New York Times reporter Norimitsu Onishi interviewed 20 North Koreans in Bangkok along with Christian missionaries, government officials, and others with knowledge about North Korea in both Thailand and North Korea. He finds that away from Pyongyang the grip of the central government is weakening and cash has become a more powerful force than ideology. (great article worth reading in full)
The increasing ease with which people are able to buy their way out of North Korea suggests that, beneath the images of goose-stepping soldiers in Pyongyang, the capital, the government’s still considerable ability to control its citizens is diminishing, according to North Korean defectors, brokers, South Korean Christian missionaries and other experts on the subject. Defectors with relatives outside the country are tapping into a sophisticated, underground network of human smugglers operating inside North and South Korea, China and Southeast Asia.
North Koreans who have gotten out pay smugglers to get relatives out. You can imagine how this cycle could feed on itself as more people escape and earn the money to buy the way for still more to leave. A US government program to loan the North Koreans in South Korea money to finance the flight of relatives could speed up this process.
We should think about this. Fully featured smuggling services get a North Korean out of North Korea, provide passport and other documents and a flight to South Korea within a few days for $10,400. A smuggling trip out of North Korea to Mongolia or Southeast Asia costs about $3000.
In a country whose borders were sealed until a decade ago, defectors once risked not only their own lives but those of the family members they left behind, who were often thrown into harsh prison camps as retribution. Today, state security is no longer the main obstacle to fleeing, according to defectors, North Korean brokers, South Korean Christian missionaries and other experts. Now, it is cash.
“Money now trumps ideology for an increasing number of North Koreans, and that has allowed this underground railroad to flourish,” said Peter M. Beck, the Northeast Asia project director in Seoul, South Korea, of the International Crisis Group, which has extensively researched the subject in several Asian countries and is publishing a report. “The biggest barrier to leaving North Korea is just money. If you have enough money, you can get out quite easily. It speaks to the marketization of North Korea, especially since economic reforms were implemented in 2002. Anything can be bought in the North now.”
“The state’s control is weakening at the periphery,” Mr. Beck said, explaining that most refugees came out of the North’s rural areas but few from around Pyongyang, where the state’s grip remained strong.
The United States could probably afford to collapse the North Korean regime just by paying to smuggle out a large number of people. In particular, the US could offer to smuggle out those people most essential to the regime. Electric power plant operators for example. Or, hey, get a lead on all the people working on the North Korean nuclear program and offer them a fast trip out and large cash prizes once they get to South Korea. We are spending $2 billion a week on Iraq. Suppose the US withdrew from Iraq. Imagine what that money could money buy by removal of valuable workers vital to the survival of the Pyongyang regime.
|Share |||By Randall Parker at 2006 October 28 07:22 PM Korea|