It is nearly impossible to fathom the conditions in North Korea and especially among the estimated quarter-million people in the kwan-li-so, which includes whole families: grandparents, parents and children sentenced under the dictum that enemies of the state must "be eliminated through three generations."
An estimated 250,000 to 350,000 people starved in previous manmade famines in the 1990s. And even when the West, including the U.S., provided food for the starving population, most of the rations went to Communist officials, not the starving. As a result, a whole generation of North Koreans is stunted; the average North Korean is 3 inches shorter than the average South Korean, though the two populations are genetically one.
The challenge to the Obama administration will be saving Bae's life while not making concessions that will help the North Korean regime become a greater menace to the world and its own people.
The only thing that will rescue North Korea from the grip of the murderous regime of the Kim dynasty is outside intervention. With the breakup of the Soviet empire, China has assumed the role of North Korea's protector. But China does so not out of ideological sympathy -- for despite its veneer of communist ideology, Karl Marx would have recognized in North Korea what he called "Oriental despotism."
China has always operated under the shortsighted principle that the enemy of my enemy is my friend and thus supports the North Koreans chiefly because they are America's enemy. But China is also fearful of what the consequences would be if North Korea were to collapse, flooding China with millions of starving refugees.
Nonetheless, the Obama administration should be applying as much pressure as possible to China to help free not only Bae but also 25 million North Koreans by withdrawing its support for the Kim regime. Capitulating to Kim's demands will only prolong the misery.
Linda Chavez is chairman of the Center for Equal Opportunity and author of Betrayal: How Union Bosses Shake Down Their Members and Corrupt American Politics .
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