Korea: The House Of Cards

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October 7, 2011: Most of the senior leadership of North Pyongan Province has been dismissed. This took place in northwestern North Korea, along the Chinese border, an area where the corruption is worst. The Korean Workers' Party (KWP) runs North Korea. Originally communist, the KWP has evolved into a nationalist-socialist party ruled by a hereditary leadership. Sort of like a combination of the worst aspects of Nazi Germany and Stalin's Soviet Union. Both of these classic police states were corrupt, and the Soviet Union eventually died from that. This is what's happening to North Korea, and the KWP leaders, especially the Kim family, are desperately trying to reverse the rot. Arresting the senior KPW leadership in a province is scary, because there are only nine of them (plus two large cities that are ruled like provinces). North Pyongan Province contains 12 percent of the national population, and an even larger portion of GDP. It is the site of most trade with China, and most smuggling as well. Aside from shock, many North Koreans see this crackdown as a way of shaking up the party establishment and making them more willing to accept the young heir, Kim Jong Un, as the true ruler when his father, Kim Jong Il dies.

There have been other public crackdowns on corruption. For example, police recently were ordered to find and punish people openly wearing Western, especially South Korean, clothing. The offenders are mostly the children of party and government officials. The message was clear, that times were hard and everyone was expected to look the part (especially if they were well off). In addition, a new police unit was formed to search for DVDs containing foreign videos. DVDs of South Korean movies and TV programs are particularly popular, with everyone except the most senior members of the KPW.  

Meanwhile, Kim Jong Un, believed to be about 29 years old, is being built up by the propagandists. This is not going so well, as Kim Jong Un is no genius and no one believes he has any exceptional talent for anything. Apparently urged to be "active", his handlers are beginning to cringe when the "Youth Captain" (the official nickname) has an idea of his own. One recent disaster involved his order that a large neighborhood of Hyesan, on the Yalu river, have the roofs of all structures replaced with more presentable ones, of the same height. Kim Jong Un had noted that this section of Hyesan could be seen from China (across the 15 meter/47 foot wide river), and made North Korea look poor and ugly, and ordered the change. But he did not provide any money to pay for it, meaning that the poor people living in that riverside neighborhood had to. Those people who could not often found themselves in homes with the roof removed, waiting for building materials that will never come. Word of this mess has gotten all around the country, even though the state controlled media made no mention of it.

The government has upgraded the cell phone signal detection equipment used on the Chinese border, to identify users of illegal cell phones. Those who get caught get sent to labor camps, where you have a high probability of not leaving alive. The imminent prospect of death is a feature of North Korean life. The famine will hit hard this Winter. The government refuses to trade its nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles for food, a million or more North Koreans may die (from lack of food, heat and medical care) because of that.

China has been unwilling to provide enough additional food to prevent mass starvation. This is apparently because the Chinese also don't trust the North Korean leadership to get the food to the people that need it most. Instead, the Chinese fear the food will be sold to the markets, or dealers in China, to provide cash to buy consumer goods for the senior KWP leadership (to insure their continued loyalty.) China has some other problems with North Korea. A recent opinion survey showed that younger Chinese (particularly college students) had a more favorable attitude towards South Korea than North Korea. This is despite (or perhaps because of) decades of pro-North Korea propaganda. South Korean culture is also very popular in China, and knowledge of the mess in North Korea is no secret.

Chinese leaders are amazed at how long the dysfunctional North Korean leadership has survived. China saw that communism was a dead end, way back in the 1980s, and created a market economy to keep the nominally communist dictatorship alive. But the North Koreans refused to go that route, and instead created a nationalist police state based on propaganda and lies. Even though most North Koreans now know about the lies, the KPW is still in charge. But Chinese intelligence analysts warn that KPW control is weakening more than at any time in the past, and at an increasing rate. While the North Korea police state has survived for 66 years, it should be noted that the seemingly mighty Soviet Union lasted for 70 years, before collapsing like a house of cards.

The North Korean government is apparently ignoring the mass starvation, and undertaking to develop a rapidly growing market economy. This is what China has long urged, and it is now official policy. Foreign companies are being invited in, with the promise of opportunities and stability.  But the North Korean GDP is only about $25 billion (an estimate, because North Korea either won't say, or can't be trusted, when it comes to economic data). The current plan up north is for GDP to hit a trillion dollars (a thousand billion) in ten years. This is unlikely to happen.

October 2, 2011: In South Korea, air force generals admitted that, during military exercises three months ago, officers lost a copy of documents describing what the air force would do during a war with North Korea. This is not the first time air force officers have carelessly lost secret documents. Add this to the known North Korean success at stealing, or using spies and bribes to get military secrets, and South Korean politicians are angrily demanding that the generals improve their security.

 

 

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