Sunday, December 20, 2009

Communication and Korean Reunification

Andrei Lankov's September Op-Ed piece in The New York Times, entitled "Changing North Korea," deals with a topic I addressed in Chapter 9 of my 1995 book, The Telecommunications Revolution in Korea.  That chapter is organized around the two fundamental realities of the information revolution in South Korea as they relate to the overarching problem of national division.  The first is the control of the media and the flow of information into and out of North Korea for political purposes.   The second is the growing disparity in information infrastructure between North and South.  These two factors taken together present North Korea with an enormous dilemma.  Developing modern digital networks inevitably weakens control over the information that reaches the people, while the effort to maintain strict control over information flows will inevitably inhibit the development of a modern communications infrastructure.
Under present circumstances, Lankov is undoubtedly correct in suggesting that change will have to come from the North Korean people themselves.  He notes that "Aware of their vulnerabilities, North Korean leaders have taken information control to extremes unprecedented even among Communist dictatorships."   Lankov's key suggestion is that "To crack Pyongyang's control over information and bring about pressure for change from within, truth and information should be introduced into North Korean society."   Obviously, I agree.  This is essentially what Professor Johann Galtung suggested in a 2008 lecture in Pusan (see my earlier post).
As Lankov warns in his Op-Ed piece, the United States, South Korea and others should be aware that there are no "quick fixes."  Engaging in dialogue with North Korea, encouraging exchanges, and disseminating information will only have an effect over time.   The recent growth of a digital mobile telephone network in North Korea is an encouraging sign, especially if one assumes that the development and use of modern digital networks enhances the prospects for information flow in and out of North Korea.  The evidence, if one looks at how North Koreans used Chinese mobile networks, seems to suggest that is the case. (See my September 2 post)

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