Joi Ito's Web

Joi Ito's conversation with the living web.

I just received mail from an old friend who has become active on the issue of North Korean refugees and I have attached the email from him. I think the Japanese have a much higher level of sensitivity with regards to North Korea since they have influenced the extreme left wing in Japan and have harbored terrorists who have highjacked Japanese planes, etc. Having said that, Japan has basically a no-immigration policy and therefore have not accepted refugees from anywhere as far as I know.

I don't think going around labeling countries as "evil" is really very smart, but addressing the North Korea issue is definitely something that should be high priority. I don't think Koreas really like or respect Japan very much and with Koizumi paying homage to war criminals, I think it will be difficult for us to get much clout on this issue. I think China and South Korea really have to work this out, but I'm definitely not on expert. In October, I will be in Beijing for the 30th anniversary of the opening of diplomatic contacts with Japan and will be in Kuala Lumpur at the WEF meeting where the Asia young leaders will be talking about Asian issues. I will try to raise the issue at both conferences and report back if I can find out anything or make any progress on this issue.

Date: Fri, 9 Aug 2002 10:50:01 -0800
Subject: IMPORTANT NK refugee issue..


If you have some time to read a bit about an important issue and maybe lend a hand, please take a look at a (still just a list of links) web page which I'm starting to build at about the terrible situation of the people of North Korea's human rights.. their insane government, and the plight of the thousands of terrified and starving people who are trying to defect to other countries via China (really, the only way out of the country..) China, in want of a better thing to do, is repatriating all of them which they can catch, to North Korea.. (Not all of them are summarily executed any more, just some.. but it is still very very scary what happens to them upon return.)

So, my request to you is that you please read some of the stories of the refugees to see what they are running from. read about the situation in China and the current political situation.. And then what you do is up to you..

Here is the URL of one escapee's story that is particularly chilling.. this is the one that shocked me into attempting in my little way to help..

(No, I am not affiliated with any of these groups that are actively helping them, Christians, or whatever..etc..) I just read the stories and then I had to do something..

So why am I writing YOU? Because you are a human being who can see what is happening and care, and because you are smart and influential..

(I hope you don't feel I am spamming you.. If so, I apologize profusely.)

Important*** If some of the other countries in the area (like Japan) ***would be willing to set up refugee camps*** where some of these fleeing people could stay *in safety*, it would be a VERY good thing.

South Korea (or perhaps the US---working on that..) are the obvious ultimate destinations.. but South Korea has been at times strangely indifferent to the refugees from the North.. (they have been supporting the status quo in fear that NK would suddenly implode.. which would be expensive for them, they feel.. yes, it would be, but it is also necessary..)

Plus, it would be a way for Japan to build goodwill in an area where they could really benefit from it. I know that they have (in the past) given NK lots of food.. but the reality is that the NK government siphons off the food and precious little of it reaches the people it is meant to reach.. (Giving food aid is good, but monitoring it's distribution should be a *required* precondition of this aid.)

North Korea's people are now the 11th in the world.. (in malnutrition status..) In other words, they are starving to death.. No other countries on Earth with 99% literacy are anywhere near them...

Anyway, I know you are busy.. but this issue is really important.. Perhaps you could say a word to anyone you know who is influential enough to have some input into the government's decision-making process..

Nobody should have to live through the hell these people are going through.. It is a humanitarian nightmare comparable to the worst aspects of Hitler's Germany, Stalin's Russia, Pol Pot's Cambodia and Mao's China.


Thanks in advance..



Here is a quote from a Mainichi Shimbun article about refugees in Japan.

Attitude toward refugee status seekers in serious need of review
Mainichi Shimbun
August 15, 2002

The government's reluctance to accept refugees has been a fiery issue both domestically and abroad since two Afghan men whose application for refugee status had long been under discussion committed suicide.

One of them, a 30-year-old Afghan man whose refugee application had been shelved killed himself in Osaka in early August after his wife and children were killed during the U.S.-led coalition's air raids against the Taliban rejime in his country.

Another Afghan man, 27, hanged himself in Aichi Prefecture in May. Those who knew them said they were worried about their fellow countrymen in Japanese detention facilities.

