If there is any country on the list of U.S. adversaries about which almost everyone lacks critical understanding, it is the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, more commonly known as the DPRK or North Korea. Unlike most countries, North Korea has managed to stay fairly closed to U.S. interference and intelligence-gathering — whether by embassies and consulates, or other channels of soft-power such as NGOs (although some have gotten through). This means Western leaders lack a crucial ability to analyze what North Korea is thinking based on what it says.
The Western media, for their part, also leave Americans under-informed on North Korea, primarily covering the more sensationalist aspects of the story. The latest example of this is the coverage of U.S. President Donald’s Trump’s self-nomination for a Nobel Peace Prize and the return of three “hostages” (or spies depending on who you ask), which tend to be reported without the proper context of the events that have led up to this point.
While Trump is claiming credit for peace between North and South Korea, Dermot Hudson, a Delegate of the Korean Friendship Association (KFA) in the United Kingdom has a different perspective. He tells MintPress, “Trump deserves absolutely no credit at all” for the latest steps towards peace. Hudson says, rather than the latest peace-process news, it is important to remember:
Trump came close to starting a war which would have destroyed the Korean nation and possibly started a world war.”
This will also no doubt be on Pyongyang’s mind as they enter negotiations, which is why the KFA offers a unique perspective, for which Western media does not provide a platform.
Dermot Hudson, the KFA, and the importance of Juche
The KFA, according to Hudson, is an organization that:
Exists to defend the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and promote solidarity with the DPRK…and support the independent reunification of Korea and aim to develop exchange and cooperation with the DPRK, and is an organization that does what it says on the tin [i.e., label], [which is] defend People’s Korea with no ifs and buts. . . [T]he main objective is to show the reality of the DPRK to the world. We are a pro-active DPRK solidarity organization; we aim to maximize support and solidarity with the DPRK .”
This is an uphill battle for Hudson, as he has often had to compete with massive amounts of propaganda surrounding the DPRK — which ranges from ridiculous stories about “mandatory haircuts” to more nefarious stories, such as those about Kim ordering someone executed in some kind of gruesome way. Often these stories spread from spurious sources in Japan or South Korea and are later retracted, but this rarely stops the U.S. media from just incorporating these false stories into the propaganda canon around the DPRK.
The Western media often also often portray the DPRK as a nation full of starving slaves, but even outlets like Al Jazeera have said this is likely an exaggeration — and that was before the past few years of stronger growth in the country. While Hudson obviously can’t fully debunk any claims like this, as far as anecdotally, he says he’s seen “absolutely no evidence for this on my last few visits; everyone seemed well fed. There were no beggars. In the countryside we saw plenty of traffic and even strawberries on sale at the roadside.”
Western media also often claim other ‘human rights abuses’ by Pyongyang, such as “labor camps” — which Huffington Post has called worse than Hitler’s — full of prisoners who make the DPRK function. Hudson could also only provide an anecdotal answer to this as well, saying he has never seen any camps and that, in his opinion, “no one in the DPRK seemed to be afraid of the army or people’s security personnel.” Hudson considers most of these concerns about “human rights” as hypocritical: while outlets like Buzzfeed may have the “courage” to call Kim Jong-un’s sister Kim Yo-jong a “monster” when she sits next to Mike Pence, a man working for a government fighting seven wars, they offer very little real criticism of imperialist policies.
The association also carries out their mission through a variety of other methods, which includes sponsoring regular trips to the DPRK as well as cultural programs to educate people about the country’s official ideology, Juche.
The KFA has been doing this work since it was founded in in 2000, and Hudson personally began working to teach his fellow British citizens before that when he “founded the Juche Idea Study Group of England back in 1985.” It is Hudson’s understanding of Juche, his connections in the DPRK, and his work with the KFA that make him qualified to discuss what Korea might be looking to achieve.
