The Democratic People's Republic of Korea is understood to be the most isolated country in the world, a country that prefers 'independence from foreign imperialism' to feeding its own citizens. Yet despite the country's appalling human rights record and disastrous economy, the extraordinary spirit of individual North Koreans and the recent change in leadership present an opportunity for fundamental change and the possibility of constructive, critical engagement.
The extraordinary story of Dr. James Kim bears witness to this possibility. A Korean-American entrepreneur turned educator, James Kim has founded universities in Seoul, North-Eastern China, and, most recently, Pyongyang. During one of his frequent trips to the DPRK in 1998, Dr. Kim, accused of being an American spy, was imprisoned and sentenced to death by Kim Jong Il's North Korean government. Two years after his unexpected release, Dr. Kim was invited back to the DPRK and asked if he would build a university for the country; the result was Pyongyang University of Science and Technology (PUST). As the DPRK moves into a new phase of its history under the leadership of Kim Jong Un, it is a crucial moment for confidence-building measures that will help North Korea to take its place as a member of the world community. As both a window for the North Koreans onto the world and a window for the world onto North Korea, PUST represents a welcome step in this direction and a path to positive engagement with North Korea.