As the Trump administration prepares for a historic denuclearization summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un, POTUS and friends have embarked on a charm offensive aimed squarely at Kim Jong-Un. He has been described as “very honorable” by Trump and John Bolton, the hawkish National Security Advisor, and has specifically stated that human rights are not high on the Trump-Kim meeting agenda. This cordial rhetoric, a break from aggressive jockeying during the early days of the Trump presidency, may be a necessary condition of nuclear negotiation, but it is also distasteful. Whatever else might be said of Kim Jong-Un, he and his forebears have the blood of children on their hands.
Even for those that cheer the negotiations and believe that they might leave to a more tenable and lasting peace, which seems at least possible, it is important to circle back and understand Kim in the context of his actions. He and his father are the murderers of children and Americans.
Fred and Cindy Warmbier know this. Their son Otto Warmbier was held in North Korea on suspicion of theft for 17 months before being released last June. He died weeks later from complications. He was tortured to death. The damage was done before the release. Today, the Warmbiers are suing North Korea for wrongful death. Their lawsuit has made headlines, but they are hardly the only parents left bereaved by the Kim regime.
The non-profit organization North Korean Human Rights recently released a report suggesting that disabled children in North Korea have been, over the last few years, murdered outright or used for medical experimentation. That this has not made headlines is merely a product of international expectations for the Kim regime, which uses able-bodied children as labor and casts the sexually abused into the streets.
More troubling is the fact that the closed nation does not allow independent agencies to track human rights abuses. Most of the information about the treatment of children comes from video footage smuggled from the country, or eyewitness reports from defectors who detail malnourished children forced to work in strenuous dangerous jobs, or sent to work camps with families where it’s expected they will die.
Trump has said that the negotiation will largely be about establishing a report. Again, that might be right, but it is important to remember with whom an American president is establishing report. Again, Kim murders kids.
Should denuclearization talks go well — anyone with good sense prays it will — it’s unclear how the conversation about human rights in the Hermit Kingdom start. So far, it seems that it might not; or that it will be back-burnered for the sake of economics. The hope is, according to reports, that in liberalizing the North Korean market, Americans will be able to tempt avowed communists into committing acts of capitalism and that the market will take it from there. North Koreans will, the thinking goes, pursue wealth in the direction of virtue. (To be clear, this is not a uniquely Trumpian idea.)
The problem is that this rarely works. Consider Saudi Arabia. It is one of the richest nations on earth and despite its glimmering towers continues to have an abysmal human rights record. Or look at the continuing human rights issues in a prosperous China or the treatment of dissidents and homosexuals in Russia. These are not struggling third-world nations. They are prosperous economic powerhouses. Their economic success has not been correlated with more democratic policies — to the contrary, actually.
Given that, it’s important to remember that the upcoming Singapore summit in June is about denuclearization and the future of the North Korean peninsula, but very pointedly not about the lives of millions of children on that peninsula. America’s diplomatic ambitions simply don’t extend to the very young.
None of this is to say that the summit isn’t an achievement in and of itself. To be clear, it is. But it is also a meeting with a child killer and every American parent should keep that in mind when considering its potential consequences. Denuclearization is, after all, a minor win if suffering and death both proliferate ad infinitum.
What we’ll most likely see, should negotiations with North Korea succeed, is a new and welcome stability in Asia. Stability can be good, but if a new status quo is to be established it’s a moral imperative that it not allow for the torture and murder of children.