On Saturday 14 February, the Friends of Korea organised a well attended meeting in Saklatvala Hall, Southall, west London, on the theme, Unreserved Solidarity with the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK). The meeting also marked the 67th birthday, on 16 February, of the Korean leader Comrade Kim Jong Il. Guest of honour at the meeting was Comrade Jang Song Chol from the London Embassy of the DPRK.
Before the formal proceedings, the audience watched “Answer of Korea”, a DPRK documentary film, which sets out in clear and precise details the long history of the US imperialist nuclear threat to the DPRK and the Korean people’s anti-imperialist resistance and fight for peace.
The meeting was chaired by Comrade Zane Carpenter, General Secretary of the Communist Party of Great Britain (Marxist-Leninist) (CPGB-ML), who emphasised that solidarity with the DPRK was an important and integral part of our revolutionary work in Britain.
The main speech was given by Comrade Keith Bennett on behalf of Friends of Korea. (We reproduce extensive excerpts from Comrade Keith’s speech below.)
Following his well-received contribution, solidarity messages were given by comrades representing the Juche Idea Study Group, Socialist Labour Party, Revolutionary Communist Party of Britain (Marxist-Leninist) (RCPBML) and the CPGB-ML.
Speaking for the CPGB-ML, Comrade Ella Rule, Vice Chairman, detailed the new evidence of imperialist atrocities perpetrated against the Korean people in the 1950-53 war. (For full details on this see the February/March edition of the CPGB-ML journal Proletarian: http://www.cpgbml.org/index.php?secName=proletarian&subName=display&art=479) Comrade Ella echoed other speakers in demanding that the Irish politician Sean Garland not be extradited to the United States on spurious charges of supposedly working with the DPRK to distribute counterfeit US dollars. Anybody wondering as to the quality of US justice in such instances need only consider the case of the Miami Five Cuban patriots, Comrade Ella noted. The meeting agreed to send a strong protest to the Irish government in this regard.
Comrade Jang from the DPRK Embassy made brief remarks, stating that the Workers’ Party of Korea would always stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the communists in Britain and other European countries.
The meeting closed with the unanimous adoption of a message of greetings to Comrade Kim Jong Il.
Following the meeting, the comrades from RCPB(ML) presented an excellent programme of revolutionary music from Britain, Korea and other countries on violin and piano, culminating in all rising to sing the Internationale.
Comrades then took the opportunity to view a photo exhibition and a lively social with excellent food and drink continued for several hours.
The following is the gist of Comrade Keith Bennett’s presentation to the meeting:
To stand in solidarity with the DPRK is to stand in solidarity with Comrade Kim Jong Il. All the victories of the Korean people, in defending the independence, sovereignty and dignity of the country against imperialism and its stooges; and in building a modernised, prosperous and powerful socialist country are inseparable from his leadership and guidance.
DPRK celebrates 60th anniversary
Last year, the DPRK celebrated the 60th anniversary of its founding and, throughout the year, major successes were achieved in socialist construction, rehabilitating and developing many sectors of the national economy on the basis of self-reliance.
It was also a year in which the Korean people faced continued grave challenges from US imperialism and its stooges, principally the right wing governments in Tokyo and Seoul. Agreements made at the six party talks in Beijing, which are supposed to secure peace and security on the Korean peninsula through comprehensive and not one-sided denuclearisation, were not adhered to, meaning that the DPRK received far less in terms of energy provision than it was entitled to, leaving the country with no alternative other than to restart the operation of its nuclear facilities at Yongbyon.
Nevertheless, in the face of these challenges, and of much prevarication and bad faith on the part of the Bush administration, the DPRK secured a huge victory when the United States finally removed the disgraceful State Department designation as a “terrorist state” and the US President declared that the provisions of the Trading with the Enemy Act would no longer be applied to the country.
Obstacles to reunification
Over the last year, the Korean people faced, and are facing, a particular challenge in their struggle for the independent and peaceful reunification of the country, which has been ongoing for more than half a century. Finally responding to the DPRK’s consistent and principled stance, which is embodied in the slogan “By our Nation itself”, and which is also supported by the organisations of the workers, farmers and students in south Korea, as well as all the progressive and patriotic people there, the two previous administrations of Kim Dae Jung and Roh Mu Hyun both visited Pyongyang to meet with Comrade Kim Jong Il and respectively signed the June 15 Joint Declaration and the October 4 Declaration, representing the will of all the Korean people, and opening up an unprecedented degree of reconciliation and cooperation in many fields between the north and the south, along the road to ultimate reunification.
