Korea: Summary Justice

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April 25,2008: In the north, crime is become so rampant that police have been allowed to summarily execute criminals. The jails and prison camps are full, and too many guards are ready to take bribes. Theft is growing. This includes things like stealing the spikes used to secure railroad ties. The market for scrap metal is booming in China. But stealing railroad spikes has caused several accidents, and over a hundred deaths. These thefts merely add to the problems the railroads have with two decades of poor maintenance (no money for supplies.)

China has eased up on aid to North Korea, mainly to try and reduce the number of desperate North Korean crossing the border. The nightmare scenario for China is a flood of North Korean refugees (as in millions, rather than the current thousands). But the impasse over North Korea's nuclear program has halted most foreign food aid, and the government has apparently stopped all food distribution this month (except to the military). Starvation is returning to mid-1990s levels, when the famine that killed two million people began.

North Korea still refuses to abide by last year's deal (shut down its nuclear weapons program in return for food and energy aid). Starvation is now more widespread in the north because the nuclear weapons deal food aid has not arrived, and world rice prices have doubled in the past year. North Korea wants to keep its nukes and still get the food and oil promised if the nuclear weapons program was shut down. Naturally, the five other nations (China, United States, Russia, South Korea, Japan) involved want the original agreement fulfilled. But the North Koreans refuse. North Korea has admitted that it produced 65 pounds of plutonium, and used about a quarter of that for its first nuclear weapons test.

The government is distributing less rice to North Korean government officials for over a month now, and the bureaucrats have responded by taking second jobs in the private economy. But that sort of free enterprise, which has been increasingly legal over the last decade, is being outlawed again. The government is concerned that people getting rich in the free market segment of the economy are anti-government, and are providing a base for a political force that could overthrow the government. People in this free market economy are doing well, but they are breaking many laws to do it. For example, there is a big market for home made booze, and illegal drugs. There is also prostitution and gambling. The government has long had a monopoly on such vice, which was only available to senior officials.

North Korea is particularly upset that conservatives have won recent presidential and legislature elections in the south. Because of this, South Korea is taking a harder line with the north. Food aid is being held back, and fewer concessions will be forthcoming. To make matters worse, the U.S. released videos showing North Korean technicians working at the Syrian nuclear facility bombed by the Israelis last September. North Korea responded by threatening to use its armed forces. But North Korean troops and their equipment are in a bad state, and the generals are less sure that the soldiers would obey if ordered to attack South Korea.

 

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