Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Ask a Korean! News: Assorted North Korean News

There are a lot of news about North Korea recently that suggest the country is rotting to its core. Consider:

- There are reports that in order to allay the hunger from not receiving enough food, North Korean soldiers are eating salt as a snack. (Yes, salt. You read that correctly.) North Korea is collecting food for the military directly from civilian, which has happened only twice in the last 20 years.

- There is a massive crackdown on the widespread use of hallucinogenic drugs, led by none other than the heir apparent Kim Jong-Un. There have been crackdowns on drugs in the past, but this time involves the Security Bureau and the military -- which suggests that North Korean regime considers the drug problem to be a regime-stability issue.

Is North Korea coming to the brink? The Korean actually is not sure. His guess is that North Korea probably was in an equally bad shape during the massive famine in the 1990s, except there is more information available this time thanks to a large number of defectors, the Internet and cell phones. But of course, more information in itself could lead to regime destabilization. No matter how it turns out, we sure are living in interesting times.

Got a question or a comment for the Korean? Email away at askakorean@gmail.com.


  1. I also wonder if North Korea is on the brink. If defector and underground journalistic sources are to be trusted, than certainly many of the indicators for a pre-revolutionary or revolutionary situation are there: rapidly rising food prices (especially staple foods), growing discontent among the elite and military, growing discontent among the populace, high unemployment, rapidly deteriorating social conditions, and growing awareness of the outside world. The recent spate of insincere “peace” offerings were clearly designed to fish for any economic aid available and wreak of desperation.

    What’s missing, however, is any semblance of a civil society to organize and any kind of opposition leadership. There’s also the all-pervasive security net which atomizes society and scares people out of sharing their true thoughts and feelings.

    In the past, North Koreans have been more likely to “revolt with their feet” (i.e. defect) than to resort to civil disobedience. Then again, as we just saw in Tunisia, all it takes is a single spark and a lethargic government reaction to get the ball rolling. Indeed, the pressure is building, and the spark could come at anytime. The question is: is the gas in the North Korean pressure-cooker inert or highly reactive?

  2. But I think the essential difference between Tunisia and North Korea is that Tunisians have access to the internet and had a frame of reference that North Koreans lack.

    North Koreans have no internet; no [legal] access to foreign TV or radio broadcasts and aren't allowed to speak to foreigners except under very limited circumstances. So there is a huge information vacuum. Most DPRK citizens may actually believe that the rest of the world isn't much better off than they are, so it isn't worth the risk to revolt.

    The DPRK also uses the threat of an American sanctions and an attack as a scapegoat (which the U.S. plays into through its rhetoric); treats the military relatively well and only allows the most loyal citizens to live in Pyongyang.

    I think this has bought them a measure of stability that other regimes lack. The tipping point may be a change in Chinese policy toward North Korea. If the Wikileaks memos are accurate, the Chinese are starting to rethink their relationship with North Korea but fear that a meltdown in the DPRK would lead to a mass exodus of people across its border.

  3. I think what is needed is massive influx of South Korean capital into North Korea. I know some people say that that would only fall into what the ruling regime wants. But by building factories and hiring workers in North Korea instead of in China and SE Asia, you can achieve 2 crucial objectives: 1. Raising the standard of living for North Korean workers 2. Indirectly educating North Korean populace.

    If North Korea implodes and China is forced to intervene, any hope of reunification within our lifetime will be in serious jeopardy.

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