Hudson was first drawn to studying the DPRK in the 1980s by the country’s unique character and “because of its independent stance and because it is a true socialist country.” He began visiting the country in 1992 as a guest of state agencies — including the Korean Committee for Cultural Relations with Foreign Countries, the Korean Juche Idea Academy, and the Korean Association of Social Scientists. He has also met with high-ranking officials, including “comrade Kim Yong Nam, Chairman of the Presidium of the Supreme People’s Assembly of the DPRK, several times, and Kim Ki Nam who was vice-chairman of the Workers’ Party of Korea and vice -chairman of the State Affairs Commission of the DPRK until October 2017.”
Hudson has received these invitations and maintained such close ties with the DPRK by virtue of his commitment to educating people on the lessons of Juche, the official anti-imperialist state ideology, which he says:
[has the] basic philosophical cornerstone that humans are the masters and can decide everything. Humans are defined as having independence, creativity and consciousness but these are not inborn but are acquired socially. Basically, the people are the owners of the revolution and construction.”
Understanding Juche is key to understanding the motivations of the DPRK, as it is Juche that drives Pyongyang’s policies of “self-sustenance in the economy and self-reliance in defense…stressing self-development and self-reliance in order to counter the aggressive and criminal sanctions of the U.S. and UNSC.” This “self-reliance in defense” is also buttressed by the Songun (military first) policy, which emphasizes the DPRK’s need for weapons capable of deterring the U.S. and other imperialist powers.
It is the economic practices inspired by Juche that back the DPRK’s self-sustained economy.
While Western media often portrays the DPRK as poor, Juche has helped the economy grow to record levels in the past several years, despite being the subject of some extremely punitive international sanctions, blocking nearly all trade with the country.
With this much international pressure on the DPRK, Songun also makes more sense when viewed as Pyongyang’s commitment to defend this self-dependent, self-sufficient society, which the Koreans have rebuilt from the ground up after their war with the U.S. leveled almost the entire country and killed millions of Koreans. The memory of this war and the destruction it caused is etched deep in Korean psyche, which fuels the beliefs that uphold Juche and Songun that are a direct outgrowth of the formative years of the DPRK under Kim Il-sung.
This isolation of, and attacks on, the DPRK continued throughout the Cold War. But with the DPRK outlasting the Soviet Union, the Cold War never ended for Pyongyang and the DPRK was continuously placed under sanctions throughout the 1990s and 2000s — and also named a member of George W. Bush’s “Axis of Evil.” The “Axis” was a list of governments to be toppled along with Iraq and Iran, and a favored term of John Bolton under Bush, ironically coined by #NeverTrump conservative commentator and “resistance” member, David Frum.
These principles combined with the DPRK’s history all plays a role in all of Pyongyang’s official policies, which makes so valuable Hudson’s role in the KFA and the insight that enables him to provide a perspective on North Korea that Western media can’t. With the ongoing high-level talks between the two Koreas and the U.S., it is important to understand that the DPRK does want peace, but its priorities need to be taken into consideration and we should understand how the DPRK is likely to maneuver these latest diplomatic efforts, and what it hopes to achieve.
Negotiating with Trump
Regardless of who is in charge in the United States, talks of peace on the Korean Peninsula are a welcome development, but Kim Jong-un will be negotiating with Donald Trump, a rather unique president. While Trump is naturally taking credit for the ongoing discussions of peace, Hudson, the KFA, and the DPRK — and likely many South Koreans — surely reflect on some things that make them wary of the self-styled deal-artist.
Trump first set his sights on “solving” the Korean standoff before he even took office, after meeting with outgoing-President Barack Obama, who spoke with him at length on the subject. The DPRK seemed an odd subject to take a high priority at this meeting, but this apparently stuck with Trump, who began a war of words and campaign of escalation with Kim Jong-un.
Almost immediately after taking office, Trump administration officials began calling for the denuclearization of the DPRK. At the same time they were also threatening the DPRK, saying such things as how they were considering killing Kim Jong-un, or lying about a U.S. Navy “armada” being on the way to the Peninsula. Trump continued making similar threats all the way up until when negotiations were announced, often in spectacular ways, such as in front of the United Nations General Assembly, where Trump coined the derisive nickname “Rocket Man” for Kim.