However, at the beginning of last year, the right wing, conservative administration of Lee Myung Bak took office in south Korea and ripped up both these declarations, whose achievement were the results of years of struggle. Under Lee Myung Bak, south Korea was promptly plunged back into the bad old days – of servility to US imperialism, of hostility to the compatriots in the north, of repression of the democratic and patriotic people at home, and of an economic policy that has mired the country in recession, making the rich still richer and the poor still poorer.
All of this has, in turn, been met with massive resistance on the part of the south Korean people. Daily protests at the lifting of the ban on importing US beef, which threatens the livelihood of many south Korean farmers, drew hundreds of thousands of people every day for weeks on end and actually forced George W Bush to postpone his visit to Seoul.
Tenants massacred in Seoul
On 20 January this year, a police attack on tenants resisting eviction in Seoul led to the deaths of six people. In response to this atrocity, thousands have marched, demanding that the police chief be fired for this unwarranted use of force to evict people from their homes.
The US paper Workers’ World gave some background to this atrocity as follows:
“Disputes involving evictions have become everyday occurrences in Seoul. The struggle is between real estate developers and apartment dwellers whose desire to stay in their homes gets in the way of profiteering. The rightist government now in power in south Korea has lined up with the developers, responding to every legitimate protest with massive use of police. During the weekend demonstrations, 10,000 police surrounded the crowds.
“On 20 January, about 50 people had tried sitting in to keep [themselves] from being evicted. Some 1,500 police were called in to remove them. Within 24 hours of the beginning of the protest, the government sent the equivalent of riot police or a SWAT team to storm the four-storey building.
“As the police charged in, a fire broke out. The police took no safety measures but proceeded with the assault. As a result, five tenants and one police officer died in the fire.”
In a statement, the National Council of Churches in Korea correctly noted:
“The tragic affair happened because of the government’s neo-liberal policy, which has deepened the gap between the rich and the poor, and the police’s excessive loyalty to the government.”
A 9 February article in the Los Angeles Times gave the following detailed background:
“The police commandos stormed the building just before dawn. A crane lifted a shipping container onto the rooftop in central Seoul, and scores of officers flooded out like warriors from a Trojan horse.
“Activists had holed up at the top of the building to protest forced evictions to make way for new development. They dodged police water cannons and hurled handmade gasoline bombs at some of the 1,400 riot police officers who encircled the building below in the two-pronged attack.
“Suddenly the building exploded into flames, killing six people, including one policeman. One body was burned beyond recognition.
“The incident last month marked a lethal turn in South Korea’s redevelopment wars, heightening public resentment against aggressive government urban renovation policies that many say victimise the poor — dismissed here as cheol geomin, or squatters.
“Prosecutors today are expected to release the results of their inquiry into whether officers used excessive force, but few protesters expected charges to be filed against the police. In fact, authorities have blamed activists for the fire…
“In Seoul, where developable land is at a premium, activists have demanded the resignations of President Lee Myung Bak and Kim Seok Ki, the police chief who ordered the deadly crackdown.
“Critics accuse the government of allowing business interests to force the poor from their homes and shops, often without adequate compensation, as a way to kickstart the nation’s ailing economy.
“‘They’re focusing on profits and just casting these people aside,’ said Kim Nam Geun, a civil rights activist…
“Nationwide, there are 424 cases in which evictees are battling property owners and developers for better compensation.
“Most redevelopment projects here are led by private developers and cooperatives of landlords seeking a quick profit with an aggressive schedule of demolition that does not often allow for public discourse, housing advocates say.
“And although some of the evictees have an option to move into the redeveloped projects, many are precluded by the high rents in the new buildings. So many opt for a payout.
“Officials said there are plans to amend the nation’s housing laws to make compensation more equitable.
“That may be too late for Choi Sun Kyun, 61, who says she has waited years for fair compensation. She ran a tiny restaurant for 16 years near where the deadly siege took place. Now she and others maintain a vigil at the site of the clash, handing out pamphlets on a busy street next to a memorial to the five dead activists.
