North Korea: 'Crossing Heaven's Border'

John Delury and Katharine Moon at the Asia Society on June 29, 2009. (Asia Society)
NEW YORK, June 29, 2009 - The Asia Society hosted the season premiere of Wide Angle, a PBS Thirteen program, with Crossing Heaven's Border, the story of three South Korean journalists who pose as North Koreans hiding in China. The documentary follows them as they join a group of North Koreans as they are smuggled overland into China, through Laos, and across a river to asylum in Thailand.  

North Korea has re-emerged as a hot topic in the news recently, with the arrest of two American journalists, the dissolution of the six-party talks, and growing nuclear threat.  Following the screening Katharine Moon, professor of Political Science at Wellesley College, human rights activist Steven Kim, and John Delury, associate director of Asia Society's Center on U.S.-China Relations, participated in a discussion of the film’s themes within the current political context.

The talk touched on the complexities of the defector’s situation: the ambitions driving defection, the cross-border smuggling network, the challenging internment and reintegration process facing those who reach South Korea, and China’s refusal to acknowledge this as a refugee issue.  

Moon said she wanted people to walk away from the documentary recognizing that the North Koreans are not "some monolithic, pathetic group of people," but instead, courageous individuals struggling with how to make the best out of a difficult situation. She said the refugees’ motivations are far from political; rather, they are searching for a higher standard of living and a stable source of income to provide for their families.

Reported by Kamshim Lau