Even before their suicides, critics had cited several problems involving Japan's refugee recognition policies. Attitude toward refugee status seekers in serious need of review - Mainichi Shimbun - August 15, 2002

Japan my be opening up to accepting some NK refugees..
(see below)

I don't know how far along this policy has come so far, but it's a start.

lets hope that the US can do something similar..

I actually think that the US (as well as Japan) share some responsibility for how bad things have become in North Korea because of the brutality of the Korean War. lets face it, there were atrocities on both sides.. I'm from the US and I think that the government should accept some responsibility for some of the events like the massacre at Nogunri and make a public apology..

Otherwise, it becomes difficult to take the moral high ground with countries like North Korea even though their human rights situation is perhaps the worst in the world..
Anyway, the article is below..

As mentioned before, I have some links Ive been collecting on North Korea on my web site.. The URL is

(A bit of reading can paint a much clearer picture of many of the issues that one reads about in the press.. For example, many people dont realize that many of the abducted Japanese have actually been seen in North Korea, teaching infiltrators in government schools....)

Anyway, enjoy the link page.. Some of the stuff is also quite entertaining..

One of these days I'll probably organize it better and pretty it up, but for now, it's just a big jumble of stuff.. Still, there's a lot of useful resources there, if people are interested in doing some small things (like letter writing) to help the people of what clearly has to be the saddest, strangest place on earth.

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Japan to Write Refugee-Friendly Policy date 2002-08-08 summary

Joongnag Ilbo (Korea), 6 August 2002

Japan plans to finalize by Wednesday a new policy that would allow North Korean defectors to apply for refugee status at Japan's diplomatic establishments, the Yomiuri Shimbun has reported.

Under the new policy, asylum-seekers would be able to request refugee status once they reach any diplomatic mission abroad. Japan's Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Ministry of Justice would determine the defectors' situation and come up with specific measures to assist them.

Until now there were no specific directions for Japanese embassies and legations to consult in such cases.

Separately, a source in the Japanese government revealed that the government has aided at least three North Korean defectors with the help of the pro-North Korea group, General Association of Korean Residents in Japan, known as Chongryon, since 1996.

Revealing one of the defectors as a child born of a Chongryon man and a Japanese woman, the source said it is likely the government treated them as well as any average citizen of Japan.

The Japanese government has been denying its acceptance of Chongryon members or relatives of Chongryon from the North for some time despite speculation from nongovernmental groups that there is hardly a way defectors could reach Japan without prior approval from governmental authorities.

Japan sent 93,340 Koreans with more than 1,800 Japanese spouses to North Korea in accordance with a Red Cross repatriation program from 1959-1984. Experts on North Korea believe those people to be under harsh treatment.

The situation also represents an irony of sorts for North Korean defectors have been left out of the current sunshine policy of the South, which aims to ignite a change in North Korean society. But it is these defectors who could play a vital role in bringing about this change.

X-no-archive: Yes

More on the Nk refugee front

Here are two interesting articles..- Both reference Japan..the second is about the defectors who were dragged out of the Japanese embassy by the Chinese guards.. (Being on TV apparently saved their lives..)

Things are happening...Dont be mistaken, however. While there is movement, China is still sending 99.999% of the NK refugees it catches, perhaps hundreds a month, back to North Korea where most of them face a minimum of three years imprisonment in camps where a large percentage die of starvation or beatings (survivors tell that the only way to survive is to eat rats, bugs, snakes, etc. raw, whatever one can find..for protein)

Execution on 'repatriation' is also still mandated by governmental fiat for as many as a third of the returnees, (for anyone who has been returned twice before from China, or who is known to have attempted any contact with South Koreans or defectiong to South Korea..for example, unsuccessful embassy defectors..)

Leaving North Korea is still classed as treason and punished accordingly, although children and clear econonomic migrants may sometimes be released once or twice...

A person who (successfully or unsuccessfully) defects to South Korea's family (3 generations) is also often punished, family is broadly defined, including both a person's parents and children. That family is also (after punishment) then moved to the 'hostile' caste which means that they will almost always be relocated to the regions of North Korea where food is the scarcest.. virtual prison camps in themselves..

Most of the food earmarked as aid appears to be being given to the army, where much of it may be stockpiled for wartime, or sold on the international market for hard currency..most defectors interviewed have never seen aid food..

