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Defective Nomenclature

Are escaped North Korean children really “defectors”?

9:12 AM, Jun 4, 2013 • By ETHAN EPSTEIN
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The small Southeast Asian country of Laos outraged civilized people everywhere last month by repatriating nine escaped North Koreans orphans. The escapees, who had travelled through China and into Laos, are now likely to suffer harsh punishment. Repatriated North Koreans are known to face internment in brutal labor camps upon their return. They're occasionally even executed. In repatriating the refugees, Laos may have been attempting to curry favor with China, which refuses to recognize North Korean escapees as refugees, and actively repatriates them. As such, this outrage is a clear sign of China's growing clout (and perhaps, America's waning influence) in southeast Asia. 

A note on nomenclature. The Los Angeles Times, the Guardian,  Reuters, the Associated Pressand other news outlets have taken to referring to the escapees - some of whom are as young as fifteen years old - as "defectors." This implies a level of ideological motivation that a group of starving children aren't likely to possess. (To me at least, the term "defector" also implies "betrayer," and has a somewhat negative connotation.) 

Even worse, the AP referred to the refugees as "seven men and two women," which white-washes what Laos has done. Laos has sent children to certain imprisonment and possible torture and death, not "men and women." (Though it's hardly unprecedented that the AP's North Korea reporting would be rather suspect.)

And indeed, look at the photo of the escapees below -- provided, in fact, by the AP. Do they look more like "defectors" -- or refugees?

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