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Unpaid Farm Work: Wealthy People in North Korea Bribe their Way Out of Mandatory Farming Mobilization

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Farming Mobilization
Mandatory Farming Mobilization: North Korean farm workers tend to a field on the outskirts of the capital Pyongyang, July 12, 2016. RFA
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  • North Korea’s annual campaign to mobilize its population to do unpaid farm work has prompted wealthy citizens to bribe doctors
  • Authorities of the regime of leader Kim Jong Un require that male and female citizens mobilize to provide additional farming manpower
  • Rich citizens might be obtaining false medical papers to skip the mass mobilization
North Korea, June 6, 2017: North Korea’s annual campaign to mobilize its population to do unpaid farm work has prompted wealthy citizens to bribe doctors to issue false medical evaluations that exempt them from the compulsory labor, sources inside the country said.

Authorities of the regime of leader Kim Jong Un require that male and female citizens mobilize to provide additional farming manpower during the spring planting season and in early summer when rice is grown.

In response, wealthy North Koreans have been paying bribes to doctors at hospitals to issue phony diagnoses of medical conditions that will get them out of performing hard manual labor in the fields, sources said.

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An incident involving a drunken, wealthy North Korean who was returning to the capital Pyongyang by train during the mobilization period after visiting relatives in China, tipped off authorities that rich citizens might be obtaining false medical papers to skip the mass mobilization, said a source in North Hamgyong province which borders China.

The authorities arrested the man, who is said to be a merchant, when he displayed violent behavior. They discovered that he had a valid travel document which usually cannot be obtained during mass mobilizations, said the source who declined to give his name.

“Only rich people can get it by paying a bribe to officials,” he said.

The man also had been diagnosed as a spinal stenosis patient in need of long-term treatment for the condition in which the spinal canal narrows causing back pain and other nerve-related problems, he said.

“[Yet], he got drunk and got violent,” the source said.

“[The man] is known to be exempt from the farming mobilization by bribing doctors for a fake diagnosis,” he said.

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The authorities who arrested the train passenger alerted the Central Committee, the leadership body of the ruling Workers’ Party of Korea, which then ordered inspections of the People’s Hospitals, the source said.

The People’s Hospital in the Chongam district of Chongjin, capital of North Hamgyong province and the country’s third-largest city, is being inspected by professionals from the city’s Science and Education Department, who believe that doctors have been issuing false diagnoses in return for bribes so wealthy North Koreans have a legitimate excuse to get out of the mandatory farming mobilization, he said.

‘Powerless people suffer’

A source in North Pyongan province said that ordinary people who cannot afford to pay bribes and must provide the forced labor resent that wealthy and powerful people are getting medical exemptions.

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“Powerless people are suffering physically from farming, while some rich people are lounging around,” said the source who requested anonymity.

The amount needed to bribe a doctor to issue a false medical diagnosis valid for a month is about 200 Chinese yuan (U.S. $30), he said.

“Very wealthy North Koreans pay more to obtain a diagnosis that is valid for several months to a few years and become ‘long-term patients,’” the source said.

Though inspectors conduct probes of People’s Hospitals for false diagnoses every year, it has become a mere formality, the source said.

“If the false diagnostic statements are discovered, doctors can easily get away with it by bribing inspectors, so it is only the powerless people who are forced to participate in what is essentially slave labor during farming season.”

Other North Koreans are responding to the drive with satire.

“North Korean residents are taunting the Central Committee’s propaganda about farming mobilization that requires the participation of every individual if they have the energy to hold a spoon,” said the source in North Hamgyong province.

“They are ridiculing the propaganda by raising the possibility of avoiding the farming mobilization if they use chopsticks instead of spoons,” he said.

Mandatory mass mobilization campaigns, or “battles” as the regime likes to call them, are routine in North Korea, where the authorities use them to mobilize manpower for various projects and measure citizens’ loyalty to the state and Korean Workers’ Party.

Earlier this year, North Korean authorities imposed limits on the operating hours of local markets nationwide to encourage residents to go the fields and collect manure to use as fertilizer in light of a shortage of chemical fertilizer.

The move caused great discontent among locals, many of whom shop for food and other necessities during the day. (RFA)

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Mike Pompeo Travels to North Korea to Prepare For Meeting Between Kim Jong And President Trump

Washington has demanded Pyongyang give up chemical and biological weapons, in addition to nuclear weapons and programs.

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The U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is traveling to North Korea, preparing for the upcoming meeting between President Donald Trump and North Korea leader Kim Jong Un.
U.S. Secretary Mike Pompeo, Wikimedia commons

The U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is traveling to North Korea, preparing for the upcoming meeting between President Donald Trump and North Korea leader Kim Jong Un.

