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BEHIND THE ENEMY LINES: What Aussies found in North Korea

Kim Jong-un
Kim Jong-un Korean Central News Agency - Korea News Service via AP

THERE was a moment in North Korea that it hit home we were considered the enemy, and our hostile hosts had us in their sights.

"My zips are different".

That statement is probably as confusing for you right now as it was for me when my colleague first whispered it in my ear in the lobby of our hotel in Pyongyang.

But it turns out he's a pretty wily character - that morning, he'd memorised the exact position of where the zips were on his suitcase, and when we returned that night they were in a completely different place.

They'd raided our rooms while we were out filming, and gone through our belongings.

In some respects it wasn't surprising - government officials had been all over us like a cheap suit from the second we got off the plane in North Korea.

They went through my phone, asking who some of the people in my photos were, and humorously even flicked through the book I was reading at the time to see if it contained any pro-western propaganda … after some deliberation by soldiers, it was determined that John Ibrahim isn't a threat to the regime, so I was allowed to hang on to his biography.

HAND OVER YOUR PASSPORT

One thing I couldn't keep though was my passport - this was confiscated by the government on arrival, ensuring that the only way you will ever leave the rogue nation is with its blessing … a menacing insurance policy for our minders, making sure we don't step out of line.

Those few moments are just a taste of the paranoid and at times intimidating nature of the team that stalked our every move while we were in North Korea.

We had a group of four filming there for 60 Minutes, with three local government officials with us ominously monitoring our behaviour, going through our pictures, and demanding to read my notes.

“They’d raided our rooms while we were out filming, and gone through our belongings.” Reporter Tom Steinfort in North Korea. Picture: Channel 9
“They’d raided our rooms while we were out filming, and gone through our belongings.” Reporter Tom Steinfort in North Korea. Picture: Channel 9

So you might wonder what we can actually learn on such a strictly stage managed trip, but the answer is quite a lot, particularly when it comes to North Korea's feelings towards Australia.

Having visited the nuclear armed nation for another 60 Minutes story a couple of years ago, what really struck me this time around was the change in the mood of our hosts, and the general hostility now aimed at our country.

For a nation that has access to a frighteningly poor amount of information from the outside world, the locals sure do know a hell of a lot about our government's ties to Donald Trump, and our Foreign Minister's visits to the DMZ.

And it turns out that's not a good thing - in fact our ever present government minders spelled it out very clearly to me, saying our approach was "tantamount to a suicidal act" and that we are heading for "disaster".

ADS FOR MISSILES AND NUKES

The other thing locals seem to know a lot about is that North Korea is now a nuclear armed nation, and really how could they not know given pretty much every shop window and billboard in town has posters promoting the country's weapons program.

Where every other nation in the world might have an advertisement for McDonalds or Nike, they have advertisements for missiles and nukes.

With slogans like "the whole of the USA is in shooting range of our country" being fed through a never ending stream of propaganda, citizens boasted to us that their country are now a "world power".

While that may be a bit of a stretch, there's still no doubt it's a game changer.

Kim Jong-un has seen in the past what's happened to ill-equipped dictators like Saddam Hussein and Muammar Gaddafi - and he's determined to make sure that the last remaining hard line socialist strong hold in the world survives.

His solution: missiles that can now reach Washington, and accordingly, mainland Australia.

And so the reality right now as we teeter on the edge of a potential nuclear war is that we are faced with a Mexican stand-off of sorts.

Citizens boast that they are now a world power, says Steinfort. Picture: Channel 9
Citizens boast that they are now a world power, says Steinfort. Picture: Channel 9

NUCLEAR ARMAGEDDON

North Korea won't attack the USA first, but if there is the slightest hint of military intervention from America, Pyongyang will unleash a nuclear armageddon. The USA says if North Korea puts a foot wrong, it'll be wiped off the map.

I have no doubt North Korea would lose any war it gets involved in with the USA, but my belief is also that they'd go down swinging and they'd fight dirty - millions of lives could be lost in a matter of days, and so the world holds its collective breath and hopes that calm heads will prevail.

This picture released by North Korea shows Kim Jong-un during a Hwasong-12 IRBM launch. Picture: KCNA
This picture released by North Korea shows Kim Jong-un during a Hwasong-12 IRBM launch. Picture: KCNA

Sanity has indeed prevailed for the past six decades, but things are different in 2017 - all because of the two men with their fingers on the buttons, and their highly unpredictable natures.

Donald Trump's taunts of unleashing "fire and fury like the world has never seen" on "little rocket man" have thrown fuel on the fire, while Kim Jong-un's repeated missile tests in defiance of international laws have had the same effect.

From our time in North Korea, we learned that the locals genuinely do not want war - but also that they are 100 per cent ready for the fight if it did eventuate.

It was a fascinating trip - we were thrilled to get the opportunity to film inside the most mysterious country in the world, but even happier to get our passports back and board a plane back to normal civilisation.

Tom Steinfort's report airs on 60 Minutes on Sunday night at 8.30pm on Channel 9

Slogans like “the whole of the USA is in shooting range of our country” are fed through a never ending stream of propaganda, says Steinfort. Picture: Channel 9
Slogans like “the whole of the USA is in shooting range of our country” are fed through a never ending stream of propaganda, says Steinfort. Picture: Channel 9

Topics:  editors picks kim jong-un north korea

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