Korea: Bet Your Life


January 4, 2006: The million or so Communist party members and their henchmen in North Korea, who run the place, and prosper, or a least survive, because of that, have apparently decided to keep the lid on, no matter what. While the rules have been changed to allow for more entrepreneurial activity, North Korea is still very much a police state. And the new market economy rules have cut millions of North Koreans off from a steady supply of food. Famine and malnutrition are still common in many parts of the country. The security police still must terrorize people and keep the labor camps full. And all this still works. The North Korean leadership are betting their lives on it continuing to work. For another year, at least.

January 3, 2006: North Korea refuses to resume disarmament negotiations unless the U.S. lifts sanctions imposed last September. The U.S. shut down American access to several North Korean enterprises because the North Koreans were distributing counterfeit American currency, and selling weapons, via these organizations. The North Koreans desperately need the money they get from these activities, as their most lucrative exports have long been illegal goods and services. The situation has gotten more desperate as one of the best sources of cash, 600,000 ethnic Koreans living in Japan, have become less generous. The Japanese Koreans long viewed North Korea as some kind of fictional paradise, especially because of North Koreas hostility to Japan. While the Koreans in Japan prospered (at least compared to Koreans in North Korea), they also continued to suffer discrimination from Japanese. But as word of the great North Korean famine of the 1990s leaked out, many Koreans in Japan lost faith in their dreams. North Korea was no paradise, no promised land. Some moved to South Korea, others got more comfortable with Japanese culture, and everyone was less willing to contribute cash to the cause up north.

January 1, 2006: North Korea will no longer accept UN food aid. The UN insisted that distribution be supervised, which made it difficult to divert food to the army, or selling it. Last year, the UN program provided 300,000 tons of food, enough to feed about ten percent of the population. The UN estimates that about a quarter of the children in North Korea are malnourished. North Korea would rather people go hungry, than suffer a few dozen UN food inspectors wandering around the country. The reports from these inspectors have provided many embarrassing details about how bad life is in North Korea. A better harvest last year, and unrestricted food shipments from China and South Korea lead the North Korean government to believe they can do without the UN food.

December 28, 2005: For the first time in 60 years, there was a direct phone connection between north and south Korea. The line was installed across the DMZ for the use by businessmen and government officials. This is more symbolic than practical, as cell phones have made it possible to call people in North Korea, much to the chagrin of the North Korean government.


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