EUGENE, Ore. — One political science professor at the University of Oregon describes the conditions of a work detention to be torturous and extreme. But, Tuong Vu said he doesn’t think Kenneth Bae, the former University of Oregon student, will be working on a North Korean farm for long.
In the past, Vu traveled to South Korea and took a tour of the DMZ, but that’s the closest he’s ever gotten to North Korea. “You could watch and you could see over the river where North Korean farm was located with the North Korean flag flying, but you have to look through the telescope,” said Vu.
He said he’s no expert on North Korean politics, even though he specializes in Eastern Asian politics. “Not many people are able to study that country because it’s very difficult to get into and it’s also very dangerous to do any research on them,” said Vu.
Vu does read books about the Communist country, which is where his knowledge of the area comes from. He said he’s read about the labor camps, like the one Bae will be spending the next 15 years working. “There’s always a guard watching over you, and if you are slacking off, if you are not working hard, they could point at you and tell you to work, ‘If you don’t work hard, we’re going to beat you. We’ll send you to a cell and deny food,’” said Vu.
The State Department spoke out about Bae’s imprisonment Thursday. “There’s no greater priority to us than the welfare and safety of U.S. citizens abroad, and we urge the DPRK to grant Mr. Bae amnesty and immediate release,” said Patrick Ventrell, State Department spokesperson.
Vu said he believes that response from the State Department is what the North Korean government is looking for because he suspects Bae is being used as a bargaining tool. A tool to attract a diplomatic visit from a world leader to show North Korean citizens their country is an equal to a world power like the United States. “No one expects the North Koreans to really try to punish Ken, because that’s not something, that’s not the best that they could get out of this,” said Vu.