Unlike all of the other countries in the world, even countries like the Taliban's Afghanistan and Saddam's Iraq, North Korea's leadership is so paranoid about her inhabitants learning about the true conditions in the outside world (and the outside learning about the true state of affairs in North Korea) that it does not allow NGOs to monitor the distribution of 93% of all donated food..

(This is also why the possibility of ANY 'real' 'opening up' of North Korea of any kind without a complete change in leadership are SO naiively unrealistic..But because these people need it so much, I still think that we almost HAVE to keep talking, even though it lends the evil regime legitimacy and there is so little hope..)

The food that *is* monitored, is distributed in what many feel to be 'staged' distributions..It appears that the truly starving people , those deemed disloyal or 'useless' like the aged or those already very weak..are in the many (43) counties marked 'off limits' for ALL foreigners.

(One requires special passes to travel in North Korea, with each county border being treated like an international border in other countries..with checkpoints, etc.)

Of course, unaccompanied travel in North Korea is also almost impossible. (Each foreigner has 'guides' assigned to escort them everywhere they go.)

here is the first article.:

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[LatelineNews: 2002-8-16] TOKYO - A group of lawmakers from Japan and South Korea, Asian neighbours whose ties are sometimes haunted by bitter wartime memories, joined hands on Friday to aid North Korean refugees fleeing hunger and political repression.

The grim economic situation in communist North Korea has caused an increasing number of its citizens to cross into China, and their plight has come to world attention in recent months through a string of escape bids at foreign missions in China, Reuters reported.

One of the most dramatic took place in May at a Japanese consulate in Shenyang, northeast China, when five North Korean asylum seekers, including a toddler, were dragged from the consulate by Chinese guards while Japanese diplomats stood by.

The incident set off a diplomatic row between Tokyo and Beijing resolved only when the five were allowed to leave for South Korea.

Japanese lawmaker Masaharu Nakagawa said the escape bid was a symbol of the desperate situation faced by many North Koreans who have fled their nation's economic troubles.

"We see no point in further friction with China over this incident, rather we want to consider how we can help them deal with the refugee issue," he told Reuters.

"As long as North Korea's problems are unresolved, China will be dealing with a large refugee problem," he added. "It is an important humanitarian issue."

On Friday, Nakagawa, a lawmaker from the largest opposition Democratic Party, and six colleagues, agreed in talks with lawmakers from South Korea -- where many still harbour bitter memories of Japan's colonisation from 1910 to 1945 -- to form an international network of legislators to tackle the problem.

The network's first meeting is set for early October in Seoul.

"Our ultimate goal is to include lawmakers from the United States, the European Union, even Russia," Nakagawa said. "It is essential that we all work together."

North Korea has suffered famine since floods devastated farms in 1995, compounding economic policy shortcomings, and depends heavily on aid to feed its 23 million people.

Aid agencies say tens of thousands have fled the North and are hiding in northeastern China, making Beijing uneasy.

Compounding the problem is the fact that those who have fled to China are not internationally recognised as refugees, another issue the group wants to address.

Kim Young-jin, a senior lawmaker in South Korea's ruling Millennium Democratic Party and one of the participants, told Reuters: "We will also urge the United Nations to acknowledge these North Koreans as asylum seekers."

Other long-term goals include working to establish refugee camps close to North Korea's border with China and Russia.

Bad as the refugee problem is, it could well grow even worse following recent North Korean economic reforms aimed at dragging the country towards a market economy, Nakagawa said.

The reforms include scrapping ration coupons, resulting in a sharp increase in prices.

"This could make the poorer areas of the country even more poor, increasing the number of refugees," he said.

"An international network is needed to deal with this further." Reuters

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there is another good article on the NK refugee crisis at

here is the text:
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Little Girl Puts Human Face on Plight of North Koreans By JAMES BROOKE

SUNCHON, South Korea, Aug. 15  Sitting on the orange linoleum floor of her apartment, Kim Han Mee turned away from Cleo, her stuffed rabbit, distracted by a newspaper photo of her arrest.

Still only 2 1/2 years old, Han Mee raised her hands to her head, reminded by the photo that she once wore pigtails. Then she studied the photo that became an icon to people across Asia. Advertisement

It showed her in a pink-and-white pinafore, pigtails standing like twin antennas, watching transfixed as Chinese police officers wrestled her mother into submission after their family sought asylum at a Japanese consulate in Shenyang, China.