“Plans are being made. Relationships are building. Hopefully, a deal will happen and, with the help of China, South Korea, and Japan, a future of great prosperity and security can be achieved for everyone,” said Trump on Tuesday at the White House.

Pompeo’s arrival in Pyongyang Wednesday coincided with a trilateral summit in Tokyo between Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang and South Korean President Moon Jae-in to discuss the escalating diplomatic rapport between North and South Korea, highlighted by last month’s historic summit between Moon and Kim at the Demilitarized Zone separating the two rivals.

South Korea’s Yonhap news agency says the three leaders issued a statement expressing support for the commitment made by the two Korean leaders to denuclearize the Korean peninsula, and reaffirmed their joint efforts towards convincing North Korea to abandon its nuclear weapons program.

The chief U.S. diplomat is also on a mission, hoping to secure the release of three Americans detained by Pyongyang.

“We’ve been asking for the release of these detainees for 17 months,” Pompeo said en route to North Korea. “We’ll talk about it again. It’d be a great gesture if they’d agree to do so.”

Three Korean-Americans currently are imprisoned in North Korea. Tony Kim and Kim Hak Song were teaching at the Pyongyang University of Science and Technology. They were separately detained in 2017, and accused of participating in anti-state activities and trying to overthrow the government.

The U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is traveling to North Korea, preparing for the upcoming meeting between President Donald Trump and North Korea leader Kim Jong Un.
Kim Jong Un will meet US President, VOA

The third detainee, Kim Dong Chul, was arrested in Rason on the northeast tip of North Korea in October 2015. He was sentenced in 2016 to 10 years in prison with hard labor after being convicted of espionage.

Pompeo’s latest trip to North Korea came just weeks after he met with Kim.

“The first time it was truly an intelligence effort” to validate Kim’s intention, said Pompeo, while the second visit is hoping to “put in place a framework,” and “conditions” for a successful summit between the two presidents.

“We are not going to head back down the path that we headed down before. We’re not going to relieve sanctions until such time as we achieved our objectives. We are not going to do this in small increments, where the world is essentially coerced into relieving economic pressure,” Pompeo said.

‘New and bold approach’

Senior State Department officials traveling with Pompeo said Washington is taking a “new and bold approach,” while continuing to consult closely with America’s allies, including Japan and South Korea.

“We — the secretary — will be listening for signs from North Korea that things have substantively changed since Kim’s declaration on New Year’s Eve to mass produce nuclear warheads and the means to deliver them,” said a senior official.

Officials traveling with Pompeo include White House National Security Council senior director for Asian affairs Matt Pottinger, State Department policy planning director Brian Hook, and acting Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs Heather Nauert.

Experts told VOA on Tuesday that Pompeo’s second trip to North Korea, following Kim’s second meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping this week, shows that negotiations have reached a critical juncture.

“Each side is now negotiating for maximum benefit to their security,” said Dennis Wilder, who served as the senior director for East Asian affairs at the National Security Council under former President George W. Bush. “The issue of sequencing steps that each side must take is one of the toughest parts of any negotiation of this magnitude.”

“It suggests that a major deal is under consideration that involves major concessions on each side,” Wilder told VOA.

‘More than declarations’

Other experts said there can’t be a summit unless North Korea were to release the three American prisoners.

“I would expect Secretary Pompeo to bring home these captives on his plane — unless North Korea was for some reason getting cold feet,” said Harry Kazianis, director of defense studies at The Center for the National Interest in Washington.

Atlantic Council’s senior fellow Robert Manning told VOA that what the Trump administration is looking for is “more than declarations.”

"I would expect Secretary Pompeo to bring home these captives on his plane — unless North Korea was for some reason getting cold feet," said Harry Kazianis, director of defense studies at The Center for the National Interest in Washington.
Kim Jong-un And Donald Trump

The U.S. is eyeing “commitments to dismantle North Korea’s weapons of mass destruction and milestones to benchmark,” Manning said.

Washington has demanded Pyongyang give up chemical and biological weapons, in addition to nuclear weapons and programs.

Tuesday, in a readout after Chinese President Xi’s call with Trump, Beijing said Xi stressed his support of the planned meeting between Trump and Kim, while asking Washington to take Pyongyang’s “reasonable security concerns” into consideration.

Also Read: ASEAN Parliamentarians Urge Indonesian Government to Tackle Rising Intolerance in the Country

The call between Chinese and American leaders came just hours after Xi met with Kim on Monday and Tuesday in the northeastern Chinese port city of Dalian, their second meeting since late March.

In a statement published by Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Kim told Xi that the realization of denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula is a consistent and clear position of North Korea.

“As long as relevant parties eliminate the hostile policy and security threats against North Korea, Pyongyang does not need to have nuclear weapons, and denuclearization is achievable,” said Kim, according to the Chinese statement. (VOA)