Sunday, January 8, 2012

The flow of luxuries and information into North Korea

The Wall Street Journal carried an interesting article today entitled "Luxuries Flow into North Korea." It provides additional evidence for a thesis I've presented many times in this blog.  North Korea faces a dilemma when it comes to the new digital, internet-connected communication technologies.  Adopting and using them makes it more difficult to control the flow of information into the country, but not using them is well nigh impossible.  As the article notes, an examination of U.N. and Chinese trade data reveals that exports to North Korea of products including cars, tobacco, laptops, cellphones and domestic electrical appliances all increased significantly over the last five years. Most items crossed the border from China. (Click on the accompanying graphic to see a full size version.) Since 2007, North Korea's imports of cars, laptops and air conditioners have each more than quadrupled, while imports of cellphones have risen by more than 4,200%, with the vast majority of items coming from China, according to the U.N. data. Chinese customs data show those trends continuing in 2011. The article contains some vital insight into UN Sanctions, designed to force North Korea to abandon its nuclear weapons program. "The sanctions don't work because as long as China allows the export of luxury goods, the North Korea elite will be paid with them to support the regime," said Jiyoung Song, an associate fellow at London-based think tank Chatham House, who has studied North Korea since 1999. At the same time, she added, "Things like DVDs and mobile devices will help to change North Korean society in a gradual manner by teaching them about the outside world, and showing them these things don't just come through the benevolence of their leaders." She said she had interviewed a North Korean defector last year—the daughter of a trade official—who claimed she had been given an iPad and two laptops by the "Dear Leader," as Kim Jong Il was known.

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