Korea: The Firing Squad Game

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October 4, 2007: The negotiations over the aid North Korea is to receive, in return for shutting down the North Korean nuclear weapons program, is hung up on the issue of how much the north will open its economy to the south. North Korea wants food and fuel, and lots of it. South Korea wants more trade, not just endless shipments of charity to the north. But the north does not want to reform the economy, as China has urged, because this risks making more people wealthy, and able to find out how much the North Korean people have been screwed over by the communists during the last sixty years. This knowledge tends to create hatred for the government, and drives some to violent resistance. The North Korean government fears an uprising, like those that brought down the communist governments in East Europe two decades ago. South Korea has twice the population of the north, but 20 times the GDP. The south flourishes while the north starves, literally. As more northerners discover this, they become more difficult to control.

The North Korean government is cracking down on corruption, and other "anti-state" behavior. This includes the emergence of some bizarre children's games. In one of them, the kids imitate funerals. It is believed this arose during the 1990s, when so many people were dying of starvation, and there were so many funerals, that kids, as kids are wont to do, adopted the funeral practices of their elders as a form of play. Kids could also be seen playing "firing squad." This apparently developed from kids getting to see frequent public executions of "enemies of the people." The government wants to stamp out these morbid, and unnerving, practices, and has threatened parents with punishment if they do not maintain better control over their kids. More serious sanctions have been administered to those who run trading companies that deal with China. The North Korean trading officials had been keeping two sets of books, the one the government was shown listed much lower prices for North Korean goods sold to China. The bureaucrats running the government approved trading companies kept the difference between the low price and the real price. But many of these guys could nor resist spending their profits, building mansions and buying foreign cars. This attracted the attention of the police. At first, the cops were put off with bribes. But this year, a new bunch of anti-corruption police arrived in the towns along the Chinese border. Investigations and executions (of police and trading officials) followed.

This crackdown has also shut down a lot of traffic from China, including food. The border guards tell Chinese traders that the government will have to relent, because the lack of Chinese food entering North Korea has meant rising prices and growing discontent. The government risks violent resistance if the crackdown on smuggling and corruption along the border continues. At least that's the way the North Korean border guards see it. The Chinese merchants shrug their shoulders, having long since given up trying to understand what is going on in North Korea. The Chinese regard the North Koreans as nuts, although most North Koreans believe the accusation of madness only applies to their government and the armed thugs that keep it in power.

The south continues to press the north to distribute the food aid fairly. It is believed that much of the food aid is sent to the military, or sold to China for hard currency.

 

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