None of this has deterred the DPRK, where according to Hudson:
The people of the DPRK are unbowed by Trump’s threats and are not intimidated by them. In fact, threats from the U.S. are nothing new: the DPRK has lived for decades under the threats, sanctions, and blockades of the U.S. imperialists. If necessary everyone is ready to the fight the U.S. imperialists.”
Pyongyang has demonstrated this resilience in the face of threats multiple times, often testing weapons immediately after Trump made threats towards them, stealing the “decapitation” plans from South Korea, and having Kim issue his own statement, attaching the nickname “Dotard” to Trump.
Unlike the U.S., however, Pyongyang has a justification for these responses, in that they consider them self-defense. According to Hudson, the DPRK’s anti-imperialist stance is its primary drive to obtain weapons to defend its right to self-determination — in marked contrast to the profit motives driving the U.S., since the DPRK has “no internal source of war, such as a capitalist military industrial complex.”
It is this understanding of the forces that drive the U.S. war machine that makes self-defense a top priority for the DPRK, and which has been its motivation for obtaining nuclear weapons. Kim has often cited the United States’ imperial war on Libya as an example of the military industrial complex at work, toppling an anti-imperialist, independently wealthy African state. Kim may currently be making promises to denuclearize but there is no doubt he is still thinking about Libya — especially since Trump’s new war-hawk National Security Adviser John Bolton, an advocate of the bombing of Libya, has said the African country’s disarmament could be used as a road map for the DPRK.
Bolton has also called for an illegal invasion of the DPRK in The Wall Street Journal, which makes it fair to say he is probably an unreliable negotiating partner. Hudson feels this way about Bolton as well, and said of the adviser and his “Libyan Model:”
I cannot help wondering whether war-hawk Bolton is trying to sabotage or derail any U.S.-DPRK negotiation saying this kind of thing. The U.S., in previous talks with the DPRK (six-party talks), had put forward both “Complete Verifiable Irreversible Disarmament” (CVID) as well as “reform” and “opening up,” which the DPRK rejected.
The Libyan model is disastrous, it is a regime-change model. Gaddafi gave up Libya’s nuclear weapons only for his government to be overthrown and himself killed. Also the Libyan model is inappropriate for the DPRK. Libya gave up its weapons program when it was in its infancy before it had tested a single nuke. The DPRK has carried out six nuclear tests, has a stockpile of A- and H-bombs [according to the DPRK], and a developed nuclear industry. It would be technically impossible to impose the Libyan model on the DPRK. I think they would reject it anyway.”
Looking at all of this, it’s much easier to understand why Pyongyang — and the global community — may not be willing to give Trump and his neoconservative cronies the credit he desires. When Hudson was asked who he felt was actually responsible for the latest progress on the peninsula, he credited “Marshal Kim Jong-un, his peace loving policy, and efforts for reunification.” However, Hudson also mentioned another key party that is often overlooked, especially in U.S. media coverage: “the South Korean people, especially progressives and democrats in South Korea who struggled for independence, democracy, and reunification.”
The South Koreans and Moon Jae-in
This anti-war movement in South Korea is rarely covered in Western media but is highly active in opposing further tension with North Korea. These groups often voice sentiments that are at least somewhat popular in South Korea, such as opposing the deployment of the U.S. Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) missile systems, which sparked protests upon their arrival and were initially opposed by President Moon Jae-in.
As for his opinion of Moon, Hudson says it is still “difficult to [get] an impression of Moon because he has only been in power for one year,” but he has proven to be pro-peace and “without a doubt, the 3rd Inter-Korean summit would never have happened if conservative, right-wing puppets like Lee Myung-bak [president from 2008 to 2013 and currently in jail for corruption] and Park Geun-hye [the imprisoned ex-president] were still in power.”
