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Cablegate: Pragmatic Concerns Take Precedence for Nk Defectors

VZCZCXYZ0004
PP RUEHWEB

DE RUEHUL #1967/01 1830204
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
P 020204Z JUL 07
FM AMEMBASSY SEOUL
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 5281
INFO RUEHBJ/AMEMBASSY BEIJING PRIORITY 2729
RUEHMO/AMEMBASSY MOSCOW PRIORITY 8118
RUEHKO/AMEMBASSY TOKYO PRIORITY 2837
RUALSFJ/COMUSJAPAN YOKOTA AB JA PRIORITY
RHMFISS/COMUSKOREA J5 SEOUL KOR PRIORITY
RHHMUNA/CDR USPACOM HONOLULU HI PRIORITY
RHMFISS/COMUSKOREA J2 SEOUL KOR PRIORITY
RHMFISS/COMUSKOREA SCJS SEOUL KOR PRIORITY

UNCLAS SEOUL 001967

SIPDIS

SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PREL PREF PGOV PINR KS KN
SUBJECT: PRAGMATIC CONCERNS TAKE PRECEDENCE FOR NK DEFECTORS


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SUMMARY
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1. (SBU) During a June 26-28 leadership camp sponsored by
NGO Citizens' Alliance for North Korea Human Rights
(Citizens' Alliance), 16 young North Korean defectors
received the message of democratic activism. However, more
pragmatic advice on adjusting to South Korean society
captivated their attention. END SUMMARY.

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LEADERSHIP CAMP FOR DEFECTOR YOUTH
----------------------------------

2. (SBU) As one of its myriad projects in support of North
Korean defectors, the Seoul-based Citizens' Alliance, a
private NGO, sponsored a three-day camp for North Korean
youth with leadership potential. As explained to us by
Citizens' Alliance Secretary General Kim Young-ja, resettled
North Koreans are expected to play a key future role in
mediating the relationship between North and South Koreans in
a unified Korea. Thus, she explained, it is vital to
identify potential leaders, educate them about democratic
values and provide them with the leadership skills necessary
for their success. Sixteen resettled North Koreans
participated in the leadership camp, which was in held near
Seoul June 26 to 28. They were all college students: nine
were Chinese majors, three studied theology or religious
education, and one each studied in the fields of Business,
English, Nursing, and Visual Arts. POL's Korean-speaking
intern joined the group as an observer.

------------------------------------
DEMOCRACY ACTIVIST FACES TOUGH CROWD
------------------------------------

3. (SBU) Ana Mosneagu, an International Republican Institute
(IRI) representative from Romania, was the event's featured
speaker. As an expert on the democracy movement in Romania,
Mosneagu explained her country's transition from a closed
communist regime to a more open, free state, and the role of
the citizens who chose to participate in bringing about
regime change

4. (SBU) Mosneagu pushed the group to envision change in
North Korea and asked them their thoughts on the DPRK opening
to the outside world. Most responded that change would be
difficult and take a long time. A twenty-nine year old
female student pointed out that middle-aged defectors settled
in the South still distrusted people of different races, and
were reluctant to disavow all aspects of the political
propaganda that they were taught throughout their lives. "I
understand how we want to see change in what North Koreans
believe," she explained, "but if you crash into a person's
mind with a set of completely different facts and values in
matter of weeks, or even days, they break down - or even
worse, they might hold on to the old stuff more strongly than
ever before."

5. (SBU) A twenty-two year old female defector, a student,
added that when she learned that the Korean War was started
by the DPRK, "I was so shocked, and I fell ill for several
days. If North and South Koreans under a unified Korea fight
over something, it could be historical matters such as who
started the Korean War." A South Korean moderator suggested
that the two peoples would surely fight over investment
rights, real estate, land development, to which a defector
student replied "most importantly, we will need to decide who
gets to represent a unified Korea."

------------------------------------
REALISTIC RESPONSES TO BIG QUESTIONS
------------------------------------

6. (SBU) Mosneagu kicked off another discussion on "higher
ambitions and potential for defector NK youth." Ms. Mosneagu
asked, "Who will draft the constitution? Who will revamp the
outdated laws? Who will spread the word of democracy to a
disconcerted population? Tell me how you will achieve all
this ten years from now on." Most of the participants,
however, had more immediate concerns. The students majoring
in Chinese replied that they chose the major considering the
immediate advantages - getting a job in Korea-China trade,
teaching Chinese at public schools, as well as freelance
interpretation and translation. These students explained
that they sought jobs that would give them an immediate
advantage over average Koreans. The winning edge, they said,
was their first-hand exposure to China and Chinese language,
tolerance and sympathy for people in desperate need of
education and Christianity. The religious studies majors
explained that they chose their majors in the hope of
continuing missionary work in China, and helping
disadvantaged people in North Korea someday.

7. (SBU) Mosneagu emphasized the importance of English
skills. "Fluency in English is crucial to connecting with the
outside world, and bringing in newest information, the best
government systems and brightest educators from all over the
world," Mosneagu observed. While everyone in the room nodded
in agreement, they wondered why Mosneagu, even though she
spoke English fluently, worked as a political activist and
leader of an NGO. "How can you work when you're getting paid
so little?" asked a 26-year-old male defector student.
Mosneagu replied that "it's not about the money, it's about
what I believe."

8. (SBU) The indefatigable Mosneagu urged the students to
have more confidence and broader visions as future leaders.
Indeed, by the end of the discussion, students were putting
out more ambitious job titles such as Minister of Foreign
Affairs and Trade, Minister of Unification, Minister of
National Defense, ROK diplomat in Beijing, or Grand National
Party officer.

--------------------------------------------- -----
PARTICIPANTS FOCUS ON FINANCIAL AND LEGAL PROBLEMS
--------------------------------------------- -----

9. (SBU) In contrast to the lukewarm response given to the
democracy activist, the participants were keenly interested
in a presentation on legal issues facing North Korean
defectors. The students peppered the Korean Bar Association
representative with questions about debt, loans, inheritance,
contracts, tenant rules, real estate, and other financial
issues. They were also concerned about marriage laws,
especially property co-ownership with the spouse, and laws
regulating traffic and car accidents. Most were concerned
about the cost of legal advice and also the legal
consequences of Korean identification numbers issued at
Hanawon. (Note: The ROKG records the district number of
Ansang (2523), where Hanawon is located, as the "birthplace"
of defectors. Thus, defectors all have the series "2523" in
their identification numbers.).

10. (SBU) "We never got education like this at Hanawon,"
said a 23-year-old female student majoring in Chinese in a
major South Korean university. "I have a lot of things to
ask a lawyer, but I was afraid it would cost me several
million won (thousands of USD)." When asked what she would
do with this new information, she replied that she would
immediately share it with her friends. However, when asked
about becoming a legal expert in the future to help other NK
defectors, students answered shyly, "that sounds great, but I
don't think I am competent enough." Despite their interest in
the legal system, the students expressed the view that the
legal profession was an elite group unofficially reserved for
only the smartest South Koreans.

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COMMENT
-------

11. (SBU) We hardly fault the organizers for trying, but
there was an awkward disconnect throughout much of this
leadership camp. The idealism of democratic activism clashed
with the hard reality of North Korean defectors, who are
desperately trying to adjust to life in the ROK and compete
with their South Korean peers. At least for this group of
defectors, who represent some of the best and the brightest
of the growing defector population, the highest priorities
remain paying the bills and getting a job. Spreading
democracy and resolving the issues of unification would have
to wait until later.
VERSHBOW

© Scoop Media

 
 
 
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