Korea: Shape Up Or Starve

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April 4,2008: China and South Korea cut off food aid to North Korea last year. That led to free food distribution to be cut in the North Korean countryside last November. This was recently extended to the cities, including the capital. This is unheard of. Now people must rely on their own resources, and the markets, for their food. Everyone has a "job" in North Korea, but the pay is often less than what is needed to buy sufficient food to avoid malnutrition, or even starvation. The price of rice is now equal to about two weeks pay (for the lowest paid) per pound. A pound of rice is about 1700 calories. Do the math. People are getting sick and dying from this in the countryside, and this Summer, the death rate in the cities will rise as well. North Korea has been demanding resumption of food shipments from South Korea and China, but both of these nations are demanding nuclear disarmament and more economic reforms first. South Korea and China are out of patience with the government in North Korea. However, the main problem is a growing feud inside the North Korea government. The military faction wants to keep the nukes and use force to crack down on corruption and growing indiscipline within North Korea. Most Communist Party bureaucrats are keen to heed advice from South Korea and China, and reform the economy. The generals of the military and secret police fear this will lead to popular unrest. In addition to growing corruption within the government, more people are trying to get out of North Korea. There are 3,000 North Korean refugees living in South Korea, and they number arriving each week has gone from 30 to 75 recently. More than twice as money are getting out of North Korea, but it's difficult to get out of China to South Korea.

Throughout the North Korean government, everyone has been ordered to cut back. Years of Western actions against North Korean criminal activities, and access to the world banking system, have had a cumulative effect. North Korea is broke and getting broker. North Korea is still producing good quality counterfeit American currency (50s and 100s). This stuff is even used within North Korea.

Meanwhile, in the south, per-capital income has risen to $20,000 (in real dollars). That's more than twenty times what it is in the north. The two halves of Korea have become very different worlds. While South Korea has been improving its military over the last decade, North Korea has seen its equipment waste away. Currently, South Korea accounts for five percent of world weapons imports (versus 12 percent for China). Nations import high tech stuff they cannot make themselves. The rise in oil prices has hit the military, but only to the extent that South Korean fighter pilots fly 135 hours a year instead of 150 (and use flight simulators more). That's still ten times what North Korean pilots get. The North Korean generals threaten the south, but the threats are increasingly hollow. The North Korean military can still do a lot of damage in the south, but they cannot win. And the southerners are talking about war crimes trials for northern generals if the north ever attacks. Southern diplomats are being increasingly blunt with their northern counterparts, warning that the end is near, and preparations should be made. The basic advice is, shape up or starve.

 

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