How Olympic 'diplomacy' normalizes North Korea

How Olympic 'diplomacy' normalizes North Korea

Instead of generating goodwill, North Korea’s participation in the Winter Olympics has demonstrated how rapidly diplomatic engagement can degenerate into a propaganda exercise that benefits only Kim Jong Un.

In its annual New Year’s address, only a month before the Pyeongchang games were set to begin, Pyongyang suddenly indicated that it was ready to participate. South Korean President Moon Jae-in rushed to accommodate the request, even agreeing to delay joint military exercises with the United States to ensure a deal. Moon welcomed the North Koreans without securing any concessions from the North to rein in its nuclear program or rampant human rights violations.

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Seoul compounded its initial error by agreeing to participate in a joint ski training exercise at the Masikryong Ski Resort near the northern city of Wonsan, which reportedly cost the regime $300 million to build. This luxury resort is the embodiment of the Kim’s habitual excess and sanctions busting. North Korea was only able to buy equipment for the resort thanks to the lax implementation of the UN luxury goods ban imposed in 2006.

Last year, when NBC News was allowed to visit the resort, it discovered that thousands of North Koreans, including children who appeared to be as young as 11, had to brave the cold to clear the road to the resort with pickaxes and wooden shovels. By sending its athletes to the facility, Seoul helped to legitimize such abuse and made a serious error in judgment.

In its pursuit of engagement, the Moon administration embarrassingly asked its own citizens to refrain from criticizing the Kim regime. Stifling the South Korean people’s freedom of expression sounds like a page out of the Kim family playbook, yet it is the natural result of a policy based on generating goodwill by ignoring the brutal reality of life in North Korea.

So far, the United States has set a much better example of how to confront this reality. In his first

official State of the Union address, President TrumpDonald John TrumpSunday Shows preview: Lawmakers, Trump allies discuss Russia probe, migrant family separation Seth McFarlane: Fox News makes me 'embarrassed' to work for this company  'Art of the Deal' co-author: Trump would act like Kim Jong Un if he had the same powers MORE welcomed the parents of Otto Warmbier, the Ohio student who arrived in good health for his visit to North Korea, yet returned home in a vegetative state, dying just a few days later. The president also honored Ji Seong-ho, who suffered starvation and torture at the hands of the Kim regime and eventually defected to a better life in prosperous South Korea.

The UN Commission of Inquiry has made clear that such grave human rights violations are the norm under Kim Jong Un. Four years ago, the ground-breaking Commission highlighted that North Korea holds an estimated 80,000 and 120,000 political prisoners in large prison camps, adding that “the unspeakable atrocities that are being committed against inmates of the kwanliso political prison camps resemble the horrors of camps that totalitarian States established during the twentieth century.”

The UN Commission also found that North Korea perpetrates “systematic, widespread, and gross human rights violations” that entail not only a denial of all basic freedoms, but also the regime’s threat of “extermination, murder enslavement, torture, imprisonment, rape, forced abortions and other sexual violence, (and) persecution on political, religious, racial and gender grounds.”

The Kim regime’s human rights crimes extend beyond its borders. The regime is known for overseas abductions in Japan and South Korea, for denying repatriation to detained foreigners, and for the export of its own citizens for use as slave labor. Pyongyang confiscates the income generated by these slaves-for-hire, redirecting it instead to nuclear weapons and missile programs.

The proper way to treat such a regime is not to welcome it to the Olympic Games, but to impose a ban like the one endured by apartheid-era South Africa from the 1960s to 1980s. In light of the extreme threat posed by North Korea, it is not hard to understand President Moon’s desperation to find some way of building bridges to Pyongyang. Yet 20 years of continuous efforts to engage North Korea have only secured false promises that encourage complacency in Seoul and Washington while Pyongyang races ahead with its nuclear and missile programs while brutalizing its people.

President Moon, a former human rights lawyer, campaigned for office as a champion of civil and human rights. If he wants to live up to that reputation, he should stand with the oppressed people of North Korea by working with the United States to impose maximum pressure on Pyongyang.

Anthony Ruggiero is a senior fellow at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, where Mathew Ha is a research associate. Anthony was the nonproliferation advisor to the U.S. delegation to the 2005 rounds of the Six-Party Talks and spent more than 17 years in the U.S. government. Follow both on Twitter @_ARuggiero and @MatJunsuk.

Follow the the Foundation for Defense of Democracies on Twitter @FDD.