"Han Mee crying," she announced, settling a debate about her reaction that has raged since her arrest on May 8. Studying the image of her mother, Lee Seong Hee, she concluded, "Men beating Mommy."

Then, emitting an angry "Yaaak!" she disciplined the green-uniformed soldiers with a mighty whack of a pudgy palm.

The video clip of Han Mee's arrest was played and replayed in May by television news shows from Tokyo to Shanghai.

She and her mother were among 7 North Koreans who sought refuge that day in consulates in Shenyang, and they are among about 80 North Koreans whose high profile defections this year through foreign embassies or consulates have focused attention on the hundreds of thousands of North Koreans who have made their way out of their famine-ridden police state into China.

Regional leaders, who for years had successfully ignored the faceless flood of North Korean refugees, suddenly found themselves facing an aroused public opinion.

The publicity saved the family from the fate of most North Koreans caught living illegally in China. Instead of its usual practice of honoring its agreements with North Korea to send back illegal immigrants, possibly to face punishment, China allowed them to leave the country.

After two weeks of diplomatic wrangling with Japan over whether the family had been seized with the permission of consulate officials, China sent the family to the Philippines and from there to South Korea.

Now, Japanese, American, European and South Korean legislators are working to aid resettlement of these "land people," as many as 300,000 North Koreans who live a terror-filled life of limbo as illegal migrants in China.

China continues to round up and deport North Korean migrants, often paying bounties to those who denounce them. But a group of Japanese and South Korean legislators met in Tokyo recently for what they hoped would be the nucleus of an international legislative movement to push China to give the Northerners refugee status and to allow for safe passage to third countries.

Members of the United States Congress are drafting legislation that would extend to North Koreans many of the asylum and immigration benefits given Vietnamese boat people a generation ago. Private groups are negotiating with Mongolia to set up and finance transit camps there.

Han Mee is one of a tiny minority who have made it to a safe place offering a better life. Today, her major worry when she met a visitor was Cleo's failure to follow her coaching to give a stuffed animal bow of Korean greeting. Comfortably ensconced in a government-supplied one-bedroom apartment in this steel city, 200 miles south of Seoul, Han Mee seemed to be a world away from the day in May when she dried her mother's tears in a Chinese prison cell.

In the summer of 1999, when Ms. Lee was pregnant with Han Mee, she waded across the Tumen River to China. In January 2000, Han Mee was born in a village near Harbin, China. But the family was destitute because Kim Guang Choel, Han Mee's father, had fallen ill from a rat bite. Faced with selling Han Mee to a Chinese peasant family for $200 or working in a brothel, Ms. Lee chose the latter.

In March 2001, a Chinese neighbor denounced the family, and they were deported to North Korea. Mother and daughter were released after a month. But Mr. Kim, a 28-year-old railroad worker, was taken to a distant prison to await trial. The authorities had discovered that he was an uncle of Jang Gil Su, a teenager famous in South Korea for primitive crayon drawings of police violence against civilians in North Korea.

A show of 58 drawings by Gil Su is to open in the rotunda of the Russell Senate Office Building in Washington on Sept. 4.

Convinced that he was going to be executed, Mr. Kim picked his handcuffs with a safety pin and escaped from a prison hospital. He and his wife reunited, and they fled to China, leaving Han Mee in the care of two uncles.

On March 14, the uncles bundled Han Mee into a backpack and waded through the icy, chest-deep waters of the Tumen River to take her to China.

Convinced they faced certain death if deported a second time, the couple and two other family members again bundled Han Mee into a shoulder carrier and, with the support of a human rights group, tried to win asylum at the Japanese Consulate in Shenyang.

Her parents speak bitterly about how the Japanese allowed Chinese police officers to take them away.

"The Japanese gave us worse treatment than even beggars don't deserve, shutting the door in our faces," Han Mee's mother said. "My spite has not gone away. We were risking our lives, but they just coldly turned us out."

Convinced that deportation meant death, she resisted: "Two men were not enough to get my hands off that gate. So five men pried my hands off, and carried me in the air."

Her husband and his brother made it into the Japanese consular building. But officials ignored their asylum request, and seven Chinese policemen soon entered. "They tied us with straps, bound us around the neck, with our hands tied behind our back," Mr. Kim recalled. "They stretched it so hard I could hardly breathe."

