Monday, July 30, 2012

North Korean Reform

"There's always going to be a food shortage.  The problem is, what they can produce, the best always goes to the best (top of society)."  Humanitarian worker in North Korea

Of a population totalling 25 million people, North Korea has a standing army estimated at 1.2-million people. The one demographic that can depend on eating would be the military for their loyalty to the closed-society regime is imperative to the ongoing existence of a regime that has little regard for the overall well-being of its population.

Most North Koreans live on a starvation diet.  The country has faced and continues to face horrible episodes of extreme privation.  North Korea is in the steel-fisted grip of a family dynasty controlling its fortunes.  And only the regime and its supporters have the good fortune to eat well and live well.  The remainder of the population endures a meagre existence.

Kim Jong-un, like his father and his grandfather before him, heads a grim military command that uses its population as a large expendible slave labour camp.  "What's strikingly obvious is people's stunted growth, they're all very short for their age."  

The price for a kilogram of rice in the marketplace is beyond the reach of most people, representing at least a month's salary.  Even those employed by the state, the country's largest employer, must barter for what they are able to garner to fend for themselves, for they are seldom paid.

"Even if you are employed by the state, you do business in the market.  If you are an office worker, you do business in the market in the afternoon ...  There's no way other than this to make it there", explained a woman who had fled the North, but feared reprisals against her family still in North Korea if she were to be identified.

"Basically, many people are doing restaurant business of selling things on credit and pay off credits later.  There is a huge gap between the rich and the poor.  Pyongyang has enough supplies but other areas fall short.  So it is completely up to an individual's effort.  If you try hard to make money, you can survive.  But if you don't, you struggle."

North Korea exists at the centre of the world's most rapidly growing economic region that includes China, Japan and South Korea.  Their economies have burgeoned and North Korea's continues to shrink.  This is a country that at one time was wealthier than its southern cousin.  Now its economy is less than 3% of South Korea's.

"Is North Korea planning to reform and open up?  The only thing Kim Jong-il left to Kim Jong-un is debt.  He has no funds to run the regime", scoffed a defector who heads the NK Refugees Human Rights Association on Korea.

There is funding for weapons production, for perfecting missiles and maintaining the military.  North Korea will magnanimously permit aid agencies to feed its millions of starving people, from one crisis to the next.  Will the UN's proposed arms-trade treaty impress North Korea?

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