Putting a stop to North Korean nuclear proliferation is only half the story.
The U.S. State Department has removed the Peoples’ Republic of North Korea from the list of countries supporting terrorism in a deal to prevent further nuclear proliferation, and superficially the negotiated settlement appears to have achieved an important American foreign policy goal, being international inspection of the dismantling of the existing atomic facilities.
However, there is more, much more, to the story, as the Japanese know only too well, and it centres on a 34 year-old spy, just convicted at her trial in Suiwon, South Korea, and her confession, which bought her a five-year sentence, has thrown new light on how the regime in Pyongyang.
Won Chong-hwa was a North Korean intelligence officer thought to have been responsible for the abduction of more than 100 people from China and South Korea. She also operated in Seoul, seducing South Korean officers to gather information for the North Korean State Security Department (SSD).
In March 2001, as Won Chong-hwa prepared for a mission to South Korea, she became pregnant by a South Korean businessman named Choe who had visited China to meet a prospective wife through an international matchmaking service. Instead of obtaining an abortion the North Koreans encouraged her to keep the baby and marry the father. Once established in South Korea she divorced her husband and, posing as a refugee from the north, offered herself to the South Korean National Intelligence Service (NIS).
Meanwhile she founded an import business in Kyonggi Province and travelled China frequently to buy aquatic products, although on each visit she reported to her State Security Department (SSD) handlers. Between October 2002 and December 2006, she made 14 trips to China, and her principal role appears to have been the seduction of Korean businessmen linked to the South Korean NIS.
One part of her assignment was the assassination of refugees, and she was issued with needles and a quantity of poison to perform her task. From 2005 she registered with a matchmaking service, identifying herself as a “military officer in active duty,” expressing a preference for men in her category. She made contact with dozens of lovesick officers, including a Major Kim, and passed their personal details to her handlers.
Eventually Won Chong-hwa fell in love with Lieutenant Hwang, an officer based in Kangwon Province, who was seven years her junior, and even after he realized his lover was a spy he stayed with her and planned to stow away on a ship to Japan.
Assisted by him, between September 2006 to May 2007 Won Chong-hwa gave more than 50 talks on military security topics to personnel at South Korean bases, but in them she often lauded North Korea and supported Pyongyang’s nuclear program. She also visited Japan three times, claiming to be meeting prospective husbands, but in reality she was tracing North Korean refugees.
The exposure of Won Chong-hwa has reminded countless families in Japan that the fate of their abducted children remains unresolved, so Tokyo has been understandably cool about the deal made by the Americans. The need for expediency, and a resolution of Pyongyang’s nuclear ambitions, should not over-ride the outstanding demands for the Communists to come clean over the missing Japanese children.