The US is “getting a lot of evidence” that UN sanctions “are really starting to hurt” North Korea, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has said, referring to a recent incident regarding starving North Korean fishermen.
On Wednesday, Tillerson said during an interview at Stanford University with former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice that earlier in the week, Japanese officials told a conference in Vancouver, Canada, that more than 100 North Korean fishing boats were recently found by Japan in their waters, without fuel to get back to their country.
Two-thirds of the fishermen occupying the boats were purportedly deceased upon arrival.
Tillerson said the sanctions imposed on North Korea by the UN Security Council (UNSC) are forcing Pyongyang to send its residents out to fish in the winter time because of food shortages. The punitive measures took effect in December in response to a series of nuclear tests conducted by the reclusive country, further tightening restrictions on its energy supplies and the employment of North Korean workers overseas.
Tillerson claimed that the fishermen who survived wanted Japanese officials to bring them back to North Korea after being found at sea. He added that the fishermen did not have enough fuel to make it back home.
Former Secretary of State Rice talked in the interview about a rapprochement offered by North Korea, to South Korea, which Tillerson sees as an attempt by the north to drive a wedge between the US and its ally in the Korean peninsula.
“Now they're onto the playbook that you know as well as anyone,” Tillerson said, while speaking to the former secretary about what he feels is an attempt by the north to trick other countries. "And the playbook is, okay, we're going to start our charm offensive to the rest of the world and let them see we're just normal people like everybody else.”
As Tillerson touts US-drafted UN sanctions, residents of North Korea are also said to face a harsh fate if they try to escape the conditions they currently live under.
One North Korean man living in exile in South Korea, only known as “Lee,” told BBC Korean in late 2017 that his wife and 4-year-old son were among 10 people detained in China during a raid by Chinese officials in the early days of November, after they illegally escaped from North Korea.
Lee said he made pleas to Chinese President Xi Jinping and US President Donald Trump to save his family, but his attempts failed.
“At the moment I believe they are in a detention centre,” Lee said. “I heard that if you spent a month there you become extremely frail due to the lack of food. You lose all your weight because there's nothing to eat. You get 20 kernels of corn at best a day.”
“I really can't express how I feel. The world feels like hell to me right now.”