2006 October 28 Saturday
North Korean Regime Grip Weakens

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


Comments
Rasfarengi said at October 29, 2006 7:22 AM:

Collaspe the regime to what end?

1) A collapses will likely result in something China and our "ally" South Korea does not want, a flood of refugees.

South Korea is nowhere near as wealthy as West Germany in 1989, and N.Korea is far poorer. It will be very bad for S.Korea’s economy. The flood or refugees into China, I’m sure the CCP, for good reason, feels it will be a further strain on social stability. China is already struggling to remain order in rural areas as it is.

2) If North Korea and South Korea combine as a result of a collapses this will make China unhappy to have another U.S. friendly state on China’s border. Probably China would demand that as a consequence of integration U.S. solders must leave the Korean Peninsula, which will also cause tensions.

3) I’m not sure, due to historical animosity, that Japan would like having a united Korea with a bomb. I am 100% certain that they would not want a united Korea friend to China (with a bomb or not). This will likely heighten tensions between China and Japan over influence in Korea (which was a major factor in two previous wars between Japan and China). I think this time Korea (unlike in the late 1800’s) will rejoin the Chinese orbit rather than play the two off against each other, which will isolate Japan (not fully, but more than they would like) and lead to greater nationalism and paranoia there. Something America might want (if America feels it can be controlled, because America wants to free up troops in Japan and have Japan share more in security in the region)…but in the end I think this is not what Japan needs.

I just do not see the collapses of N.Korea as a good thing for the region. What would be good is to have a General (preferably S.Korea friend) put a bullet in Kim Jong Il’s head and follow the trend of slow transition that China and Vietnam has (along with slow integration with the South, first economically). The less money Kim has the less he will be able to pay off his military, the less loyal they will be. Someone will turn eventually…

No-PC-wars said at October 31, 2006 10:55 AM:

"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."

You are dreaming. If NK is anything like SU or E Germany were in seventees, and I believe NK is more controlled and brutal, it is plainly not possible.

Workers in SU top secret weapon programs leaved under virtual house arrest, a luxurious one. Their movements were controlled, their families were hostages, foreign trips were unheard of.

Having said that, a large scale investment in weakening NK state via escape of useful labor is a very smart idea.
SK should be made to fund it, they were parasites long enough.



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