Speculation mounted among Christian activists and human rights groups: Would President Bush bring up human rights in North Korea during the first White House visit by China's leader? And if so, what would be the result? They had pushed Bush to make the sensitive issue a sticking point with Chinese president Hu Jintao in April.
Leading up to the meeting, Bush had gone so far as to say he was "gravely concerned" about the plight of Kim Chun Hee, a North Korean woman who sought refuge after entering a Korean school in China last fall. Chinese authorities arrested her and sent her back to North Korea, despite the protests of the U.S., South Korea, and the U.N. Her fate remains unknown.
Following the Bush-Hu summit, Bush's special envoy for human rights in North Korea, Jay Lefkowitz, told CT that Bush "raised the issue directly" and that Kim was "the only individual case that he raised with President Hu." As for Hu's response: "It's clear that President Hu understood how important this issue is to the President."
Christian activists and other groups vowed to continue to pressure Bush and Hu to aid North Koreans. They want more slots for asylum seekers and increased radio programming into North Koreaand more penalties for sending North Koreans back to their home country, including trade sanctions against China and boycotts of Chinese-made goods.
"We want to make sure the human rights issue remains squarely on the agenda," said Ann Buwalda, executive director of Jubilee Campaign USA, which has joined coalitions supporting such measures. "If we keep our voices silent, it's not going to change."
A November U.S. State Department report reiterated the fact that religious freedom does not exist in North Korea. Defectors have reported that Christians are beaten, arrested, tortured, or killed because of their religious beliefs. And according to a U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom report released in May, Chinese police routinely return thousands of North Koreans who have escaped to China for refuge.
The North Korea Freedom Coalition, an alliance of more than 50 religious and human rights groups, is considering a grassroots approach that includes month-long boycotts of Chinese-made products. Not content to wait for government action, Suzanne Scholte, the coalition's chairwoman, said, "China responds to the money issue." The United States imports billions of dollars of manufactured goods from China.
Republican Sen. Sam Brownback of Kansas told CT that he "would love to see people start voting with their dollars." He also said trade sanctions would be helpful"the stronger the better."
Other groups are focusing on a deeper dimension to the problem. In January, Open Doors USA, a group that aids persecuted Christians, initiated a three-year nonstop prayer campaign. Carl Moeller, the group's president, said that by late April, Open Doors had signed up more than 900 "prayer warriors" nationwide. Each one picked a 10-minute slot to pray for North Korea each week.
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The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom has more information about the lack of religious freedom in North Korea.
Other stories on those fleeing persecution in North Korea include:
Nightmares and Miracles | A good beginning to the long battle for human rights in North Korea. A Christianity Today editorial (Dec. 6, 2004)
A Heartless Homeland | Why more North Koreans than ever are fleeing their country. (Oct. 06, 2004)
The Nightmare of North Korea | One man's story of brutality, courage, love, and freedom. (Oct. 05, 2004)
South Koreans Help Neighbors (Aug. 9, 1999)
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