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Former US ambassadors to South Korea and China, NGO representatives, a North Korean defector, and scholars gathered last November for the US-Asia Law Institute’s 20th annual Timothy A. Gelatt Dialogue to discuss human rights issues in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea).

Hyeonseo Lee, who escaped from North Korea in the 1990s, described the extreme difficulties faced by defectors living in China, who suffer from constant fear of arrest and repatriation to North Korea.

Stephen Bosworth (pictured above, far left), former US ambassador to South Korea, said North Korea’s human rights issues should be viewed in conjunction with other pressing issues such as nuclear weapons. Certain “myths” about North Korea’s supposedly irrational or unpredictable behavior needed to be debunked, he said. Donald Gregg, another former US ambassador to South Korea, offered that the US should cease demonizing the regime and become more engaged with its leaders so they can see ways to improve their choices.

Winston Lord, former US ambassador to China and former assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs, suggested that China was part of the problem and encouraged the US to use carrot and stick policies such as offering foreign cooperation in North Korea’s economic development in exchange for ceasing its nuclear weapons program. “Of course, changing the regime would be dangerous. But I prefer such risks to the inevitability of North Korean nukes and missiles and the continuous squashing of the North Korean people.”

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