Can you change the country without changing the regime, asks David Alton

Talking to North Korea

by Glyn Ford, Pluto Press, 320pp, £14.99

There’s no doubting that Glyn Ford has spent much of his life trying to understand North Korea – he has been there 50 times. However, given that entry to the country is severely restricted, and visitors only see what their minders permit them to see, multiple North Korean visa stamps are of strictly limited worth.

In reading Ford’s book, subtitled “Ending the Nuclear Standoff”, I began with an inbuilt bias as I have long thought that many visitors, due to the restrictions, can come close to sounding like apologists for the regime. Ford claims to have a more “nuanced appreciation” but, while we both believe in “critical engagement”, I cannot understand why he does not devote more space to the atrocities committed by this appalling regime – and passionately denounce them.

Four years ago, a United Nations Commission of Inquiry (COI) described North Korea as having committed crimes against humanity and said its violations of human rights were “without parallel”. Every one of the 30 articles of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights are denied or egregiously violated – with between 100,000 and 200,000 people in its gulags, which the COI compared to Nazi death camps.

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