North Korea – The Fault in Perception

north-korea

Hi everyone,

in the light of the recent North Korean congress, I think there is one thing worth pointing out. The media coverage of the congress and more specifically the expulsion of a BBC crew from the country.

Undeniably, North Korea has a PR problem, but if we tie this recent expulsion together with the numerous arrests of foreign citizens, Americans in particular, I dare to say that we see an equally large fault in West’s assumptions about the DPRK.

In our Euro-American cultures and traditions the freedom of speech is valued as an undeniable right of all people. A right that should be universal. Unfortunately, just like the value of human life itself, it is not seen so in other cultures and traditions. Our right to enforce these values ends at our borders, but we often have a hard time to accept that. If North Koreans come to our countries we must insist they play by our rules and if we come to their country we must play by theirs, no matter how despicable we think their rules are. Western media, like the BBC crew, and some of the visitors transgress these boundaries and I am afraid to say that they do so unknowingly most of the time. If one breaks the rules to exert influence and make things better it is one thing (still debatable if it is the right thing to do), but doing so out of sheer ignorance makes it much much worse.

In North Korea one’s life has no value, freedom of speech does not exist and every right we think is universal is rejected there. If you travel to North Korea you get a strict set of rules on how to behave, what to do and what to say and there is nothing that protects you if you break them. If you then think about how alien world that is, compared to ours the absolute stupidity of Otto Warmbier (American student arrested for trying to steal a propaganda banner who was arrested and sentenced to 15 years in jail) and the BBC crew is immeasurable.

Now back to the previous argument that speaking out could have an impact on the locals and thus contribute to the change. Whatever idealist idea that might be, the world of North Korea is not the same as the old Soviet space. If you travel to North Korea, literally no one you meet is there on their own will. You cannot meet anyone that wasn’t handpicked by the regime and thus all of them are highly resistant to any influence. The scale of it is hard to comprehend, but in truth entering North Korea equals entering an elaborate theatre where you are the only audience. Interestingly, if you look to the bottom left corner of the photo above you will see lonely figures standing behind and in front of the press crews. These soldiers are not there for your safety or safety of North Korean people, but to make sure you are sealed off from the actual world and you never get a glimpse of it. During your visit there will always be several around you even if you cannot see them. Also do not be mistaken, there are many who speak English and they do listen closely at all times. So when you see videos of tourists visiting a musical show in Pyongyang please keep in mind that not only the people on the stage, but also everyone in the audience is there, putting on a show, just for the sake of those visitors.

To sum up, the West needs to finally understand that what worked on Soviet Union and its satellite countries will not work on North Korea. The only effect medias investigative questions will have will be putting your guides and people they talk to in terrible danger and doing things like hiding Bibles or stealing banners is sheer stupidity. Unlike Las Vegas, nothing you do in DPRK remains secret, so let’s not be stupid.

Michael

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Korea – Unwanted Unification

밝게 웃는 한미일 정상

Hi everyone,

in reaction to the speech made by Antony J. Blinken (U.S. Deputy Secretary of State) just yesterday, I thought I should take a look at the elephant in the room that is the unification of Korea.

As you all surely know, Korea has been divided in two states ever since the Korean war (1950-1953). The two states, one stalinist-communist and the other deep right-wing democracy/dictatorships (depending on who you’re talking to), are very much at war. Year after year, due to North Korean propaganda picked up by popular media, it seems like the peninsula is going to self-destruct and yet nothing ever happens. Majority of Koreans, presumably from the South, feels like the unification is just around the corner and even if they don’t they at least keep the hope that it is going to happen during their lifetime. To me that sounds awfully positive, so why is that that nothing ever happens ?

I believe that the answer is very simple despite also being very complex. Nobody wants it to happen and especially not Koreans themselves. North Korea is one of the most oppressive and underdeveloped countries in the world. It has a population of over 20 million people that has only experienced hardships, propaganda and Communism. The country lacks proper infrastructure, functional industry or even functioning agriculture. On the other side, there is South Korea where 90% of its inhabitants have access to broadband internet and which is home to tech giants like Samsung (which is by the way manufacturing all the fancy chips and screens for our beloved Apple in addition to flooding markets with their own devices). According to some estimates the unification would cost South Korea around US$2.7 trillion. Honestly, I can’t even say how many Samsung S6 Edge+ they’d have to sell to pay for that. It would essentially send South Korea from being among top 20 largest GDP nations to medieval times for decades. No wonder the South Korean leadership is no hurry. Surely one must admit that once this little hiccup is out of the way unified Korea could swing back up using natural resources of the North combined with business experience and tech savvy to counter giants like China, but that is like saying  you could win the marathon, but you need to shoot yourself in a leg first and wait till it heals. Who would want to be the leader that does that.

That brings me to why literally nobody else wants the unification to happen despite fancy speeches and declarations. The United States consider their position in Asia as very important as proven by the official pivot of Obama administration towards Asia. Australia and central Asia produce great deal of resources that are then pumped into US and Chinese economies and Asia in general is where lots of US trading happens. Therefore the US needs a strong foothold in Asia. It has its troops in Japan, treaties with Taiwan and up to 60% of its navy in the region, but most importantly it also has up to 30’000 soldiers sitting in South Korea, presumably safeguarding the country against North Korean aggression. China does not like that at all. China is like your egocentric younger sibling who constantly eats your chocolate and blames it on the dog. China fears that after the unification the US is going to move its troops towards the new border and ,frankly, it is not all that far from Yalu river to Beijing. Basically a missile launch away. In public, China and North Korea are great buddies while actually China thinks of it as the lesser evil.

Surely the US would be forced to withdraw its forces out of Korea once the country is stable, thus loosing a very important reason to be there. After all, what motivation would Japan have to keep the US base on Okinawa if North Korea is out of the picture ?

From the economic point of view neither Japan, China, Taiwan or Philippines would benefit from the unification since who needs a nation that could, given enough time, turn from a tiger to a lion (sorry, can’t think of an unbiased animal stronger than tiger) and drag in all the business that everyone wanted to get their hands on.

In my opinion, the only way towards unification of Korea leads through collapse of regime in China and subsequent collapse of North Korea once the scales of power are tipped towards everyone there having no other choice than to support it. Until then, maintaining the current status quo is more than comfortable state of affairs for all parties concerned.

Michael

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