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05 Feb 2003 10:25
As the nuclear crisis on the Korean peninsula escalates, ethnic Koreans in Japan are increasingly rallying behind Kim Jong-Il—not Pyongyang’s enigmatic supreme leader, but his Japan-based namesake, a one-time supporter turned vocal critic.
“What I have predicted is coming true,” says Kim, a 62-year-old shoe factory owner in the western Japanese port city of Kobe. “There is a saying that one cannot step down from dictatorship without bloodshed,” Kim said in an interview.
“But what is best is that he leaves quietly before long,” Kim said of the more famous Kim, who is two years his junior.
For the last six years, Kim the shoemaker has led an obscure group of Japan-based Koreans who have abandoned their former allegiance to the communist state.
Before then, he spent 30 years as a board member of the chamber of commerce for ethnic Koreans in western Kobe affiliated with the Pyongyang-guided General Association of Korean Residents in Japan (Chongryon).
He launched “Minju Mugunhwa” (Democratic Rose of Sharon â€’ a flower revered in Korea) in 1997 with 50 others and publicly declared North Korea would collapse in five years.
“People who have been faithful to Chongryon are coming to seek my advice,” Kim said, claiming to have received 74 threatening letters and numerous harassment telephone calls, from, he suspects, current Chongryon supporters.
The Kyongju, South Korea-born shoemaker came to Japan in 1943 and shares little but a name with the scion of the world’s only communist dynasty.
Stocky and jovial with sharp features, his hair is closely cropped and he wears street clothes—a contrast with the North Korean supreme leader’s bouffant and olive fatigues.
He lives modestly above his business in Nagata, a working-class district of Kobe where generations of ethnic Koreans have borne discrimination at the hands of Japanese.
Kim said his break with the North dates back to 1980 when he made his only visit to the self-avowed “workers paradise” and saw some of his 40 relatives languishing in poverty.
When he put pen to paper to accept a shipment of souvenirs, signing his name which means “just and sun” in Chinese characters, he was chided for what was considered a disrespectful joke.
“That name belongs to only one person in the nation,” Kim remembers being told.
He has rejected pressure to change his name, while noting he has never come across anyone else who uses the same Chinese characters.
Kim said he bided his time in speaking out against the other Kim out of concern for what might happen to his relatives in North Korea, but after 16 years, he could wait no longer.
Kim has based his five-year prediction on a dwindling trickle of cash to the isolated North Korean regime from both Chongryon and the South Korean “sunshine policy” of engagement with the North.
Hardest-hit was the highly-disciplined Chongryon, which had denounced as “fabrication” any kidnapping allegation. Reluctantly, Chongryon members are criticising the chamber’s continued service to Pyongyang and are balking at paying monthly dues of up to 10 000 yen ($80). Many are abandoning the chamber altogether.
The Chongryon newspaper Choson Sinbo has apologised to its readers for having misled them with “reports and commentaries which have proven false.”
Ri Su-O, deputy head of the chamber of commerce for pro-Pyongyang Korean residents in Tokyo, has demanded the resignation of Chongryon executives.
The Japanese government’s intelligence agency noted in its year-end report the possibility of “resistance surfacing in various parts of the (Chongryon) organisation against its central leadership.”
Chongryon, which has affiliate members including schools, publishing houses and businesses, has an estimated 200 000 members—not even one third of the 700 000 Koreans residing in Japan, many of whom left the Korean peninsula as forced labourers, when it was under Japanese 1910-1945 colonial rule. - Sapa-AFP
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