SEOUL — A lone defector from North Korea has begun flying balloons over the country loaded with face masks, medicine and vitamin pills rather than the leaflets he had previously rained down on the North in defiance of the government attempts to arrest him.
“People are dying from COVID in North Korea,” Park Sang-hak, who defected from North Korea to South Korea more than 20 years ago, told The Daily Beast. “It is the absolute priority. Right now, hundreds of thousands of people are contracting the virus and thousands are dying every day. »
Park, who heads an organization called Fighters for Free Korea, said the need to help northerners fight disease is why he is launching balloons again, despite still being accused of violating a law imposed by the previous Liberal government. The law remains in effect, but he is confident that under conservative President Yoon Suk-yeol he will not be arrested again.
“The law is still there, but they won’t try to enforce it,” he said. “The current president as a candidate has said he opposes this anti-leaflet law.”
On Sunday, while authorities were well aware of what he was doing, Park said no one tried to stop him as he launched balloons carrying 20,000 masks, 15,000 Tylenol tablets and 30,000 vitamin C tablets from a mountainous area near the line with North Korea. . “Of course the police weren’t there,” Park said. “If they had seen me, they should have arrested me.”
Technically, Park could face a two-year prison sentence and a hefty fine, but authorities seem to be looking the other way. They have yet to press charges against him in April for launching balloons that scattered a million leaflets across the North filled with the kind of articles that earned him threats of retaliation.
Park, however, said he decided not to flood the North with tracts about the evils of the Kim dynasty that has ruled North Korea since the end of World War II or the regime of Kim Jong Un, grandson of the founder Kim Il Sung.
The only propaganda included in the balloon drops is a 78-page treatise on South Korea as a prosperous country, along with US dollar bills as symbols of the capitalist South’s alliance with the United States. United. The treatise, by a now 90-year-old professor who defected from North Korea decades ago, bears the intriguing title “From an Eel to a Dragon” to describe South Korea’s rise to economic stardom.
In a conversation conducted via Skype and interpreted by one of Park’s friends, he spoke of the despair of those he tries to help. “COVID is spreading,” Park said. “Before, they said there was no case. Now they say they don’t need help. Moon, when he was president, offered emergency help. They don’t did not recognize his offer.
Instead, Park said, “they’re firing missiles” and by June 25, the anniversary of North Korea’s 1950 invasion of the South, “they could conduct another nuclear test.”
Park said his campaign was the only way to bring foreign aid to North Korea, while Kim Jong Un keeps borders closed to all foreign aid except limited shipments from China. He believes the regime has covered up the extent of the pandemic, claiming to have managed to defeat it while reporting less than 100 deaths, a figure which is widely considered to grossly underestimate the death toll.
Park’s success in renewing his balloon campaign is just another sign of the shift in policy under President Yoon from appeasement to confrontation. Moon, during his five years as president, has sought reconciliation with Kim Jong Un, whom he saw three times in 2018 but cut off communications after his failed 2019 summit in Hanoi with Donald Trump.
Moon pushed through the anti-balloon law as a major step on the road to North-South reconciliation after the North threatened to fire across the border at launch sites. “When Moon was president, he had me arrested,” Park said. “They investigated my mother. They tried to build a case against me.
In the end, even before Moon’s term ended in May, the case proved embarrassing for the government.
“International opinion was on our side,” he said. “We wrote letters. All this pressure from outside was too much. They really couldn’t enforce the law even then.
Now he said that “the position of the new president and the new unification minister is that they don’t need to enforce the law.”