At a rally in West Virginia this September, President Trump told supporters he and North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un “fell in love.”
Though Trump and Kim had some fiery exchanges before holding a summit last summer, both leaders have apparently softened toward one another. Recently, Kim Jong Un has agreed to a second summit with Trump.
While there is no doubt that progress in the denuclearization from an unstable country should be celebrated, the rhetoric that President Trump is using to sweeten the relationship between the two leaders is dangerous.
North Korea is not a country to be praised. The methods that the Kims have used for the past 70 years to stay in power are some of the same used by Adolf Hitler, Mao Zedong and Benito Mussolini.
Extreme use of force, massive propaganda campaigns and the use of state-controlled media, along with the creation of a “cult of personality” surrounding its supreme leader, create a country where the living conditions are much worse than Trump will admit.
Those that have managed to escape the brutal dictatorship describe an environment in which opposition to the supreme leader is not only discouraged but deadly. Expressing dissent to governmental action is cause enough for death or placement into a hard labor camp.
The United Nations estimates that at least 40 percent of the nation is malnourished and most North Koreans lack access to basic health care and sanitation. The most common causes of death in children under the age of five are diarrhea and pneumonia.
The tragic death of American student Otto Warmbier, and the abuse he suffered at the hand of Kim’s regime, only shows a shadow of what North Koreans are forced to endure. Many believed Warmbier’s foreigner status would protect him from too much harm. But to a man who is willing to assassinate his own family members when he perceives them to be a threat, what is Warmbier’s life worth after the apparent lack of respect he showed the supreme leader?
How much does Kim value the lives of ordinary North Korean citizens when using tactics such as starvation, re-education camps and isolation from outside information helps him achieve his ultimate goal: staying in power?
The Trump administration is doing nothing wrong by trying to engage North Korea in diplomatic talks. Avoiding a nuclear war is good for everyone. However, allowing Kim Jong Un to get away with his awful human rights record for a promise that they will work toward denuclearization is hardly a win.
The United States needs to stand strong in negotiations with North Korea and, in addition to dismantling their nuclear weapons program, improve the treatment of their own people. There is no reason why one should come at the expense of the other.