Friday, December 30, 2011

More on North Korea's Digital Dilemma

The Economist has published an excellent piece on "succession in North Korea" that helps to underscore some of the points made in my earlier post.  It notes that there are now hundreds of thousands of mobile-phone users on the regime’s network, with international calls for some. Near the border with China, North Koreans can use Chinese mobile networks to call South Korea, either directly or by paying brokers to put them through. DVDs on sale on the black market show what life in the outside world, especially South Korea, is like.
The Economist notes that "Growing understanding of North Korea’s economic backwardness seems likely to breed hunger for change. It is hard to see how the economy could be modernised without abruptly destroying the state’s paternalistic ruling mythology. Much of the dark interior of North Korea is bereft not only of consumer goods but also of trustworthy information, on anything from prices to politics. Although an increasing number of people, especially in the border areas, are aware of the vast disparity between capitalist South Korea and their own workers’ paradise, defectors say many still do not fully grasp how wide that chasm is. As one defector puts it, explaining why his relatives cling to their belief in the Kim family state when he sends them cash from South Korea: “There is a gap between what you know and what you believe.”
Continuing from the article, "Perhaps the most confounding aspect of North Korea is that, however much it has depended on Chinese investment and Western aid since the collapse of the Soviet Union, the outside world cannot do much to influence its internal dynamics. So deprived are its people of both external and internal sources of information that the regime has been able to assert control. So dependent are they on its favour that North Koreans have become accustomed to policing themselves.  Yet the country that Mr Kim inherits is not as unchanging as it appears. Mobile phones, cross-border profiteering, corruption and inequality have all flourished. The failed currency reforms led to unprecedented public anger."

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