North Korea’s recent assertion, made on Wednesday, has once again thrust the spotlight onto U.S. soldier Travis King.
North Korea claims that King, an African-American soldier, sought refuge in North Korea due to racial discrimination and abuse in the American military and society.
This declaration coincides with North Korea’s strategy to counter American criticism of its own human rights record.
Breaking a month-long silence on the matter, North Korean state media issued a report stating that King had admitted to illegally entering North Korea due to “inhuman maltreatment and racial discrimination within the U.S. Army.”
Although King himself has not spoken directly on this, his uncle in the United States affirmed this narrative, asserting that his nephew had encountered racism during his military service.
This announcement arrives just before a United Nations Security Council meeting, convened at the request of the U.S., to address human rights abuses in North Korea.
Over the years, North Korea has consistently highlighted racial disparities in the U.S. to underscore alleged American hypocrisy and to deflect pressure concerning its own human rights issues.
Lim Eul-chul, a North Korean studies professor at South Korea’s Kyungnam University, predicts that North Korea will employ King’s case to counterbalance U.S. human rights critiques instead of engaging in direct negotiations.
Rachel Minyoung Lee from the U.S.-based Stimson Center echoes this sentiment, noting North Korea’s tactic of casting a negative light on the U.S. to challenge its moral standing.
In its statement, North Korea’s foreign ministry points to racial discrimination among other societal ills in the U.S., criticizing the U.S. for promoting unethical human rights standards while fostering internal strife.
This is not a new strategy for North Korea; in 2018, the nation released a “White Paper on Human Rights Violations in the U.S.,” citing racial discrimination and violence as inherent to the U.S. social system.
North Korea’s engagement with racial issues in the U.S. dates back to 1969 when it hosted Eldridge Cleaver, a prominent figure in the Black Power movement.
Additionally, North Korean state media has a history of racially charged statements, including derogatory remarks about former U.S. President Barack Obama.
Ultimately, North Korea’s use of King’s case as a counter-narrative underscores the complexities of international discussions around human rights, as both nations engage in a war of narratives and deflect blame.
This ongoing discourse shapes global perceptions of human rights violations and diplomatic tensions.