Weird News from Korea

Nork Fowl to be Imported to South Korea,” Budaechigae, http://kimcheegi.blogs.com/budaechigae/2004/11/nork_fowl_to_be.html, 29 November 2004.

Cracks in North Korean ‘Stalinism’,” by Andrei Lankov, Asia Times, http://atimes.com/atimes/Korea/FL07Dg01.html, 7 December 2004.

Welcome to Capitalism, North Korean Comrades,” by Andrei Lankov, Asia Times, http://www.atimes.com/atimes/Korea/FL14Dg01.html, 14 December 2004.

North Korea Will Announce New Real Estate Trading Law Next Year,” The Dong-A Ilbo International, http://english.donga.com/srv/service.php3?bicode=060000&biid=2004121677018, 15 December 2004.

They Say Koreans are the ‘Irish of Asia,’ but…”,” by Robert Koehler, The Marmot’s Hole, http://blog.marmot.cc/archives/2004/12/15/they-say-the-koreans-are-the-irish-of-asia-but, 15 December 2004.

What is happening in North Korea?

From The Dong-A Ilbo International

North Korea is planning to announce a real estate law that partly allows individuals to sell their houses at will in the first half of next year, said a Beijing-based source Wednesday.

Since there has been an increasing number of illegal house trades among individuals after the North’s “economic adjustment policy” in July 2002, actions to legalize such trading are expected, added the source.

while in Asia Times

Women were especially prominent in the new small businesses. Many North Korean women were housewives or held less-demanding jobs than men. Their husbands continued to go to their factories, which had come to a standstill. The males received rationing coupons that were hardly worth the paper on which they were printed. But North Korean men still saw the situation as temporary and were afraid to lose the trappings of a proper state-sponsored job that for decades had been a condition for survival in their society. While men were waiting for resumption of “normal life”, whiling away their time in idle plants, the women embarked on frenetic business activity. Soon some of these women began to make sums that far exceeded their husbands’ wages.

The booming markets are not the only place for retail trade. A new service industry has risen from the ashes: private canteens, food stalls and inns operate near the markets. Even prostitution, completely eradicated around 1950, made a powerful comeback as desperate women were eager to sell sexual services to the newly rich merchants. Since no banking institution would serve private commercial operations, illegal money lenders appeared. In the late 1990s they would charge their borrowers monthly interests of 30-40%. This reflected very high risks: these lenders had virtually no protection against the state, criminals and, above all, bad debtors.

Either of these would make good fractions of North Korea’s economy freer than New York City.

North Korea is also interested in becoming “The Ireland of Asia”

The Chosun Ilbo reported Tuesday that a North Korean Foreign Ministry delegation was sent to Ireland in October to study the Emerald Isle’s remarkable transformation from the EU’s poor man to economic dynamo.

Though, as The Marmot points out, they may be apeing a pre-modern past. In the Potato Famine, Ireland was depopulated while absentee landlords exported food. The same thing is happening now in the Democratic People’s Republic:

So you can export poultry to the “traitorous fascist imperialistTM” south, but your own people eat grass, tree bark, and handouts from other countries:

The happiest conclusion is that North Korea’s economy is in a tailspin…

But collapse of the Soviet Union made clear that claims of self-sufficiency were unfounded. From 1991, the North Korean economy went into free fall. Throughout 1991-99, the gross national product (GNP) of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) nearly halved. The situation became unbearable in 1996, when the country was struck by a famine that took, by the best available estimates, about 600,000 lives. The famine could have been prevented by a Chinese-style agricultural reform, but this option was politically impossible: such a reform would undermine the government’s ability to control the populace.

The control on daily lives was lost anyway. What we have seen in North Korea over the past 10 years can be best described as collapse of what used to be rigid Stalinism from below. In the Soviet Union of the late 1950s and in China of the late 1970s, Stalinism-Maoism was dismantled from above, through a chain of deliberate reforms planned and implemented by the government. In North Korea the same thing happened, but the system disintegrated from below, despite weak and ineffectual attempts to keep it intact.

… with free information …

As a former citizen of a communist country, the Soviet Union, this analyst can confirm that Western radio propaganda broadcasts greatly contributed to the demise of the communist camp. But it seems that these days in North Korea most subversive information is spread largely in visual, video, not audio channels. The first VCRs turned up in the North around 1990, but for a decade they remained beyond the wildest expectations of the average North Korean.

The situation changed around 2000 when northeast China was flooded with cheap DVD players and newer VCRs. Old machines are now sold very cheaply by their owners, and then smuggled to North Korea via its porous (essentially, uncontrolled) border with China. In North Korea the used VCRs are resold at high premiums, but a machine still only costs the equivalent of US$35 or $40 – definitely within the reach of a more successful North Korean family. VCRs are largely used for copying and watching tapes of South Korean TV soap operas, which have become major hits in North Korea in the past few years. The South Korean actors and actresses are much admired, and their hairstyles and fashions are eagerly imitated by the Pyongyang youth.

