In this photo provided by the North Korean government, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, centre, attends a Workers' Party meeting in Pyongyang, North Korea, on Thursday, June 17, 2021.

Korean Central News Agency/AP

In this picture supplied by the North Korean authorities, North Korean chief Kim Jong Un, centre, attends a Workers’ Party assembly in Pyongyang, North Korea, on Thursday, June 17, 2021.

OPINION: So former prime minister Sir John Key thinks we stay in a “smug hermit kingdom”, and has spent the previous few days evaluating New Zealand’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic to life in North Korea.

“The aim should no longer be to exist in a smug hermit kingdom, but to get back to a life where New Zealanders can travel overseas – for any reason – knowing they can return home when they want to, and where we again welcome visitors to this country,” he wrote on Stuff – and repeated throughout newspapers and airwaves over the weekend. “Some people might like to continue the North Korean option. I am not one of them,” he continued.

I do know a factor or two about North Korea. I’ve visited the nation 12 instances, reporting from there for 2 of the world’s most revered newspapers, the Financial Times and The Washington Post. My guide The Great Successor, about North Korean chief Kim Jong Un, has been translated into 24 languages.

Let me let you know: New Zealand is not North Korea.

* How North Korea got to where it is: A brief history
* Who is Kim Jong Un and how will he act on North Korea’s missile threats?
* ‘Inching to the brink of a nuclear war’: North Korea says missile launch was training for attack on US’s Japan bases

Then-prime minister John Key in 2015.


Then-prime minister John Key in 2015.

I perceive the frustration that tens of hundreds of New Zealand residents really feel about not having the ability to get dwelling, and I really feel immensely grateful that I used to be capable of make it again earlier than the MIQ reserving system was launched. In truth, precisely a 12 months in the past I used to be in MIQ within the Distinction Hotel in Hamilton.

I additionally know that the closed borders are affecting households right here in New Zealand – together with my very own – by stopping us having the ability to go abroad to see shut family members. And we within the Wellington newsroom of Stuff have been actively reporting concerning the affect of our system on companies, including the tech sector, and the long-term financial ramifications of it.

Here’s why Key’s hyperbolic headline-grab is utterly improper.

There is no criticism of the chief in North Korea: Key wouldn’t have been capable of utter this criticism of the Government if he was in North Korea. Kim Jong Un had his defence minister killed with an anti-aircraft gun – an act that might have lowered him to a pulp – in entrance of a crowd of officers, after the minister fell asleep throughout a gathering, amongst different acts of disrespect. He had his personal uncle, Jang Song Thaek, shot by firing squad as a result of the mercurial official had completely different concepts about how the regime must be run. Even these serving to the chief – the North Korean equivalents of Grant Robertson and Kris Faafoi – have been disappeared as a result of Kim doesn’t like anybody rivalling him for affect.

There is no opposition in North Korea: There is one celebration, the Workers’ Party of North Korea, and one celebration solely. In the celebration, there is one chief, and one chief solely: Kim Jong Un is common secretary of the Workers’ Party of Korea, chairman of the State Affairs Commission of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea’s official title), and supreme commander of the Armed Forces of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK). Kim Jong Un had the constitution revised in 2019 to say that his authorized standing “representing our state has been further consolidated to firmly ensure the monolithic guidance of the Supreme Leader over all state affairs”. No New Zealand chief – whether or not or not it’s Jacinda Ardern or Sir John Key – has been capable of boast being a “supreme leader” exerting “monolithic guidance” over every part.

North Korean soldiers parade during a celebration of the nation’s 73rd anniversary that was overseen by leader Kim Jong Un, at Kim Il Sung Square in Pyongyang.

Korean Central News Agency/AP

North Korean troopers parade throughout a celebration of the nation’s 73rd anniversary that was overseen by chief Kim Jong Un, at Kim Il Sung Square in Pyongyang.

There is no free press in North Korea: Here’s a narrative that appeared in the Rodong Sinmun, the mouthpiece of the Workers’ Party, over the weekend – the identical weekend that Key was evaluating New Zealand to North Korea. “Seminars on Exploits of Great Leaders of DPRK Held in Different Countries,” learn the headline. And the story mentioned: “The chairman of the Socialist Party of Romania noted that under the seasoned leadership of General Secretary Kim Jong Un the DPRK has achieved eye-opening successes in strengthening the national power despite the vicious moves of the hostile forces.” Even Government’s fiercest critics may not say that New Zealand’s media talks about Ardern and her authorities on this manner.

In you assume “well the party mouthpiece would say that” – all of the papers are regime mouthpieces. There is no impartial media in North Korea. There is no samizdat literature. There’s not even any graffiti. If you activate any radio or any tv, stroll into any bookshop or go to any cinema, all you’ll hear is the greatness of revered comrade Kim Jong Un. Oh, and there’s no web. A really small handful of North Koreans – the Kim household, and the propagandists in Pyongyang, for instance – will likely be allowed entry to some websites. But for most of the people, there is no entry to any details about the surface world. They don’t have the posh of evaluating themselves to Denmark or Ireland.

An elderly North Korean woman walks with a large load of firewood she collected from the nearby hillside of Pyongsan County. (File photo)


An aged North Korean girl walks with a big load of firewood she collected from the close by hillside of Pyongsan County. (File picture)

There is no freedom of motion in North Korea: Yes, it’s painful not having the ability to come into New Zealand, and not actually having the ability to depart. Yes, Auckland has borne the brunt of our lockdowns, and is nonetheless beneath heavy restrictions. But it’s not like in North Korea.

North Koreans want a journey allow to go wherever throughout the nation. Leaving your metropolis or city? There’ll be a checkpoint on the metropolis limits and passage is solely allowed if in case you have the appropriate paperwork – or a hefty bribe. Only elite regime officers or merchants serving to the Kims keep in energy are allowed passports or export permits. And anybody who travels into the surface world will likely be subjected to some heavy re-indoctrination on their return.

That’s even with out mentioning the Saturday self-criticism classes the place everybody exterior the Kim household should confess how they’ve didn’t serve Kim Jong Un that week, and itemise their workmates’ and neighbours’ shortcomings.

There is nowhere close to sufficient meals in North Korea: When I used to be in MIQ, I needed to name the reception to ask them to skip some meals. There was a lot cake, a lot fruit, so many servings of chips. We had been losing an excessive amount of meals. If solely North Koreans had the identical downside.

North Korea is going through its worse meals shortages in additional than a decade, the North Koreans admitted a couple of months in the past. North Korea will undergo a meals hole of 780,000 tonnes for 2020-2021, the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organisation estimated in June. In North Korea “10 million people are considered food insecure … 140,000 children under 5 suffer acute malnutrition … and higher rates of malnutrition and mortality are anticipated for 2021,” Unicef said in its Humanitarian Situation Report printed in February.

This is instantly obvious when visiting North Korea. I’ve met youngsters who look 7 however grow to be youngsters.

To examine to North Korea New Zealand’s present response to the Covid-19 pandemic is not simply sensationalist and plain improper – it grossly diminishes the struggling of 25 million individuals on the planet’s most totalitarian state.

The individuals of North Korea, struggling to feed and educate their kids in probably the most repressive of circumstances, don’t need to be your punchline, Sir John Key.

Anna Fifield is now the editor of The Dominion Post and Wellington editor at Stuff.


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