Last week, in preparation for the Trump-Kim Summit, Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan visited both Washington and Pyongyang.
He told the media last Sat (9 Jun), “Basically I went there to make sure everything was spick and span, and in place, and that there would be no last minute spoilers or difficulties.”
He added that he was “very impressed” with Pyongyang and the progress the city has made.
“To be frank with you, I come back very impressed,” he said. “Frankly, my views have also altered based on what I saw, heard, and (after I had) spoken to people.”
“If you go to Pyongyang today what you will see is a clean, green, modern, beautiful city,” he praised North Korea. “The society itself is a very impressive society and a city in its own right.”
At Pyongyang, he visited an eye hospital and museums to get a “better sense of the place”. He also visited the Juche Tower and rode the Pyongyang Metro.
The hospital, Vivian said, “had all the latest equipment”, comparable to what one would find in Singapore.
“The point I am making is despite these maximal sanctions, what you have is a society that has continued to invest in itself, continued to try to upgrade people and their skills, and the services that they provide to their people,” he said, praising North Korea.
Later on his Facebook page, Minister Vivian further praised the North Koreans for their “sheer determination, self-reliance, strength of spirit, and resilience”.
“There is no substitute for experiencing a place firsthand. I was very impressed by what I saw on my trip to Pyongyang. It is clean, modern, and beautiful with clear evidence of ongoing construction around the city. There are many high-rise buildings and modern designs. The streets of Pyongyang are also well-maintained and lined with greenery,” he wrote.
On his Facebook page, Vivian posted a number of pictures including this sumptuous Korean meal he had:
North Korean woman: “I saw people dying in large numbers”
Meanwhile, a news interview of a North Korean woman who escaped from North Korea was featured on HBO on the same day (12 Jun) when the Trump-Kim Summit was held. The woman eventually arrived in Koreatown in LA.
She told the interviewer from Vice News that people are suffering from starvation in North Korea “beyond imagination”.
“Whoever was alive was surviving on grass, which made the body swell up,” she said. “Their legs would get so swollen that people couldn’t even walk. I saw people dying in large numbers.”
Most likely, these people were suffering from malnutrition as the body uses a number of processes to maintain normal fluid balance. Without proper nutrients, one would experience a condition known as edema, which occurs when fluids begin to build up improperly in the tissues, causing abnormal swelling of the hands, legs and other body parts. It has life-threatening consequences.
Sold into China
With tears in her eyes, she told the interviewer, “I came here (LA) empty-handed with no family, no dreams, no hopes, and no children. I lost it all.”
She also explained why she decided to escape from North Korea. Due to an accident, her son’s fingers and toes were deformed. She wanted to take him to Pyongyang where presumably the best hospital resides in North Korea, for an operation.
“But how could we afford that when we could barely feed ourselves?” she asked.
So, she approached a broker who got her into China. She thought she could work at a restaurant in China to earn some money for her son’s operation. But the broker sold her into a marriage in China instead.
Still, she managed to save up of about US$1,300 working in China for 2 years before trying to return back to North Korea. But she was captured at Hyesan, a North Korean city bordering China. She was later sentenced to do hard labour at a prison camp for a month.
After her release, she escaped back to China and out of desperation, sought help from the Chinese man who bought her. Eventually, she made her way to LA but she has lost contact with her son.
Forget about nukes
When the interviewer asked her what she thought about the Trump-Kim Summit, she said, “Don’t focus on the nuclear weapons and don’t try to stop people from leaving the country.”
“Instead, feed them well and give them freedom,” she added.
“If you help them live well, why would they ever try to leave?”
And that was how the interview ended.
In any case, it’s not known if Minister Vivian did meet any patients with edema conditions (that is, people with swollen hands or legs due to malnutrition) at the hospital he visited.