Wednesday, January 27, 2010

North Korea update

Today's New York Times reviews several new books on North Korea. Some highlights:
If we have trouble seeing North Koreans plainly, they cannot see us at all. Telephone use is severely restricted. (Even the telephone book is a classified document marked “secret.”) Postal service is spotty. There is essentially no e-mail. Television and radios receive only approved channels. The country’s citizens are force-fed a steady, numbing diet of state propaganda devoted to sustaining the personality cult of Kim Jong-il and savaging all things American.

...Ms. Demick’s book is a lovely work of narrative nonfiction, one that follows the lives of six ordinary North Koreans, including a female doctor, a pair of star-crossed lovers, a factory worker and an orphan. It’s a book that offers extensive evidence of the author’s deep knowledge of this country while keeping its sights firmly on individual stories and human details.

The people Ms. Demick observes lived, before their defections, in northeastern North Korea, far from the country’s tidy, Potemkin village-like capital, Pyongyang. The existences she describes sound brutal: there is often not enough food; citizens work long days that can be followed by hours of ideological training at night; spying on one’s neighbors is a national pastime; a nonpatriotic comment, especially an anti-Kim Jong-il wisecrack, can have you sent to a gulag for life, if not executed.

...“It would be a gross exaggeration to say that the people support Kim Jong-il,” [write Mr. Hassig and Ms. Oh, authors of “The Hidden People of North Korea: Everyday Life in the Hermit Kingdom"]. “Rather, it does not occur to them to oppose him.” North Koreans are too busy trying to survive, and too preoccupied by the tensions of the supposed mighty conflict with America, to be able to think about much else.

Mr. Hassig and Ms. Oh’s portrait of Mr. Kim’s hyper-sybaritic lifestyle is detailed and devastating. He may look like a man of the people, they write, with his tan slacks, zippered jackets and stout build that make him resemble Jackie Gleason as Ralph Kramden in “The Honeymooners.” But they chronicle his obsession with the latest electronics, the “pleasure teams” of girls he keeps handy, the Bordeaux wine he has flown in. While many of his people starve, they write, Mr. Kim “is such a connoisseur that, according to his former chef, every grain of rice destined for his dinner table is inspected for quality and shape.”

...Mr. Hassig and Ms. Oh’s book concludes with pointed policy recommendations. They think it is nearly hopeless to negotiate with Mr. Kim and suspect that “nonproliferation agreements with the regime will simply encourage it to brandish new threats in the future.” Instead of fixating on Korea’s weapons, the authors suggest bypassing the regime and reaching out to North Korea’s people, who sorely need humanitarian aid and “a new way of thinking about their government and their society.”
I am in full agreement with Hassig and Oh's policy recommendation of reaching out to the North Korean people. Rather than engage in futile talks with the government over its nuclear program, the U.S. should seek a permanent peace treaty, end all embargoes on the country (save for WMD-related materials) and encourage as much contact with the outside world as possible.

Our way of life and beliefs are our greatest assets, and we do ourselves no favors by leaving the North Korean people isolated and ignorant. Allowing investment in the country, which could provide employment for the people and help alleviate their desperate plight, would also be the correct move from a humanitarian standpoint.

More postings on North Korea can be found here.

1 comment:

china space program said...

Let's wait for the next N-Korea leader. The current guy has a weak health already and I guess within a decade he is finished. Maybe the next one will be more open.