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Grace Jo: "We cannot trust North Korea"

Grace Jo shares her thoughts on U.S.-North Korea relations, receiving a North Korea Freedom Scholarship two years in a row, and the recent activities of her nonprofit, NKinUSA.

Article by Jeff Kim August 13, 2018 //   5 minute read

Jeff Kim: What does it mean to receive a North Korean Freedom Scholarship two years in a row?  
Grace Jo: It means a chance for me. Finishing college is an obstacle for me. Even though I do study and get A's, it's hard to catch up with others. I never thought I can get a scholarship in the United States and pay for my tuition. But a lot of people encouraged me that there are a lot of resources available, and if you have a dream, you can get there. I have a lot of hope, but it was very hard to get help.  

This scholarship didn't look at other qualifications. It looked for whether I came from North Korea and whether I am doing a good job at school, so that's why I applied. Thankfully, this is the second year I’ve received the scholarship, so I feel very happy and very honored, and I am thankful to donors to this scholarship and supporters and board members.

JK: A lot of people are starting to show interest in North Korea, and you do a lot of work in your organization NKinUSA. Can you tell us about that?  
GJ: The organization has been running for seven or eight years now, and it is run by individuals who have a heart for North Koreans. Donations go to refugee rescues. They have rescued about 80 people. Most went to South Korea, and two came to the United States 

We are not a big organization, so we cannot help with the big things. But we help in smaller ways, and we try to help others who need help in the United States, as well. Of course, a lot of North Koreans are doing a very good job here in resettlement, so they don't need a lot of help. But some people, when they face an emergency in the first few years after resettlement, they might need a little hand. So we are trying to help each other. 

Lastly, I travel around the country, trying to share my story and trying to learn.  

JK: Not long ago, we had the Trump-Kim summit, with talks about denuclearization and creating a relationship with North Korea. Do you think we can trust North Korea?  
GJ: Can we really trust Kim Jong-un? Well, my answer is no, because the North Korea system itself will not let Kim Jong-un do whatever he wants to do. Even though he might want to open the door to the world and even though he might want to denuclearize by himself, he cannot do that, because the system itself has a goal of building weapons to protect their country.  

But now, suddenly, they are willing to open up, and they say they can destroy whatever they have invented by themselves? That's definitely not possible, so I think this is one of their methods to negotiate with the United States and show a different face to the world.  

They're trying to say, ‘We are not evil, we are able to talk and willing to be open with you guys. We also love peace, and we are willing to accept different countries systems, or something like that. This is one of their new strategies to try to weaken the sanctions and [change] the international point of view. I believe we cannot trust North Korea and whatever they are saying.   
JK: Just this morning in the news, there were reports about how North Korea is still continuing to build missiles. 
GJ: Yes, exactly. One thing I am afraid of when the time comes, and we realize North Korea has been lying, I'm afraid it will be too late for us to do something.

JK: Human rights were not on the table during the summit. Do you think that was a mistake? 
GJ: Yes. Actually, I did not see any purpose for this summit. During the summit, President Trump didn't mention human rights issues at all. He complimented Kim Jung-un a lot. I don't know what makes him compliment him, and I feel like without talking about human rights, there's no reason we should meet with him. The United States will not get what it wants, and they are not pressing North Korea on human rights issues. There's no other topic except nuclear weapons. I think that's our big mistake. 
JK: As you know, more and more people are now starting to show interest in North Korea. What is one thing you would tell them about North Korea or North Koreans?  
GJ: One thing would be that North Koreans are willing to share love. We are open-minded, and we are willing to learn and accept new cultures. We are fast learners, hard workers, and very ambitious. But, the system destroyed our minds and our freedom for many years, so sometimes for the first generation of North Koreans who escape, it's very hard to be part of the community. However, people can change very fast these days, so I hope those people who are helping North Koreans or trying to help North Koreans have patience.  

Read Escaping North Korea and Finding Freedom: Grace Jo's Story.

Jeff Kim is a Bush Institute Human Freedom Initiative consultant.