Many more cracks are opening in the self-imposed information blockade so painstakingly constructed and maintained by Pyongyang for decades. The radio sets sold inside Korea are still permanently altered and sealed, so they can be used only for listening to the official Pyongyang broadcasts, but that does not really matter since cheap transistor radios are smuggled across the Chinese border. These radios are common enough: in 2003 a poll confirmed that 67% of defectors from North Korea had been listening to foreign and South Korean broadcasts before they fled. Of course, this is not very representative: the willingness to defect obviously makes a person more interested in listening to foreign broadcasts. Nonetheless, it’s clear: information is spreading inside the North.

… maybe the regime will implode

Of course, the North Korean authorities are not very happy about these developments, which would be unthinkable merely 10 years ago. They launched a few crackdowns – or rather attempted crackdowns, since their efforts did not quite work out as intended. The steady erosion of old Stalinist values also influenced the attitudes of lower-level officialdom and police. Young policemen sabotaged the recent crackdowns, visitors reported, being unwilling to arrest boys for wearing clothes that departed from the ubiquitous dark suit and dark tie or Mao-type outfit.

We can only hope. And pray. And support every anti-DPRK work by anyone, anywhere.

The Passion in Iraq

Bibles for the Middle East,” by Steve Douglass, Campus Crusade for Christ, http://give.ccci.org/featured/middleeast-cw/, 2004 (from North Korea Times and Crosswalk)

The Sunni Arab insurgency is fighting to keep the rest of the world out. A free Iraq means free minds means choices, and to people like Abu Musab al-Zarqawi that’s deeply troubling. Some define freedom as the freedom from knowledge, temptation, and choice. We define it differently.

The evangelical-Protestant Campus Crusade for Christ, using a traditionalist Catholic film financed by a Australian-born actor, is trying to spread religious connectivity in Iraq’s gap:

In addition, our workers across the entire region are reporting a tremendous surge in spiritual hunger. This is due in part to the release of The Passion of The Christ. The fact that this movie played in some of these places is simply amazing. Officials allowed it because many felt the film would paint Jews in a bad light. But God used even this motive for His glory. Over the past several months, many people finally learned about the sacrifice Christ made for them, and now they’re looking to know more!

Praise God! And other personnel in the area are sharing similar stories of increased spiritual hunger—accounts of pirated DVDs of the movie “selling like hotcakes” in one of the most closed nations on earth, of 1,817 people per day contacting our Communications Centers to find out more about Jesus, and of tens of thousands of letters like these:

“I am a teacher, and I would like to have a video about Jesus Christ … so that I can inform and teach my students. I especially want to show them the life of Jesus Christ and the way of light; the straight way; the way of the good God.”

“Mysteriously, I have dreamed several times about Jesus who looks at me with a smile. The strength of this dream has impacted my heart. The problem is that I have no means of following His path … I want to ask your help to help me become a good Christian, because here in [this closed nation] there is no one to help.”

Please help.

They Are Never Coming Home

Mr President, Here’s How to Make Sense of Our Iraq Strategy,” by Thomas P. M. Barnett, Esquire, pg 148, http://www.thomaspmbarnett.com/published/esquire2004.htm, June 2004.

Iraq Troops Complain,” The Onion, http://theonion.com/wdyt/index.php?issue=4050, 15 December 2004.

A humorous joke from The Onion

“Years from now, our troops will look back at the war in Iraq and wonder why they haven’t been allowed to go home yet.”

Except it’s true.

Is this any way to run a global war on terrorism? The new conventional wisdom is that the warmongering neocons of the Bush administration have hijacked U. S. foreign policy and sent the world down the pathway of perpetual war. Instead of dissecting the rather hysterical strain of most of that analysis, let me tell you what this feedback should really tell us about the world we now live in. And as opaque as the administration has been in signaling its values and true motivations, I will try in this piece to explain what Iraq should mean to us, why all the pain we have encountered there is the price we must pay to ensure a peaceful century, and why this is the birthing process of a future worth creating.

There is no doubt that when the Bush administration decided to lay a “big bang” upon the Middle East by toppling Saddam Hussein and committing our nation to reconnecting a brutalized, isolated Iraqi society to the world outside, it proceeded with virtually no public or international debate about the scope of this grand historical task. I, however, see a clear link between 9/11 and President Bush’s declared intention of “transforming” the Middle East.

History’s clock is already ticking on that great task. As the world progressively decarbonizes its energy profile, moving away from oil and toward hydrogen obtained from natural gas, the Middle East’s security deficit will become a cross that not even the United States will long be willing to bear. The bin Ladens of that region know this and thus will act with increasing desperation to engineer our abandonment of the region. Like Vladimir Lenin a century earlier, bin Laden dreams of breaking off a large chunk of humanity into a separate rule-set sphere, where our rules hold no sway, where our money finds no purchase, and where our polluting cultural exports can be effectively repelled. Bin Laden’s offer is the offer of all would-be dictators: Just leave these people to me and I will trouble you no further.

What does this new approach mean for this nation and the world over the long run? Let me be very clear about this: The boys are never coming home. America is not leaving the Middle East until the Middle East joins the world. It’s that simple. No exit means no exit strategy.

America has made this effort before and changed the world. Now is the time to rededicate this nation to a new long-term strategy much as we did following World War II, when we began exporting the security that has already made war only a memory for more than half the world’s population, enabling hundreds of millions to lift themselves out of poverty in the last couple of decades alone. It is our responsibility and our obligation to give peace the same chance in the rest of the world.

Please read the rest.