Hudson was willing to give Moon some credit for these achievements, but he says there have also “been some negative signs, such as Moon reportedly saying that U.S. troops should stay in South Korea.” According to Hudson, much of this is a result of Moon facing conflicting forces:
On the one side there is the nuclear armed DPRK and on the other side there is the U.S. The whole problem with South Korea is that it lacks independence. The question is whether Moon will prove himself to be a strong and decisive leader by making South Korea independent of the U.S. In South Korea many people want to be independent of the U.S., they want U.S. troops withdrawn, so I hope that Moon will respond to the pressure by the popular anti-imperialist movement in South Korea. Also, international solidarity must be built up to support the pro-reunification, independence, and anti-imperialist forces in South Korea…
I would see it as very positive if Moon abolished the National Security Law in South Korea, which is not only repressive but an institutional barrier to reunification; also repatriated the long term unconverted prisoners to the North (these are South Korean communists and revolutionaries imprisoned for decades in South Korea, something the Western media keeps very quiet about but likes to go on about imaginary human-rights abuses in the DPRK). If Moon one day says ‘Yankee Go Home and Stay Home,’ then that will be fantastic.”
Rather than being an incredible leader, Hudson pointed out that Moon is more a reflection of popular sentiment among the people: it “should never be forgotten and overlooked that it was the South Korean people who turned out in their millions to remove the past fascist dictatorial regime of Park Geun-hye and ended it” — referring to the massive protests that ousted the previous president, as well as groups outside of South Korea such as the Anti-Imperialist National Democratic Front of South Korea (AINDF), with which Hudson works but which is banned in South Korea under the National Security Law.
Renewed relations with China
There is another major player likely to be present at any negotiations involving the U.S. and the Korean Peninsula. That is, of course, the DPRK’s largest economic partner and closest ally, China. While it seems as if relations between Chinese President Xi Jinping and Kim Jong-un got off to a rough start, the two leaders seem to be repairing relations, as evidenced by two meetings between Kim and Xi in Beijing.
Western media typically reports the source of the tensions between China and the DPRK as stemming from an implied insolence on the part of Kim, as if it is a given that he is subservient to Beijing. This explanation is insufficient in Hudson’s opinion, and he believes there are further reasons relations have been not good:
Primarily because the PRC had imposed sanctions on the DPRK and had voted in the UN Security Council for sanctions against the DPRK. This led to the DPRK carrying a number of articles critical of China its media. Also, in the past the Chinese media (and unofficial social media) had carried some negative and critical articles about the DPRK. Lastly, it is thought by many that China secretly backed the traitor [Kim Jong-un’s uncle] who was purged and liquidated in December 2013. All these factors contributed to poor relations between the two countries.”
Now though, says Hudson, things seem to be changing and “now the PRC respects the independence of the DPRK,” which has been reflected in “articles in the Chinese media praising the independence and self-reliance of the DPRK, thanks to the astute diplomacy of Marshal Kim Jong-un.”
As for the future of relations between China and the DPRK, Hudson hopes they continue to improve and “that China will now lift the sanctions on the DPRK and develop relations with the DPRK based on anti-imperialism and proletarian internationalism.” As for the Chinese having a place at the bargaining table for Korean peace, Hudson says that is acceptable, since “China is a signatory to the Korean Armistice Agreement of 1953, so it can play a role in any negotiations to replace the Armistice Agreement with a permanent peace treaty.”
The aims of Kim Jong-un
With all of these parties coming into negotiations surrounding the DPRK, one question that is important to ask is, what does Pyongyang hope to achieve? The U.S. media often asks this question, yet fails to provide an answer based on what the DPRK actually says. There are a plethora of pieces in Western media — in outlets from the BBC, The New York Times, and The Washington Post to Newsweek and U.S.A Today — all with the question “What Does North Korea Want?” in article titles, but Hudson makes it seem much easier to understand North Korea by just looking at their actual statements.
So what exactly is it that the DPRK has agreed to do, and what do they want?
Breaking this question down to two sets of goals, Hudson explained Pyongyang’s desired outcomes in military and economic matters. Starting with matters of defenses and weapons, the first of these priorities for everyone is the DPRK’s nuclear arsenal.
While U.S. media has been reporting the DPRK is now open to “denuclearization,” Hudson says too many people are confusing this with “disarmament.” He clarified:
The DPRK has not agreed to denuclearize unilaterally; this is a totally false impression that some sections of the media have created. The DPRK simply decided to stop nuclear and ICBM tests — as they are no longer necessary because the DPRK has reached the goal of being a nuclear power
What the DPRK has agreed to in principle is the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, which is something quite different from what the U.S. and the West envisage. It means that the U.S. has to withdraw any nuclear weapons from the south of Korea; it means that the U.S. cannot bring nuclear weapons in or around the Korean peninsula, that the U.S. cannot target the DPRK with nukes nor can South Korea be part of a U.S. umbrella.
