Monday, April 15, 2013

NoKo Heave Ho


Could Juche jazzed up NoKo have placed herself in the unenviable position of running out of friends?
One unlikely benefit of the North Korea crisis is that the world may be getting fed up with the country's pugnacious young leader, Kim Jong Un. In his belligerent talk of war, Kim appears to have crossed a line, upsetting traditional allies such as China and Russia as well as Great Satan and South Korea.

Time to contemplate regime change!
All of North Korea’s most destructive policies -- the nuclear and missile programs, the unwillingness to reform, the determined efforts to maintain a police state, the penchant for fomenting regional tensions -- are designed to keep the regime afloat. The only way to alter North Korea’s behavior is to change the nature of the regime. The question is how.

North Korean propagandists face a bigger challenge. They have to explain the stunning prosperity of South Korea -- a country populated by members of the same ethnic group, who share the same language and culture as the destitute inhabitants of the North. The more that knowledge about the fabulous success of South Korea spreads among ordinary North Koreans, the less tenable the status quo will become.

Three channels can be exploited to provide the North Korean populace with unauthorized information about the outside world. First, academic, cultural and other interpersonal exchanges, endorsed by North Korean authorities, will open the gates to potentially dangerous knowledge. Conservatives in Washington, Seoul and elsewhere may question the value of these exchanges, and no doubt the top functionaries in Pyongyang and their spoiled children will be the first to take advantage of overseas study trips or international student exchanges. Yet these are exactly the type of people who matter most. Changes to the North Korean system are most likely to be initiated by well-informed and disillusioned members of the elite

Apart from academic exchanges, one should encourage all activities that create an environment conducive to contact between North Koreans and foreigners (and especially between North and South Koreans). This is the major reason why the Kaesong Industrial Zone -- recently suspended by the North -- was actually a very good idea: Projects on which North and South Koreans work together are bound to produce many situations that involve uncontrolled and unscripted exchanges between the two peoples.  

Additionally, for the first time in decades, it is becoming possible to deliver unauthorized knowledge directly to North Koreans. DvD players are common now in the North, and even computers are not unheard of anymore. Tunable radios, while still technically illegal, have been smuggled into the country in growing quantities. The information blockade can now be penetrated, and the North Korean public seems to be more receptive to critical messages. 

New technologies -- particularly the VCD/DVD players that have continued to spread inside North Korea -- are also creating opportunities. It is now possible to produce visual material -- essentially, documentaries -- specifically designed for North Korean audiences. Books, too, can now be easily scanned and converted into text files. Hundreds of such files can easily fit into one USB drive or DVD disk. In the 1970s, it would have taken years of typewriting (or days of photocopying) to reproduce such a large volume of text; now the job can be done within minutes. A digital book is also easier to hide or destroy than its paper equivalent. That means even one copy of a book (or rather a collection of books, a “digital library”), once smuggled across the border, can proliferate inside North Korea. 

By their very nature, books will be more appealing to intellectuals and the lower reaches of the elite. Such scanned materials might thus include textbooks on major social subjects and humanities, as well as purely technical material (and special attention should be given to textbooks and manuals dealing with computers). It is important to introduce books that have different, even mutually exclusive, opinions; North Koreans should not be subjected to syrupy propaganda and anti-communist harangues. Instead, they must become accustomed to intellectual differences and arguments. They should read what is written by the left and right, zealous antiglobalists and stubborn libertarians alike. They should be exposed to the modern world, with all its complexity and uncertainty. 

Finally, the world shouldn’t overlook the potential of those North Koreans who have made it out of the country. North Korean refugees are very different from those Eastern Europeans who fled to the West during the Cold War. To start with, they cannot be plausibly described as “defectors” since most of them were driven away from the North by starvation or other nonpolitical factors. Furthermore, Eastern European and Soviet defectors were well-educated, while North Korean refugees are largely farmers and manual workers. 

Still, a small but not insignificant community of well- educated refugees has now built up in South Korea. Contrary to what is often assumed, they are not actively supported by the South Korean state; one shouldn’t be surprised by the sight of a former North Korean engineer working as a pizza deliveryman. Support systems and jobs for such people are crucial. For younger refugees, scholarships for master’s and doctoral studies are of special importance, since currently the government only pays for their undergraduate education. 

We need to train more former North Koreans to become professionals -- construction engineers, accountants, scientists, water-treatment specialists, and doctors. Nowadays, refugees stay in touch with their families and friends back in North Korea, thanks to Chinese mobile phones and a network of “brokers” who deal with people smuggling, money transfers, and letter exchanges. A refugee who has become, say, an accountant, is likely to channel back to the North information of much greater importance and impact than one who makes a living by waiting tables. 

When the collapse or transformation of North Korea finally comes, some of these refugee intellectuals will probably go back to their native land. Some of them will become political and social activists, while many more will apply their technical skills in the reemerging North Korean economy. They will play a major role as educators and instructors, teaching North Koreans how things are done in the South and, broadly speaking, in the modern world. Investing in them now is one way to help speed that day along. 

Pic -  “The Real North Korea: Life and Politics in the Failed Stalinist Utopia"