Saturday, 26 March 2005

The North Korean Waiting Game

From the New York Times :
In interview after interview, they spoke of the huge shift in perspective they experienced upon entering China. "When I lived in Korea, I never thought my leaders were bad," said one woman in her 50's, a farmer who had brought her grown daughter to Yanji recently from her home not far from the other side of the border for treatment of an intestinal ailment. "When I got here, I learned that Chinese can travel wherever they want in the world as long as they have the money. I learned that South Korea is far richer, even than China."

"If we are so poor," she continued, "it must be because of Kim Jong Il's mistakes," she said referring to North Korea's leader. The woman said her daughter had decided to stay in China, but that she would soon return home, after illegally earning money doing piecework for a factory here.

North Korea's oppressive control of its citizens through policing and propaganda could be felt through the words of another woman. "Until the end of the 1980's, we were convinced we were the greatest country on earth, and in fact, many people still believe this," the woman said. "We've always been taught that other countries are poorer than we are. They say that South Korea is full of beggars and that people can't afford even to send their children to school."

This woman, a rural dweller in her early 40's, said she had never heard anyone blame Mr. Kim for her country's problems. On the contrary, he was "sincerely adored," she insisted, because of an all-pervasive personality cult. "If I had ever had a chance to meet him face to face, I would have been moved to tears," she said. "We really believed that wherever he went, flowers bloomed. And if he or some other high official arrived in our area and said he needed my daughter, well, we would have been honored."

Asked how they felt now, after having seen some of the outside world, each person interviewed said his or her illusions about North Korea had been shattered. "There is no way I can believe my government again," said one person who had been in China only a few weeks. "They spend all their time celebrating the leaders. There is one thing I have understood in China, and that is, as long as there is no freedom, we will never get richer."
The days of the DPRK are numbered, and the quantity is dictated (so to speak) by the cross-border flow of information.

The problem with dealing with North Korea by military means is that the vast majority of its citizens are genuinely convinced that they are living in a "People's Paradise", while the rest of the world is in a state of poverty and barbarism.

State media can show, for example, that of the millions of people in the USA, almost none of them have water buffalos for ploughing - and most don't even have a small vegetable garden.

The border with South Korea is as close to hermetically sealed as it's possible to be. But the border with China has always been more porous. With the expansion of the Chinese economy, the North Koreans along the Yalu now have an opportunity to make comparisons.

Because of the restrictions on travel within North Korea, it will take some time for the information to flow throughout the rest of the country. I can't say whether it will be weeks, months, years or decades. But flow it will, and possibly sooner than we expect. The question is, will the Juche Nomenklatura go out with a whimper, or a bang?

From CBC :
North Korea is ready to go to war with the United States over the North Korean nuclear program, a Thai newspaper quoted a North Korean envoy saying Friday.

From the Korean Herald :
KT Corp., South Korea's largest telecom provider, reached an agreement with North Korean authorities yesterday to set up a fixed-line telephone network within the Gaeseong industrial complex, located just north of the inter-Korean border.

The company expects to start telephone and fax services May 31. That will allow for direct, cross-border telephone calls from either side. However, telephone calls made from Gaeseong will be limited to South Korea and other places within the industrial complex.

From the China Post :
The countless public executions Park Kwang Il saw growing up in North Korea are still vivid in his mind, from the stones stuffed in the mouths of the condemned to halt their cries against the regime to the crack of the three deadly shots ending their lives.
Park said that public executions, staged before entire villages, were common in the North -- whose Stalinist government clutches to power by keeping its people in constant fear of the consequences of questioning the regime.

A condemned prisoner, already brutally beaten up, is blindfolded and tied to a pole, Park said. His mouth is stuffed with a stone to prevent him from denouncing Kim Jong Il's regime.

The firing squad usually fires at least three shots -- at the neck, waist and ankle, he said. The dead prisoner is then wrapped with a piece of cloth before being driven away.

The meeting at parliament was organized by the main opposition Grand National Party, which has criticized the current government's policy of engaging with North Korea to convince it to reform.

"North Korea's human rights problem is not just the problem of the Korean people, but the whole world," said Park Geun-hye, head of the party. "We can no longer just sit and watch this kind of cruelty continue in the North."
The trouble is, we not just can, but will. What alternative is there? But let us not forget the cost of this "waiting game", nor shrink from the first opportunity that comes along to end it. Because some people need reminding.

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