Korea: We're All Right, Starving In The Dark

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October 3, 2009: There is growing unrest among the ruling classes of North Korea over who will control, and tax, the growing markets that are tolerated (technically, they are illegal) throughout the country. Despite the markets, epic fuel shortages are expected this Winter, with power plants shut down more frequently, and wood harder to get. This will increase prices in the markets, and the families that have their hooks into the market vendors, will collect larger fees (for protection from the police.)

South Korean police are cracking down on individuals and groups that provide false documents for draft dodgers. Conscription is unpopular among young South Koreans, and enforcement of the conscription laws has usually been lax. But of late, this has changed, even though South Korea is working to end conscription. But the draft dodgers are unpopular, since most young men do serve.

North Korea has rejected a South Korean offer of a deal to settle their differences. South Korea does not believe the six nation  (China, Japan, the two Koreas, Russia and the United States) talks will accomplish anything, because this approach simply seeks to bribe North Korea to abandon its nuclear weapons, which the North Koreans have repeatedly demonstrated they will not give up. The South Koreans proposed providing economic and military security for the bankrupt and ineptly governed north, if the north would get rid of their nukes and ballistic missiles. The north replied that this proposal was not worthy of consideration. The northerners prefer to haggle for bribes, and then renege on their side of the deal. This has worked so often in the past, why give it up?

Meanwhile, a third of the population in North Korea goes hungry, and this years corn crop has failed (because of drought and lack of fertilizer). About two-thirds of North Koreans depend on corn (maize) as their primary food. But this year's crop is the worst in twelve years. At the same time, Kim Jong Il is insisting that North Koreans are better fed and dressed than ever, and that he is embarking on a beutification program to improve how the urban areas look. Kim rarely, if ever, sees how  most North Koreans live. Kim himself resides in a neighborhood of palatial compounds belonging to the senior national leadership. No hunger there. But, in fact, the economy is collapsing. The recently concluded "150 Day Battle" program, that put hundreds of thousands of urban people on the farms, in a vain attempt to save the harvest, failed. Factories and construction projects are still stalled because of a lack of components or building materials. So the government has declared a "100 Day Battle," and told the urban "volunteers" to just stay on the farms (where they can more effectively scrounge for food, and not disturb the people remaining in the cities, with the sight of more starving people.)

Escapes from North Korea are increasing. Most of the 17,000 people who have gotten out of the north since 1953, have done so in the last few years. Sometimes there are as many as six successful escapes a month. The most recent escape was by boat, carrying eleven people (five men, six women, nine from the same family) off the east coast. The growing number of escapes is another side effect of the markets the government has allowed in the last decade. This legalized, and greatly expanded, the illegal black market that had been around for decades. It meant that many poor families suddenly had lots of money (by North Korean standards), which enabled them to buy boats, with motors, and bribe the coast guard, and quickly move down the coast for a hundred or so kilometers, to South Korea. While this is more dangerous, and expensive, than just bribing the guards at the Chinese border, it gets you to a safe and prosperous place.  China remains a dangerous (for illegal Korean migrants) and less prosperous place.

September 26, 2009: The new North Korean constitution has removed the word "communism", and replaced it with "socialist". The North Koreans explained that change as recognition that a one class society was not now possible, and that "socialism" better justified the economic changes (more markets) of the last decade. The new constitution also made it clear that Kim Jong Il was the supreme leader, and could hold that job as long as he wanted to.

September 17, 2009: For three days in a row, North Korean fishing boats crossed the border for three or four hours, until South Korean patrol boats arrived. This sort of behavior risks having the boats and crews seized, which, in turn, often results in the families of the sailors getting put in labor camps. Apparently, the North Korean boats were under a lot of pressure to meet their quotas for a major, five month economic plan (which, overall, was a failure.)

September 15, 2009: In addition to a military Cyber War unit, South Korea is forming a cyber police force to help protect commercial and government organizations from hackers. The new organization will be part of the National Intelligence Service (South Korea's CIA) and will hire 3,000 Internet security experts. These agents will go work with victims of Internet crime, coordinating the use of other government agencies to catch the hackers, and develop improved security.

 

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