October 18, 2005


North Korea's reality gap (Donald Kirk, 10/19/05, The Christian Science Monitor)

If the [Kaesong industrial zone] symbolizes the future, however, the present reality - as seen by members of the Western diplomatic and aid community in the capital Pyongyang and some South Koreans who travel here - is altogether different. The economy, they say, shows no sign of improving as the government imposes ever more draconian steps to snuff out budding economic freedom.

A Western resident, requesting anonymity, cites a series of measures for reimposing tighter controls following attempts at reform. The growing economic clout of traders, says the Westerner, has frightened the political elite here, prompting the backlash. [...]

[F]oreigners are startled by how little has changed visually.

"It's worse than it was in 1979," says Bradley Martin, who visited Pyongyang at that time as a reporter and has recently authored a book, "Under the Loving Care of the Fatherly Leader," detailing the regime's tortuous history. "At that time you had a lot of mechanization. They had rice planting machines and electrical tractors."

Now, says Mr. Martin, on the tour bus as it rolls down a nearly empty highway between hills stripped of growth by villagers desperate for fuel and food, the process of mechanization "has been reversed."

Martin marvels over the regime's success in shielding itself from protest from within. "Indoctrination here is the strongest the world has known," he says.

Now, say foreigners with embassies and aid groups here, Kim Jong Il is intensifying the pressure after replacing the head of internal security, one of the most powerful positions.

New measures include a crackdown on communications that began by outlawing cellphones. Next, telephone networks were cut so foreigners can only dial other foreigners - and have to get Koreans to dial Koreans. Then too, Koreans are banned from driving on Sundays and evenings to discourage socializing.

Here in Kaesong, the sight of a cluster of South Korean factories pales beside the mighty industry that dominates South Korea.

North Koreans, Vietnamese and Cubans have every right to be bitter at us for leaving them behind.

Posted by Orrin Judd at October 18, 2005 10:36 PM

They had "electrical tractors"? Never heard of such a thing.

Posted by: PapayaSF at October 19, 2005 12:30 AM

Assuming that they're similar to the ones that South Koreans use, they're not like American industrial farm tractors, they're what we'd call "lawn tractors".

Posted by: Michael Herdegen [TypeKey Profile Page] at October 19, 2005 5:48 AM

At least they don't have a Patriot Act.

Posted by: Genecis at October 19, 2005 7:28 AM

But they do have universal health care.

Posted by: MB at October 19, 2005 7:54 AM

Noam Chomsky thinks they live in a just society.

Maybe Cindy Sheehan does, too.

Posted by: jim hamlen at October 19, 2005 10:32 AM

N. Korea may be too far gone.

If you live in such a society long enough, the sturcture of your brain probably changes.

I've opined (with some scientific & economic data to back it up) that imposed socialism & communism can cause an entire population to become "menatally ill" (for lack of a better term)

If we freed NK tomorrow, what would they do? Obviously, we would have our anecdotes of the success stories.

On my recent trip to Germany, the reigning sentiment of Westerners was to rebuild the old border.

They are "unreformable." They are dragging the west Germans down with them. IF the Germans are that bad, just imagine freed N. Koreans.

This isn't to argue that we ignore them. Let's just find a way to saddle the Chinese with the rehab. And boy will there be rehab.

Posted by: Bruno at October 19, 2005 11:52 AM