If this were achieved then the DPRK nuclear weapons would become redundant. Denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula is a long-standing DPRK policy — there has been no policy change.”
This statement highlights something the U.S. media often overlooks about the DPRK. Hudson was simply reiterating positions all previously expressed by Pyongyang.
The DPRK has always stated its goal was to obtain a nuclear deterrent capable of threatening the U.S., which they have done. As for the full drawdown of military forces and weapons on the Korean Peninsula, this has always been another step desired by the DPRK towards reunification and peace, one that the U.S., and so far Moon as well, aren’t likely to agree to.
Counter to one of the likeliest demands by the U.S., Hudson was confident when he said, “I do not think that Marshal Kim Jong-un would ever unilaterally scrap the DPRK ‘s nukes” but overall “he aims [to] end the U.S. nuclear threat against the DPRK and end the hostile policy against the DPRK.” Ending this hostile policy would include the withdrawal of U.S. troops, closure of U.S. bases, and “ending the sanctions, ending the intense psychological warfare against the DPRK, regime-change preparations, and the so-called ‘human rights campaign.’’”
Hudson did, however, agree with the U.S. media on one thing about the goals of the DPRK, saying that “what the DPRK has in mind is different from what the U.S. wants” — but this doesn’t matter, because overall “there needs to be a struggle to stop the U.S. interfering in Korea and derailing the April 27th Agreement,” signed by Moon and Kim at the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ). Despite Moon’s hesitancy to snub the U.S., Hudson nonetheless saw this agreement as a positive sign that:
proves beyond doubt that Koreans can sit down and start solving their problems and issues together, so there is no need for U.S. troops to be in South Korea; they should pack up and go home and stay home.”
As far as economic changes the DPRK may be seeking in talks with the U.S., Dermot assured me that some of the Western talking-heads should slow down on assuming this is the beginning of some Chinese-style “opening up.” This idea began circulating a few days after Kim and Moon met, when articles were published with headlines like “McDonalds on Streets of North Korea,” but Hudson says this is the result of “some forces trying to present the inter-Korean summit as some kind of victory for imperialism and thus pushing the ‘reform’ and ‘opening up’ narrative.”
Fighting this narrative from Western media will be the next crucial battle for supporters of the DPRK, according to Hudson, who said it will now be crucial to “defend Juche-based socialism” and the self-reliance it has provided the DPRK. Hudson clarified the DPRK’s official position on sanctions as relating to international diplomacy rather than opening up, saying:
Of course the DPRK seeks the end of sanctions because they are an act of war, an unfriendly act, the sanctions are aimed at destroying the socialist system of the DPRK. Really you cannot have friendly relations between countries when one country imposes sanctions on another.
I think those who are talking about so-called “reform ” and “opening up ” should take time out to properly study in detail the report of the 3rd Plenary Meeting of the 7th Central Committee of the Workers’ Party of Korea and the Political Bureau meeting of the WPK on the 10th of April. At the 10th of April meeting, respected Marshal Kim Jong-un said ‘the sectors and units of the state to constantly hold fast to the revolutionary banner of self-reliance’ and at the 21st April plenary meeting of the Central Committee he stressed that ‘the core and main principle of the new revolutionary line of the Party is self-reliance.’ I would ask readers to judge for themselves, whether this means a ‘reform’ or ‘opening up’ strategy. Moreover, the DPRK is guided by Juche and does not copy foreign models.”
In shot, don’t expect Western capitalism to be imported into the DPRK. The country’s founding ideology is strictly opposed to integration with Western capital and teaches the importance of self-reliance. Hudson did clarify, however, that the DPRK “does believe in exchange and cooperation with other countries on the basis of independence and on the principle of mutual benefit” and would likely be glad to cooperate with other nations, primarily in the “science and technology sectors.”
