President Donald Trump laid bare the grim reality of life in North Korea when he spoke to the South Korean National Assembly on Wednesday.
Describing it as an extraordinary privilege to speak on behalf of the people of the United States of America, he said South Korea had awed him and Melania with its ancient and modern wonders.
He covered the expected bases, speaking to the alliance the two countries had formed “in the crucible of war” and South Korea’s incredible climb from rubble to one of the world’s great nations. He pledged America’s military support, noting the presence of “the three largest aircraft carriers in the world loaded to the maximum with magnificent F-35 and F-18 fighter jets,” and touted the many accomplishments of South Korea.
And then his speech came to the demilitarized zone.
“The Korean miracle extends exactly as far as the armies of free nations advanced in 1953 — 24 miles to the north. There, it stops; it all comes to an end. Dead stop. The flourishing ends, and the prison state of North Korea sadly begins.”
Trump then did what the White House had signaled he would do—something unremarkably rational, but remarkably uncommon in South Korea—he spoke in plain terms about the horror that the Kim Jong Un regime inflicts on the people of its prison-state.
“Workers in North Korea labor grueling hours in unbearable conditions for almost no pay. Recently, the entire working population was ordered to work for 70 days straight, or else pay for a day of rest.
“Families live in homes without plumbing, and fewer than half have electricity. Parents bribe teachers in hopes of saving their sons and daughters from forced labor. More than a million North Koreans died of famine in the 1990s, and more continue to die of hunger today.”
He spoke about the 30 percent of children under 5 years old who suffer stunted growth due to malnutrition even as the regime spent $200 million—or almost half the money that it allocated to improve living standards for its people—to build monuments, towers, and statues to glorify its dictators in 2012 and 2013 alone.
“What remains of the meager harvest of the North Korean economy is distributed according to perceived loyalty to a twisted regime. Far from valuing its people as equal citizens, this cruel dictatorship measures them, scores them, and ranks them based on the most arbitrary indications of their allegiance to the state,” he said.
Trump spoke of the estimated 100,000 North Koreans imprisoned in gulags “enduring torture, starvation, rape, and murder on a constant basis,” of children beaten or sent to prison, and women who had forced abortions or had their babies killed because they were “ethnically inferior” due to their Chinese fathers.
He spoke to the bizarre scenario where North Koreans pay bribes to be included in overseas work details where they are often unpaid and abused, preferring foreign slavery to life in North Korea.
Trump said the tale of the two Koreas was a tragic experiment that revealed the stark difference between freedom and justice, and tyranny and oppression.
It’s an experiment North Korea works to hide, doing its best to enforce a complete information blackout so its citizens cannot learn of the difference between their lives and those of their South Korean counterparts, said Trump.
“North Korea is a country ruled as a cult. At the center of this military cult is a deranged belief in the leader’s destiny to rule as parent protector over a conquered Korean Peninsula and an enslaved Korean people.”
Trump also spoke to the current crisis, saying the Kim regime had interpreted America’s past restraint as weakness—a “fatal miscalculation” with the Trump administration.
Speaking directly to the Kim regime, Trump warned: “Do not underestimate us, and do not try us. We will defend our common security, our shared prosperity, and our sacred liberty.”
“North Korea is not the paradise your grandfather envisioned,” said Trump. “It is a hell that no person deserves. Yet, despite every crime you have committed against God and man, we will offer a path to a much better future.”
Trump said the prerequisite to that was an end to the ballistic missile program and complete denuclearization.
Describing the Korean Peninsula as the host of a “thin line of civilization” that lies between law and tyranny, Trump also spoke to the broader distinction between totalitarian regimes and those America has fought against in wars to combat Nazism, imperialism, communism, and terrorism.
He finished with a call to all nations to stand against North Korea and with his vision of a reunited Korean people.
“The world cannot tolerate the menace of a rogue regime that threatens with nuclear devastation.”
No nation should support, supply, or accept North Korea, he said.
“We call on every nation, including China and Russia, to fully implement U.N. Security Council resolutions, downgrade diplomatic relations with the regime, and sever all ties of trade and technology.”
The speech surprised some who heard it, an uncommonly blunt summary of the North’s abuses, abuses that are often downplayed by the current liberal South Korean administration of Moon Jae-in.
“I wanted to stand up from my seat and shout ‘yahoo!’” Lee Hyeon-seo, an escapee from North Korea told the Washington Post. “We just don’t hear people talking about North Korea in this way in South Korea, so I was very emotional during the speech. I was very impressed.”
Trump’s visit to South Korea was seen as an important opportunity to cement Moon’s ties to the United States, coming just a week after Moon made a deal with China to not add any more batteries of THAAD anti-ballistic missiles and radars to the South Korea, nor form a trilateral military alliance with Japan and the United States, nor join the U.S. integrated missile defense.
Trump, now in China, is expected to press the Chinese regime to go beyond U.N. Security Council sanctions in its effort to pressure North Korea.