“Choi knew that the old neighborhood in Yongsan’s 4th District, a warren of alleyways filled with restaurants, pubs, shops and apartments, had a date with the wrecking ball.
“‘She’s surrounded by swanky high-rise apartments that close in like invading giants. ‘They’re so big and beautiful, and we could never imagine living there,’ she said. ‘We were in the way.’
“In 2007, contractors hired by a collective of 4th District landlords posted bills saying that the area was going to be demolished. Apartment renters in the six-square-block area were offered moving expenses plus a modest government housing allowance.
“Shop owners such as Choi, who leased their spaces, were offered the equivalent of three months’ operation profits. Choi had spent tens of thousands of dollars in equipment and the traditional premium paid to the previous tenant – all of which would be lost.
“So the tiny divorcee refused to move. Immediately, she says, the harassment began. Tough-looking men in plain clothes stalked her 10-table restaurant. Some mornings she found trash piled up in front of her shop.
“On 4 November, the men returned, this time with a court order to destroy the premises. Choi stood outside and watched as cranes smashed the three-story building. But she did not cry.
“‘I didn’t want to look weak,’ she said. ‘I didn’t want to let them see any emotion.’
“In January, about 40 activists decided to stage a sit-in atop an abandoned four-storey office building. ‘People were indifferent to our plight, so they wanted to go up there and show our anger,’ said Noh Han Na, a leader of the 4th District squatters.
“She said the protesters brought food for 20 days. They also packed slingshots and gasoline-filled Molotov cocktails.
“Soon after activists set up their watchtower, authorities moved in. About 1 AM, 20 January, firefighters first set off warning flares. Then, activists say, the contractors hired by the landlords started a fire with old car tires on a lower floor of the building.
“Near dawn, 100 police commandos launched their assault.
“‘The activists weren’t disturbing anyone,’ said Noh, 51, who used to run a billiard hall in the area. ‘I don’t want to live in Korea if the government is going to act this way.’
“Housing experts say they expect more violence.
“‘In Seoul, there are incredible amounts of money at stake for owners and developers, but regular Koreans don’t like to be pushed around,’ said an urban planner who asked not to be named because of the sensitivity of the issue. ‘They’ll fight back.’”
British media silent
Indeed they will. What we must not fail to note is that this major incident, in a major world city, where six people lost their lives, was given almost no publicity in the British media. I spotted just one short report in the Daily Telegraph. Nothing in the Times or the Financial Times. Nothing in the supposedly liberal or progressive Guardian or Independent. Certainly no article anywhere in our media giving the type of background and context provided by the Los Angeles Times report cited above.
But can you imagine the type of publicity this incident would have received had it taken place not in Seoul, but in Beijing, or Harare, or Caracas, or, heaven forbid, Pyongyang?
Does Obama mean change
Of course, both the successive repressive regimes in south Korea and the continued partition of the Korean nation are ultimately the responsibility of US imperialism. As with many other parts of the world, there is much interest and speculation as to what change, if any, one might expect from the new administration of President Barack Obama with regard to the Korean peninsula.
It would be churlish not to recognise some of the hopes and expectations aroused among many working people in the United States, above all among the African-American people, for whom the legacy of segregation and discrimination, even slavery, is not some dim and distant past, but very much a lived reality.
But, whatever personal assessment is made of Mr Obama, it remains a fact that the Chief Executive of US imperialism, the Commander-in-Chief of the US armed forces of aggression, is put there to serve the interests and dictates of the ruling elite and not the working people, whether at home or abroad.
In his inauguration speech, Obama addressed the leaders of nations deemed hostile to US imperialism, declaring, “we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist”, a point he amplified shortly thereafter in his interview with the Dubai-based al-Arabiya television station. But, whilst the rhetoric is certainly less unpleasant and vulgar than Bush’s talk of a supposed “axis of evil”, it is still, at the very least, putting the cart before the horse. As the Chinese saying goes: “Whoever tied the knot on the bell is the one to untie it.” If the leaders of the DPRK, or Iran, or Venezuela, have clenched their fist at the US Empire, it is not for nothing, it is not for want of reason or provocation.
Chinese analyst says DPRK will not disarm
I would like here to introduce some of the arguments presented by a Chinese scholar by quoting at some length from his recent paper, “The DPRK-US Nuclear Game in the Obama Era”. The author, Professor Shen Dingli, is the Director of the Centre of American Studies at Shanghai’s Fudan University. He writes on DPRK-US relations regularly and is invited to speak on the subject at academic seminars all over the world.
