Trump meets North Korean defectors.
Video provided by AFP
WASHINGTON — President Trump is matching a human face to his super-charged rhetoric on North Korea by meeting with several defectors from the country in the Oval Office on Friday.
Among the guests: Ji Seong-ho, who Trump lauded at his State of the Union speech on Tuesday. Ji lost a leg and an arm while scavenging coal as a boy, and later fled to South Korea.
Trump used Ji’s story to illustrate what he called the “depraved character of the North Korean regime” and the kind of threat it could pose to the United States and its allies if it obtains nuclear weapons. Friday’s meeting was announced in the president’s schedule.
During the meeting, Trump asked the defectors to tell their stories — some using a translator while others spoke about their experiences in English. After each story, Trump replied with phrases like “tough stuff,” and congratulated the defectors on their freedom.
Hyeonseo Lee, another defector who met with Trump, said escaping from North Korea is not like leaving another country.
“It’s more like leaving another universe. I will never truly be free of its gravity no matter how far I journey. After I escaped to China, I escaped an arranged marriage when I was 19, and I also escaped a brothel. And eventually, I was arrested by the Chinese police, but narrowly avoided being repatriated back to North Korea because of my Chinese language abilities. They couldn’t believe that I was a North Korean defector,” she said.
“Due to all the things that are surrounding me, that I had to change my name so many times, hiding in China. So I became “The Girl with the Seven Names,” which is the title of my memoir,” she added.
The meeting sends a message to Kim that “the world knows about the terrible things being done to his own people – it has to stop,” said Greg Scarlatoiu, the executive director of the Committee for Human Rights in North Korea.
Scarlatoiu, who played a role in facilitating the meeting, said, “Every time human rights comes up, the very legitimacy of (Kim’s) regime is undermined.”
President Trump has asked the leaders of South Korea and Japan to keep the pressure on North Korea days before the Olympic Games is set to begin in South Korea. He also listened to the stories of North Korean defectors. (Feb. 2)
Earlier Friday, Trump spoke with South Korean President Moon Jae-in to wish him a successful Winter Olympics, and to discuss the importance of improving the human rights situation in North Korea, according to the White House. Trump also “reinterated (sic) his commitment to addressing the trade imbalance between the two countries,” according to the official readout of the conversation.
The Trump administration has been lobbying countries around the world — especially North Korea’s top two trading partners China and Russia — to isolate the already reclusive country and curtail trade in order to pressure it to abandon its nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles programs. North Korea, which has increased the tempo of its weapons testing in the past two years, pledged to develop a nuclear weapon capable of striking the U.S. mainland to deter what it sees as an American threat.
Trump and Kim have traded unprecedented insults and threats of nuclear war if either country attacks the other.
The North Korean government led by Kim, the grandson of the country’s founder, has a system of prisons where its holds an estimated 80,000 to 120,000 prisoners, no independent media and commits human rights abuses including extrajudicial killings, forced labor, torture, rape and forced abortions, according to a State Department report in January 2017.
According to the story Trump told Tuesday, Ji was run over by a passing train while trying to steal coal to trade for food. His damaged limbs were amputated without anesthesia, and he was tortured by North Korean authorities. He and his family members escaped, but his father was caught and tortured to death.
“Today he lives in Seoul, where he rescues other defectors, and broadcasts into North Korea what the regime fears the most — the truth,” Trump said in the speech.
Featured in President Donald Trump’s State of the Union Address, Ji Seong-ho, a defector from North Korea and outspoken critic of the Kim Jong-un government, says he was overwhelmed by the experience. (Jan. 31)
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