Korea: More Embarrassing Than Intimidating

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November 18, 2011: Over the last year, North Korea has ordered its Workers Party (a nationalist-socialist operation that is sometimes called communist) to work harder to eliminate individualism, the black market, the desire to earn money, paying attention to foreign media and women workers quitting their state controlled jobs to work in illegal markets. The government also wants a halt to the practice of state owned factories and farms producing goods for the black market. This will be difficult, as many leaders of the Workers Party are involved in making money off the black market, or extorting cash from those who are operating in the unofficial economy. The lavish party elite lifestyle, thanks to the Internet and Google Earth, is no longer a secret and North Koreans eagerly digested this information over the last few years. So exhortations for abandoning the black market and efforts to get rich have little effect.

Another truth that has spread throughout the north is that South Korea is one of the wealthiest nations in the world, with a per-capita GDP equal to the average for the European Union. In other words, in East Asia, South Korea is second only to Japan in personal wealth. This inspires North Koreans to ignore their Workers Party and the increasing amount of anti-South Korea propaganda. For example, a crackdown on South Korean made goods led to the custom of removing "Made in South Korea" tags and inscriptions from South Korean items, and selling them anyway. Despite the pressure from above, local police will ignore (or only demand a small bribe for) the sale of untagged South Korean goods.

While North Korean officials go to South Korea and beg for a resumption of food aid, in North Korea the government calls for South Korea to pay compensation for losses suffered when it cut aid to the north last year because of North Korean attacks on the south. While this sounds absurd, it makes sense to the twisted logic so popular in the north.

The growing theft of food by North Korean army units has led to public punishment (a fine and verbal chastisement) of unit commanders. The government cannot afford to punish army commanders any more severely, because ultimately the army is what keeps the Workers Party in power. The troops are not being ignored, with political education (pro-government lectures and propaganda activities) for the troops recently increased 58 percent (to 19 hours a week).

The North Korean government is also keen to maintain the morale and loyalty of the senior officials. Since most of these people, and their staffs, are in the capital (Pyongyang) an increasing portion of national economic resources are spent in the capital. Pyongyang has always been a showcase city, but in the last few years an even greater portion of the shrinking economic pie has gone to the capital. This is causing growing resentment around the country, especially among officials running the provinces. Even with private generators, the increasing number of electrical blackouts is demoralizing, demeaning and annoying.

A year ago, the North Korean government officially ordered the media and propaganda specialists to expose all North Koreans to an increased amount of pro-war exhortations. This was apparently to justify the two major attacks on South Korea last year (the sinking of a corvette and firing artillery at a South Korean island). Apparently, the North Korean leadership feared a military response from South Korea, and wanted to ensure that their people would get behind defending the North Korean government. Refugees have brought news, and some documents, of these orders to Workers Party officials.

The North Korean government is also working to maintain morale as the population again goes through a major food shortage, similar to the one of the 1990s. The few reliable security troops are working on the Chinese border, finding, arresting and very publicly punishing border guards (who, as a result, are more likely to flee to China). But it's still the case that if you can pay a big enough bribe, you can cross the border without any problems. China is also cracking down on border security, mainly seeking to halt the flow of illegal drugs and armed defectors (from the border guards, police or the military) from North Korea. Illegal migrants from North Korea are a major source of crime along the border.

In the year since North Korea artillery fired on a South Korean island, the north has built twenty more fortified positions for guns, near the positions of the guns that fired last year. Both north and south has reinforced their land, air and naval forces off the west coast, near the island fired on last year. This month, existing North Korea costal artillery in this area has held firing exercises, with the shells falling into North Korean waters.

Greece revealed that two years ago they seized a shipment of 14,000 North Korean chemical warfare protective suits, apparently headed for Syria.

November 16, 2011: North Korea test fired some two ton air-launched anti-ship missiles. These missiles were based on the 1950s era Russian 4K40/Styx/HY-1 design. North Korea launches them from equally elderly Il-28 twin-engine bombers. This is a North Korean attempt at saber-rattling, but the saber is old, dull and rusty. In a way, it’s more embarrassing than intimidating.

November 15, 2011: North Korea is again encouraging foreign investment. Attractive terms are offered, but this has caused some serious problems. North Korea has sold mining and manufacturing opportunities that it had already sold some years ago. The companies (some of them Chinese) who find that their North Korean assets have been sold to other foreign investors have been stonewalled by North Korea authorities. This does not make North Korea an attractive investment.

November 8, 2011: South Korea has agreed to resume medical aid to North Korean hospitals. This, along with all other South Korea aid, was halted in early 2010 after a North Korean submarine sunk a South Korean warship.

 

 

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