Professor Shen’s wider comments are only strengthened by his careful opening remark: “At the outset, I will profess that I have no interest in justifying the DPRK moves to acquire and keep its nuclear weaponry.”
He adds: “But I will try to understand the different ways the US and DPRK look at the issue, and suggest pessimistically why this issue still is unlikely to be resolved in the Obama era. This is not my wish, but rather an expectation according to the logic.”
Giving credit where it is due, Shen states: “President Obama has made it clear that his government will talk to north Korea and Iran directly. This is certainly a better option than not to do so, as talks would at least add the chance of mutual understanding and reduce the chance of misperception.”
However: “A better understanding of each other’s interests may still not lead to the resolution of the nuclear issue and end with the DPRK’s complete nuclear dismantlement. Given the utility of nuclear weapons in international politics presently, such talks would probably lead nowhere. America’s purpose is to eliminate north Korea’s nuclear wherewithal, but not its own nuclear weapons capability, through either bilateral talks or future rounds of the Six-Party talks…
“While the US is asking the DPRK to dismantle its nuclear weapons programme, north Korea would feel that America has not reached a level of abandoning its own nuclear deterrent, despite the fact that the US has the most powerful military in the world, and America’s conventional armed force can virtually execute all missions that the US leadership would ever imagine.
“Therefore, the US would not disarm its own nuclear arsenal, as its leadership would not view it as a ‘white elephant’ to be given away. Given its possession of nuclear weapons, America has had both a psychological superiority through deterrence, and, if that fails, a real chance to honour its threat…
“In the DPRK’s view, as long as America continues to protect the ROK [that is south Korea], making unification on north Korea’s terms less likely, Washington poses a paramount threat. So America has both the intention and the capability to threaten Pyongyang. To counter these threats, north Korea would need nuclear weapons for its ultimate security and once these weapons are obtained the DPRK is not going to give them up.
“In this political interaction, it is virtually impossible for north Korea to denuclearise. Before Pyongyang tested its nuclear weapons in October 2006, there was still a theoretical possibility to freeze the DPRK’s nuclear status as a state without conducting a nuclear test. But after that nuclear blast it is not possible to revert to that ‘no-test-yet’ status and highly unlikely to return to the previous level.
“As the US would not accept the DPRK demand to unify the peninsula on its terms and, as the US still perceives a political and military utility of its own nuclear weapons, it is unrealistic to expect north Korea to disarm its nuclear weapons programme in the first place, no matter which American president is in power.
“There is an argument that if the DPRK keeps its nuclear weapons, it will continue to face sanctions. Certainly, Pyongyang doesn’t want to have sanctions against it. It also views such sanctions as imperialist, as they don’t respect the DPRK’s sovereign rights to develop weapons for defence. As far as proliferation is concerned, north Korea could also ponder why America’s development of nuclear weapons and space weapons would not have contributed to proliferation – pressuring other countries to follow suit.
“For instance, pressed by America, China has developed nuclear weapons and may have an eye on the space dimension as well. So why only address proliferation of North Korea but not America’s pressure on China? And, even if China has developed nuclear weapons given the US threat, has China’s action destabilised Northeast Asia? Have Japan and south Korea followed suit? Beijing may fully consider that its development of nuclear weapons has stabilised, rather than destabilised, the regional security situation…
“As in the DPRK case, America would not buy the argument that it has threatened China. In return, Washington may feel that Beijing’s one-party system has deprived some Chinese of political freedom, so China may have brought this insecurity on itself. But the Chinese government and at least most Chinese would not accept this perspective. They consider that the continuing US weapons sale to Taiwan has posed a major continuing security threat to Beijing. Even though China has implemented an opening-up policy for three decades and engaged America extensively, Beijing keeps alert on defence issues and would not foolishly abandon its nuclear weapons, given the present situation.
“Also, the American government would not unrealistically ask Beijing to give up its nuclear weapons now. Washington believes that nothing can entice China to do so – even ending weapons sales to Taiwan would not be enough. But that was not America’s initial intent – in 1964, Washington considered a surgical operation on China’s nascent nuclear weapons programme. Eventually, China grew economically and was accepted militarily as an established nuclear weapons power, though at a medium level.
