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The man who labelled himself as “the only Australian living in North Korea” has been arrested this morning. Local authorities have no idea why.
“I’m the only Australian living in North Korea,” wrote student Alex Sigley, who has this morning been detained by the authorities in North Korea.
“The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade is providing consular assistance, in accordance with the Consular Services Charter, to the family of an Australian man who has been reported as being detained in North Korea,” a DFAT spokesman said.
Sigley, who runs tours for overseas visitors, as well as a frequent poster on social media, is currently missing.
According to the Australian Financial Review, “North Korea expert Marcus Noland, executive vice-president at the Peterson Institute for International Economics in Washington, said in a telephone interview that North Korea doesn’t normally detain people without justification.”
Exclusively gazing through Sigley’s posts, the infraction seems to be his documentation of the prosaic and the seemingly insignificant details of everyday North Korean life. Two days ago, he shared an image of a new hotel in Pyongyang. Prior to that, he snapped a building at the Kim Il-sung University.
According to a piece he wrote for The Guardian dated March 31, Sigley noted the average North Korean, painting them in empathetic tones, noting that “The interactions I had with these students really piqued my curiosity – they were completely at odds with the stereotypical view of a “brainwashed” people.”
Later, Sigley described his dormitory partner, “I shared a room for four months with a local student majoring in English. In most ways, he wasn’t too different from a typical bloke in his early 20s. An avid football fan, he loved Neymar and Messi, whom he followed alongside the April 25 Sports Club, a local Pyongyang team. He enjoyed the odd drink (and a more regular cigarette). He had a particularly keen interest in international politics, and dreamed of one day “working in the foreign ministry of a unified Korea”.”
Clearly, Sigley throwing back the veil could be a sticking point, as, in the same article, he notes the growing capitalism within the one-party state, noting that “There’s a fast food joint whose waitresses told me their food was “just like KFC”, and another that serves hamburgers and French fries. The burger was pretty close to McDonald’s, only with raw and not pickled cucumber slices. When it comes to shopping, imported goods include everything from Haribo gummy bears and New Zealand beef to Adidas sportswear and Dove body wash.”
Noland, in conversation with the AFR, played down the awkward timing of the detainment, with Scott Morrison set to meet Donald Trump in Osala tonight, which would be a precursor to Trump’s meeting with Seoul to discuss the North Korean situation, one that is slowly pushing toward peace. Noland believed the link was “purely speculative”, but noted that Sigley has value as a bargaining chip, stating that “One would think this plays to Trump’s fantasy. You dangle the hostage out there and make the release part of the deal for a meeting,” he said. “And Trump can portray himself as a man of action and friend and pall of the Australian people.”
This, of course, is speculation. However, with such limited information, one tends to jump to conclusions. Perhaps North Korea has taken umbrage with a Westerner exposing their society for financial gain, or perhaps he’s just a pawn in a much larger game. We don’t know. But, the final words should be Sigley’s, who noted in the conclusion of his piece, that “the fact that an Australian and a North Korean could happily share a room for four months does show that there’s a better way. We can get along.”
More to come.