Korea: Let's Just Buy The Place

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May 4, 2007: North Korea wants to discuss a wide range of military disarmament issues with South Korea. This is apparently because the North Korean armed forces have been falling apart for some years now. At the same time, South Korea is holding back on some major weapons procurement projects, because of the rapid decline of their most likely adversary; North Korea, and the possibility that the expensive new gear won't be needed.

May 1, 2007: The North Korean government is having a hard time controlling the Chinese border. The customs police who man the crossings have become a powerful "union," because of the large volume of bribes. You can get rich by holding a customs police job for a few years. As a result, you have to pay a large bribe just to get the job. Government attempts to regain control have been rebuffed by the large number of officials who are sharing in the payoffs.

April 30, 2007: North Korea is not happy with increasing trade sanctions by Japan. So, in retaliation, the government has declared that all Japanese goods must be removed from the capital, and major cities, within three years. This means no Japanese cars, appliances, food products and, in general, anything that would be seen in public. The shortage of Japanese luxury goods is a big deal with the wealthy party and military elite, because Japanese cigarettes are particularly popular, and addictive. Most cigarettes cost about fifty cents a pack, while Japanese brands usually cost nearly four dollars. Now you can't get the Japanese stuff at any price, and lot of well off North Koreans are not happy. The average monthly wage in North Korea is a little over one dollar, plus food, shelter and other goods provided by the state at nominal prices. For example, rice costs about twelve cents a pound on the open market, but less than two cents a pound as part of your government ration. To survive, you have to make something on the side. Those who don't, are starving to death.

April 25, 2007: North Korea has been removed from the U.S. arms dealer blacklist. North Korea got on the list for supplying Syria and Iran with weapons.

April 19, 2007: You can get an idea of the degree of control in North Korea by the fact that today a policeman was stabbed by two men, who then stole the cops pistol and fled. This led to a nationwide alert and increased security along the Chinese border. It was a big deal. The stabbing was apparently all about a dispute over bribes the policeman was demanding. South Koreans who do business in the north, joke that soon they will just be able to buy North Korea, via bribes to all the officials who are for sale.

 

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