On Friday, June 10, President Bush held a meeting with a remarkable man: Kang Chol-hwan, a defector from North Korea who survived ten years in one of Kim Jong Il’s prison camps. He finally escaped across the border and into China — a risk in itself, as China isn’t known for being particularly accommodating to North Korean defectors. But by the grace of God, Kang was able to make it to freedom.
Kang recounts the horrific experiences in his book, The Aquariums of Pyongyang: Ten Years in the North Korean Gulag — a book that President Bush has been handing out to staff members. Bush asked Kang to autograph his own copy when they met in the Oval Office.
According to discussions I had with Bush’s advisors (and as the Washington Post reported), the president said to Kang, “‘If Kim Jong Il knew I met you . . . don’t you think he’d hate this?’ ‘The people in the concentration camps will applaud,’ . . . Kang Chol-Hwan, responded.”
This is what’s known as putting your money where your mouth is. I’m thrilled to see it. Bush, you see, sees freedom as a God-given right. And to call for the spread of freedom and democracy around the world is one thing, which Bush is doing. But to actually meet with dissidents from oppressive regimes, as the president has done much of his time recently, is an even more important step. The Post points out, “Besides Kang, Bush played host to a top government foe from Venezuela at the White House and met Russian human rights activists during a trip to Moscow last month. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice met opposition leaders from the former Soviet republic of Belarus.” As the paper put it, these meetings are “a personal follow-through on Bush’s inaugural address in January,” which expressed his clear biblical worldview. The Post also called this series of meetings “a powerfully symbolic yet potentially risky approach modeled on President Reagan’s sessions with Soviet dissidents during the Cold War.”
Well, we all know how the Cold War turned out. And it was because Reagan refused to overlook the evils of tyranny. Meeting openly with foes of governments sent a clear message — just as Bush’s meetings are doing now. That message is that the United States stands with those who are working for freedom. As a country founded on the Judeo-Christian ideal that each individual has intrinsic value and God-given rights, including freedom, we can do no less.
How this message will translate into policy, only time will tell. The Wall Street Journal says, “Mr. Kang is well-known for his view that peace is not possible on the Korean peninsula without democracy in the North and an improvement in human rights there.” The bringing of democracy to the North looks like, to say the least, a difficult task. But so did bringing down the Iron Curtain.
I say that it’s vital right now that we as Christians support the Koreans being tortured and murdered by their own government. In the Wilberforce Forum, we have led the coalition for the North Korea Human Rights Act passed last year. And now we are pressing for more hearings to expose the brutal concentration camp conditions. Not only is it right for Christians to do this for human rights and especially for the persecuted Church, but pressure right now can bring an end to one of the most tyrannical regimes in the world.
And, yes, thank you, Mr. President, for your courage.