2004 December 15 Wednesday
Better Cellphone Reception Threat To North Korean Regime

People deep inside North Korea can walk up mountains and tall hills and talk on cell phones using transmitter/receiver cellphone towers set up in China near the North Korean border.

"If possible, Kim wants mobile phones to disappear in North Korea," says Nishioka Tsutomu, a professor of modern Korean studies at Tokyo Christian University. "But North Korean people do not have enough food. To trade on the black market in China, it is essential to have a mobile phone."

Despite the ban, North Koreans have been using cellphones more than ever, according to visitors to the region. Whether crossing the border legally on official business or illegally to procure food and other vital supplies, they routinely rent or purchase phones on the Chinese side, then turn them off and hide them from border guards as they return.

Cellphones by now are in common use in Sinuiju, the North Korean city across the Yalu River from Dandong, the major Chinese center through which China does much of its trade with the North. They're also widely used along the Tumen River border in the east, and advances in technology now mean callers can occasionally reach contacts as far south as the capital, Pyongyang.

After initially creating an internal cellular network and allowing the more affluent North Koreans to pay for cellphones the regime has shifted toward a far more restrictive set of rules for use of cellphones and all those cellphones being brought in from China are clearly banned.

Chinese people-smuggling entrepreneurs are promoting the use of cellphones in North Korea.

Chinese brokers who arrange for people to leave North Korea for the Yanbian region are responsible for the North-South communication. The brokers give prepaid cellphones to collaborators in North Korea. When someone needs to make a call to a family member, the collaborators go to their home and escort the caller to a border town within reach of cellphone frequencies.

Fees for covert calls are much higher than the standard amount. The 30-year-old woman mentioned who spoke to her sister paid brokers 1 million won, or about 100,000 yen.

Chinese entrepreneurs, just in pursuit of a profit, are more effectively undermining the North Korean regime than anything the United States government is doing. The US could weaken the regime by paying for prepaid cell phones to be shipped into North Korea. Also, the construction of more cellphone towards along the DMZ in South Korea would help. Though the South Korean government may oppose this move due to their own foolish calculations.

The money involved in the latest US effort to undermine the North Korean regime amounts to chump change. The Bush Administration talks a big game but it is very ineffectual.

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2004 December 15 04:35 PM  Korea

Engineer-Poet said at December 16, 2004 12:41 PM:

Perhaps some smart cookie can use the excuse of providing better cell service to the S. Korean hinterlands as a reason to put up some "stratellite" cell stations in view of much of N. Korea.

Imagine if the smuggled phones had camera and even video capabilities.  The psychological impact of such remarkable devices in the hands of peasants would be staggering.  State propaganda about Nork superiority would immediately lose its remaining credibility, and Kim Jong Il would be in deep doo-doo.

As for how to distribute them:  UAV's making targeted air drops at night, either to dwellings or to places where they will be found, would be effective.  Also effective might be targeted drops to homes of mid-level state officials under conditions where they will be seen; the more parts of the government mechanism wind up under suspicion or in the prison camps, the easier the regime will go down.

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