jong Un needs nuclear weapons because of the North Korean people," Park said. "Because the country is a dictatorship ruled by the Kim family."

A changing society poses new challenges for the ruling Kims: After the North Korea founder died in 1994, the population's "way of thinking began to change a great deal."

"The reason Kim Jong Un is threatening the United States with nuclear weapons, is to impress North Koreans," Park said. "He's trying to gain the support of the people."

Related UPI Stories
Trending Stories