I escaped from North Korea — Trump just reduced my chances of returning alive and free

Congratulations, Mr. Trump — you’ve gone where other U.S. presidents would not. In paying a friendly visit to the giant gulag that is the North Korea, you’ve taken another step toward legitimizing the Kim regime. In doing so, my chances of returning alive and free to that land have declined again.

The regime likes these photo-ops. Pyongyang had to ransom two journalists in 2009 to get Bill Clinton to visit. Carter went in 2010 under similar circumstances. State media celebrates and publicizes these occasions. They send a signal to the rest of the country that the regime will be there to last. You’re giving this to the regime for free, Mr. President. I thought you told us you were a good negotiator?

North Korea is a country that deliberately starves its own citizens. Its gross domestic product could feed its population of 25 million twice over, but the regime chooses to keep its people on the edge of survival. Conditions are so bad that people risk their lives to live as slaves in China rather than be tortured and starved in the North.

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My friends and family are among those who have made such a choice. In the last 80 years, more than 6 million people have died because of the Kim regime’s brutal dictatorship. Potentially 3 million perished in the famine of the 1990s alone. Would you have congratulated yourself for being the first president to visit Auschwitz, not as a liberator but as a “friend” of Hitler?

North Korea is an artificial construct — as arbitrary as a line on a map. It’s a Soviet-designed totalitarian state that works so well it outlasted its creators by 30 years. Kim Il Sung was installed by Joseph Stalin to keep the North in the Soviet orbit.

Kim’s grandson is kept in place with your help. The Kim regime is not the legitimate government of the North Korean people any more than a German built concentration camp was the legitimate government of the Polish region of Auschwitz.

There’s no need to take my word for any of this. Satellite images will show you the concentration camps. The average South Korean is three inches taller than the average North Korean. North Koreans routinely risk death to escape to the South. You’ve met many North Korean refugees who back all of this up.

Why then do you give these criminals what they want? It’s glaringly obvious that you do so simply to pretend that you’ve accomplished something. It’s a victory as false as Neville Chamberlain's at Munich. Only a weak man would give in to criminals. Only a weak man who has failed in his campaign promises to the nation.

I am grateful to the United States for defeating imperial Japan and liberating South Korea. Soviet aggression led to the further enslavement of my people in the North. I do not ask Americans to fight a war to set them free. But I ask you not to collude with the criminal Kim regime or to obstruct others from working toward my people's freedom. I ask this for selfish reasons. I would like to go home someday. 

Yeonmi Park is a human rights activist who was born in North Korea. She escaped as a teenager with her family and now works to bring attention to the horrors of the political oppression in her country. She is the author of “In Order to Live: A North Korean Girl’s Journey to Freedom.”