The future of the DPRK
So what happens once the DPRK starts engaging with the wider world?
First, it is unlikely to think the DPRK would give up its opposition to U.S. imperialism. Hudson agreed with this sentiment, citing Kim’s condemnation of Trump’s decision to move the U.S. embassy in Israel to Jerusalem — in which he called the U.S. the “destroyer of world peace” — and the fact that Pyongyang doesn’t have diplomatic ties with Israel, as evidence that the DPRK still opposes imperialism worldwide. Hudson also cited further examples of Korean support for anti-imperialist struggles worldwide, saying:
The DPRK maintains good relations with Cuba and supports its struggle against U.S. imperialism. The DPRK Foreign Minister Ri Yong-ho paid a visit to Cuba at the end of last year. There are many cooperation agreements between the DPRK and Cuba . Fidel Castro praised the DPRK, saying that in the 1980s as it sent Cuba “100,000 AK-47 rifles and its corresponding ammo without charging a cent.” The DPRK long supported the Cuban revolution. When Cuba was threatened by the U.S. in 1962, the staff in the DPRK Embassy in Havana armed themselves ready to fight alongside the Cuban people.
The DPRK always maintains close relations with anti-imperialist Syria. Marshal Kim Jong-un sent a message of support to Syria. There is a permanent committee for economic co-operation between Syria and the DPRK.
In the past, the Korean People’s Army Air Force fought alongside the Vietnamese people and Egyptian people. The Fatherland Liberation War Museum in Pyongyang now has a section remembering the exploits of the KPA Pilots in Vietnam.
In recent months several Communist Party delegations have visited the DPRK. A joint agreement was signed between the Workers’ Party of Korea and the Communist Party of the Democratic Congo. The DPRK also hosted a meeting of the executive committee of the Women’s International Democratic Federation.”
As far as “opening up,” Hudson says that this solidarity from the DPRK shows that the country is already plenty open — just not in the way the West wants, which is obscured by “an imperialist and revisionist lexicon.” Hudson is confident the DPRK will continue to “increase solidarity with the anti-imperialist forces for independence,” and so would their allies abroad. For one example, he cited those who recently held a “meeting in Belarus of international delegates and officials of the Korean Committee for Cultural Relations with Foreign Countries,” which adopted a resolution:
To carry on the struggle to denounce and reject the moves for aggression and war, and intervention in the domestic affairs of smaller countries perpetrated openly by the imperialist and dominationist forces under the pretext of ‘democracy’ and ‘defending human rights,’ and to build an independent new world.”
As for the other major historical priority of the DPRK, the reunification of the peninsula, that is likely still a long way off. The DPRK’s positions on reunification and peace, however, are the same as they always have been, as stated by the past leaders of the DPRK and reiterated by Hudson:
President Kim Il-sung back in 1972 laid down the fundamental principles for reunification. These were firstly, independence; secondly, that Korea should be reunified peacefully without recourse to war; thirdly, the principle of great national unity, transcending differences in system, etc.
Some might question the last bit but it is really a development of President Kim Il-sung ‘s idea of the united front which he developed in the 1930s. It does not rule out the struggle against the imperialists and pro-imperialist forces in any way.
Chairman Kim Jong-il developed this idea as “By Our Nation Itself,” meaning that the Korean nation should reunify by its own efforts and not others’. He put this into practice when he concluded the June 15 Declaration in 2000. Marshal Kim Jong-un is tirelessly putting into effect the policies of President Kim Il-sung and Chairman Kim Jong-il.”
“In a nutshell,” Hudson says, “the vision of President Kim Il-sung, Chairman Kim Jong-il, and Marshal Kim Jong-un is that of a totally independent, reunified, and peaceful Korea.” While the U.S. and other imperialist powers may try to avoid this outcome, there is no reason to think the DPRK will ever falter in its pursuit of that vision.
Feature Photo | Dermot Hudson, Official Delegate of the KFA at the Pyongyang Cafe in Tarragona, Spain. Photo | Anglo-Peoples Korea | Songun
James Carey is journalist and editor at Geopolitics Alert. He specializes in Middle East and Asian affairs.