Saturday, August 7, 2010

The Impact of Information in North Korea: More Middle Class Defectors?

An article in the Chosun Ilbo today reports on speculation that more middle class people are beginning to defect from North Korea, following the utter failure of that nation's currency reform last year.  While the article does not present numbers or hard evidence, it would be surprising if this new trend is not the case.   In addition to the currency reform, the article notes that  the spread of South Korean pop culture through videos and CDs clandestinely circulated in the North has also encouraged some middle and higher-class North Koreans to flee.
The article simply underscores the critical role of communication and information in solving the overarching political problem in Korea:  national division.   This has been the subject of numerous earlier posts.  The following are some main considerations.

  • The continued growth of  telecommunications infrastructure disparity between South and North Korea--the world's largest and most poignant "digital divide."
  •  The current rapid expansion of mobile broadband (a.k.a. "smart phones" --Apple, Android and others) and other digital technology is making it more difficult for the North Korean government to keep information out.  It comes in via mobile phone, MP3 players, DVD and so forth.
  • North Korea ultimately faces the same dilemma as China, with its "Great Firewall," ---either accept the internet and see your economy participate in global growth, or reject it and stagnate economically.
  • Article 19 of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, in 1948 stated that "Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers."    This was re-affirmed in the present century by the World Summit on the Information Society.   North Korean citizens are being denied this right.

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