Confined to a guard shack, he said he pushed a letter seeking asylum to a visiting Japanese consular official, who ignored it. Separated in jail, both of Han Mee's parents considered committing suicide rather than returning to North Korea.

"I would have ended up with Han Mee at a political prisoner camp," (EdNote: ie.a work-to-death camp.. making export goods..where actually, Han Mee might have been killed..babies are not allowed.. It is widely reported that captured pregnant women are forced to have abortions with drugs and the newborn babies are not allowed so they the mothers are typically forced to suffocate their newborn child with plastic right after birth or if they do not, they are beaten and placed in 4 foot square 'punishment cells' for weeks, usually causing permanent spinal damage, and the babies are typically given to the guard dogs to eat..or similarly brutal fate -often to teach the other newly-captured inmates a lesson in submission- they are told to think of themselves as less than animals.. 'tailess beasts' or 'tailless monkeys' is the commonly used term..) said Ms. Lee as her daughter haltingly tried to copy dance steps from a South Korean television music show. "I know a case of a 1-year-old baby who went to a political prison camp. Now she is 28, and she is still there."

What saved them, they say, is that the human rights workers behind their effort to seek asylum arranged for South Korean and Japanese reporters to record the attempt from a nearby hotel room.

"The Chinese policeman said, `You were on TV, you are going to South Korea,' " Ms. Lee recalled. She said he pointed to cells containing seven other North Korean women and said: "You are lucky, you are going to South Korea. All these other North Koreans are going home."

As Han Mee played today with a radio-guided toy car, her father predicted that the simplest way to destabilize North Korea would be for the world to guarantee safety for those escaping that Stalinist nation.

"The only reason people are reluctant to leave North Korea is that they hear that they will be rounded up," he said. Estimating that 60 percent of North Korea's 22 million people would leave if given guarantees, he said: "It would take only six months for there to be a flood. The cities would be empty."

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I have put a bunch of info up on the web that may be helpful for anyone wanting to understand North Korea..Check it out!

I also highly recommend the article at
to anybody interested in understanding North Korea's 'negotiating strategy' in depth...

(The problem is that we keep treating them like we would treat a normal country, with sane leaders..We need to understand their limited options and dysfunctional and paranoid (narcissistic personality disorder?) absolute leader Kim Jong Il, without whose approval, no 'opening' of any kind will ever happen..

And opening to him, he feels, means probably death...

As Hwang Jang Yop, the highest ranking defector from North Korea, said:

"he fears that it will open up a Pandora痴 box. If he could have reform and be sure of keeping his power he would do it. Don稚 forget that what has happened in North Korea, all the killings, is much worse than in China or Vietnam. He痴 afraid It will all come out if he opens up too much."

So, there you have it...


More news on the NK refugee front:

Jang Gil-su's (a teenage boy from North Korea) somewhat famous (in the NK activist community) drawings are presently being exhibited in the Russell Senate Office Building.. This means much more exposure in the US to the North Korean refugee crisis in a place where it will count the most (in the US)

I think this exposure will truly make a difference. Chang Kil-soo's drawings are intense, truly horiffic depictions of scenes he has witnessed in North Korea..

Some of his drawings can be found here:

Hopefully the US can make a deal somehow with China to get them to stop sending the North Korean defectors back to death or torture and instead send them here to the US.. They clearly are fleeing political persecution. We need to accept some of the refugees here in the US..

Thank you Senators Kennedy and Brownback!

Teenage Defector Attends US Exhibition of His Work
by Ju Yong-jung (

WASHINGTON - Teenage North Korean refugee Chang Kil-soo attended a painting and drawing exhibition, Wednesday (local time), held in his and his family's honor at the Russell Senate Office Building yesterday, co-sponsored by senators Edward Kennedy and Sam Brownback, and the US Committee for North Korean Human Rights. Some 200 celebrities, including Representatives Mark Kirk and Connie Morella, and Ron Kreiner, under secretary of human rights at the State Department.

Chang shyly looked at Americans viewing his 200 drawings about the real face of North Korea while hiding out in China for three years. Under the pictures were written explanations.

"I thought drawings could let the world know about the life of North Korean residents more easily than writing. I just thought they were too poor," said Chang, who hoped the reception would become a milestone for the world to heighten interest and understanding for North Korean refugees.