“So why can’t the DPRK follow China’s suit? Given north Korea’s threat perception and America’s inability to help remove this perception, Pyongyang has acquired certain nuclear weapons capability. Once obtaining them, north Korea will keep them, despite various pressures – Pyongyang believes that its nuclear weapons support the country far more than the hardship they bring to it. It is true that China has joined other countries to persuade the DPRK to move toward nuclear disarmament. But China used to face threats from America and the former Soviet Union, plus natural disasters and a great famine in the early 1960s and China still survived and flourished. Why can’t the DPRK survive similarly, as Pyongyang’s international environment today is better than that of China fifty years ago?
“Also America tends to tacitly accept some of the outcomes of nuclear proliferation. It is true America doesn’t accept nuclear weapons programmes or suspected programmes of Iraq, Iran, Libya and Syria, but it has not denied, or has not been denying wholeheartedly, those of China, Israel, India and Pakistan.
“The whole world has observed that the conservative Bush government much improved its stance toward the DPRK after the latter conducted a nuclear test. North Korea believes that paperwork or an American security promise could be easily withdrawn at any time and no one can ever guarantee that future American leadership, even if not President Obama, would not be harsh and aggressive toward the DPRK again. A realistic Pyongyang believes that only its own hard strength can protect itself and economic hardship will be muddled through eventually.”
One does not need to share Professor Shen’s way of formulating things in every respect to admit that his logic is very thorough and steeped in realism. As the Seoul urban planner told the Los Angeles Times: “Regular Koreans don’t like to be pushed around. They’ll fight back.” And, comrades, in that respect, Comrade Kim Jong Il is a very regular Korean!
It is true that Obama’s rhetoric can at times be almost biblical. But equally it is written in the bible: “By their deeds shall ye know them.”
And using this yardstick, the signals so far regarding Korea are not good, if unsurprising. On 2 February, the Obama administration imposed sanctions on named companies in the DPRK, China and Iran, alleging that they had engaged in proliferation activities and thereby violated US laws, supposedly aimed at stopping the spread of missiles and other weapons technology. The United States, of course, arrogates to itself the supposed right to apply and enforce its domestic laws in all parts of the world, in disregard of the sovereignty and independence of others.
New attempt to extradite Sean Garland
This same imperialist bandit logic can be seen in the 30 January arrest in Dublin, on the strength of a US extradition warrant, personally signed by Condoleezza Rice, of the veteran Irish political activist, Sean Garland, on spurious allegations that he is in some way involved in the distribution of counterfeit US dollars, in collaboration with, or at the behest of, people in the DPRK. Comrades may recall that Garland was previously arrested on the same charge by the British authorities in Belfast in October 2005. Since December that year, he has been openly living in the Irish Republic, after skipping bail. Why should his case suddenly be revived now, less than one month into a new presidency, based on a new warrant dredged up by the outgoing administration in its dying days?
In June 2007, the Irish edition of the Mail on Sunday said that there was evidence that the Garland affair was actually a US plot to provide a pretext for a military attack on north Korea. Similar claims were made in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, a leading German newspaper, in January 2007, which further claimed that the real source of the so-called “superdollars” is actually a secret printing facility in the US owned by the CIA.
Many comrades have sharp political differences with Sean Garland and have had for many years. But these are irrelevant to his present circumstances. First, although Sean Garland is the immediate target of attack, it is clear that the real and much bigger target is the DPRK itself. Secondly, whatever our differences with Sean Garland, just as we have some differences among ourselves in the Friends of Korea, we know, too, that he has been a loyal friend of Korea over many years. Thirdly, by what right does the US government demand that a sovereign European state should meekly hand over one of its own citizens for an alleged crime which, even if there were any truth in the allegations, did not take place on US soil? And, finally, Sean Garland is now an old man in his mid-70s, who suffers from diabetes and cancer. To hand him over to the tender mercies of US imperialism would be as good as a death sentence.
I hope that from this meeting we can send a strong message to the Irish government, calling on them not to extradite Sean Garland, or any other Irish citizen, to the United States; or to the United Kingdom for that matter.
For our part, I am sure that all of us in the Friends of Korea will continue to extend our unreserved support and solidarity to the DPRK, not only for the sake of the Korean people, but also in the best interests of the British working class and of the global struggle against imperialism and for self-determination, independence and socialism.