What draws American students to North Korean university

SEOUL: Like many other Americans who came to teach at the foreign-funded Pyongyang University of Science and Technology (PUST), Kim Hak Song was a Christian missionary who raised money from a church to come to North Korea.
Kim had been running PUST’s experimental farm before he was detained on Saturday, travelling by train from Pyongyang to China’s border town of Dandong, PUST’s chancellor and co-founder Chan-mo Park.
The university, which is open about its Christian affiliation, says its sole mission is to help North Korea’s future elite learn the skills to modernise the isolated country and engage with the outside world.
Former teachers say the faculty is careful to avoid anything that looks like missionary work.
The university attracts a steady stream of American Christians, despite North Korea’s history of handing down long sentences with hard labour to missionaries accused of various transgressions.
North Korea has in the past used detainees to extract concessions, including high-profile visits from the United States, which has no formal diplomatic relations with North Korea.
Chancellor Park said roughly 60 US citizens come to PUST each semester, but now “there’s less than that”.
North Korea’s official news agency KCNA said Kim was detained for “hostile acts”, without elaborating.
Tony Kim, another professor who worked at PUST, was arrested two weeks earlier for a similar reason.
KCNA said it was its sovereign right to “ruthlessly punish” US citizens it has detained for crimes against the state, saying US media’s description of such arrests as a bargaining ploy was “pure ignorance”.
“Recent Americans detained are being interrogated by relevant legal authorities for criminal acts against the Republic,” KCNA said, without mentioning the two men by name.
“It is an exercise of the legitimate right of a sovereign state to deal with the criminals according to its law…
Founded by Korean-American evangelical Christian James Kim, PUST spends roughly $2 million annually on operating expenses, the school said in a statement.
Much of it comes from the Korean diaspora in the United States, along with churches in South Korea and private foundations and philanthropists.
PUST has 500 undergraduate students and 60 graduate students in mostly three departments — electronic and computer engineering, international finance and management and agriculture and life sciences.
The school recruits many of its teachers from Korean churches and Christian colleges in the United States.
Faculty receive no income or stipends from the university, but do get housing and cafeteria meals.
PUST has a sister institution across the border in northern China called the Yanbian University of Science and Technology (YUST). — Reuters