Arriving in Washington on Tuesday Chang was shown around the White House and Washington plaza on Wednesday morning. "I saw a senior citizen demonstrating in an anti-nuclear protest in front of the White House. It's unimaginable in the North. The idea that America is truly free hit me," he said.

In childhood, America was an enemy nation for him. "I was taught we should knock America down as the peninsula was divided because of Uncle Sam (smiling). America has pros and cons, but I think it has more pros because it has a freedom to respect others." When asked what are the cons, he said, "waging war."

Regarding the recent string of North Korean defectors entering into a foreign embassy in China, it reminded him of the days he and his family were doing the same; he said, "I hope they all succeed." Chang said he would like the world to help them proactively to get refugee status and hoped they could live safely in China if they had to.

"The United States has to take a meaningful role to resolve the problem with North Korean refugees," said Senator Kennedy in a statement, "our tradition to think highly of the serious situation they face and refugee problems requires an aggressive role." Senator Brownback noted, "these drawings tell us what is happening to the North Korean residents," stressing that US has to help them right away.

Chang sought defection to the South by slipping into the UNHCR office to Beijing in June 2001 with his family and relatives. Chang, who flew to the US with "Save Kil-soo Campaign Committee" head Mun Kuk-hwan is scheduled to return on Sunday after finishing his schedule, including an interview with the press and a tour to New York.

The first American NK abductee?

American soldier Scottie Robinson may have discovered the North Korea situation first hand...

What do you think? The story looks a lot like the Japanese abductions (a summary was found at: )

The article was from The Charlotte Observer

What do you think?

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Posted on Fri, Sep. 13, 2002
N.C. woman searching for missing son in Korea

WILMINGTON, N.C. - A North Carolina woman has flown to South Korea to search for her son, an Army cook who has been missing for almost three months.

Geraldine Bromell of Brunswick County flew from Wilmington on Thursday as she started her trip to find Sgt. Scottie Robinson. Bromell said she wants to talk to his Army supervisors and friends at Camp Casey before searching in the city of Tongduchon on the border with North Korea.

Bromell said she is hoping for help from the Army and the U.S. Embassy, but hasn't received promises from either.

"I don't know what I will accomplish by being over there or if I will even find him," Bromell said. "But I do feel that having my feet on the ground there will be the best way to know what happened to him."

Robinson was stationed at Camp Casey as an Army cook with the 2nd Engineer Battalion when his mother was told June 21 that her only son was missing.

The Army has classified Robinson as a deserter, which is standard when any soldier has been missing for more than a month, said Maj. Brian Maka, a public affairs officer with the 2nd Infantry Division.

Maka said while there were no signs of foul play surrounding Robinson's disappearance, no motive has been established for him running off, either. Bromell said her son re-enlisted and was promoted to his current rank this year, so it was hard to believe he would desert.

Bromell has spent hundreds of dollars making phone calls to South Korea to find out more information about her son. Embassy officials told her it was an Army matter.

She said Army personnel have been reluctant to talk with her or discuss the possibility that something happened to Robinson.

"We are waiting for him to turn himself in," Maka said.

Accompanying Bromell on the trip is her niece's husband, John Quincy Chavis. He is a Marine veteran and said he hopes his time in the Marines will help get officials to talk with them.

"I feel with being over there, it will be difficult for officials to keep ignoring us," Chavis said.

Bromell said she has raised $4,500 in the county to help with her trip and plans to stay in South Korea about a week.

I'm getting very nervous that the North Korean situation may turn into a full-fledged war very soon. Most people don't realize it, but North Korea has the capability of killing a lot of people and their 'Dear leader' Kim Jong Il is thoughtless and selfish enough to do it. And he doesnt have many other options..

(for an excellent analysis see the article on their strategy that I link above)

Anyway, I feel as if we do have other options in dealing with them that we have not been exploring. Many others feel this way too. Basically, we need to break their blockade on information coming into the country.. That would swiftly punch some major holes in the regime's strength.. It could be done by smuggling radios into North Korea in quantity or bypassing the government's control by starvation by parachuting in food..

Here are some useful references..

"Defectors Want to Pry Open North Korea"

"Infiltrators of North Korea: Tiny Radios"

You can sign a petition asking the US government to consider these options here:

"Try Nonviolent Options First with North Korea"