Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Darwinism in North Korea

Just how childish is DPRK leadership? Let us count the ways...

  1. They never say thank you.
  2. They throw fits when they don't get their way. 
  3. They don't share.
  4. They lie even when condemning evidence is thrust in their face.
  5. They demand constant entertainment with little thought to the costs.
  6. They want presents upon presents
It is no secret that the regime has survived for so long thanks to the aid of South Korea, the United States, and trade with China. Since the sinking of the Cheonan however, most aid and trade has come to a halt, leaving the North with only China as an external source of money. And while the attack on Yeongpyeong island may have been a tantrum designed to get attention, recent reports suggest that the North is working harder to optimize their most lucrative industries. Could harsher sanctions be forcing the DPRK to rise to the challenge of prosperity? Might the childish regime be growing into a more responsible ruling mechanism? While it is far to early to make any claims about the future of the North, there is an increasing stream of information suggesting that the foundation for a better future is being laid.

Economically, there have been increasing reports on the popularity of free markets. While most capitalist markets are not condoned by the government, they are tacitly allowed to operate. In addition, a few government-sponsored open markets have opened up, even in Pyongyang. This slow thaw resembles the late-Maoist years in China. A gradual acclimation to the workings of a market economy can lay the foundation for increasingly liberal society and corresponding economic growth. 

In addition, the past few years has seen an improvement in North Korean living conditions and other economic indicators of success. According to the China Daily, the country is beginning to recover from the harsh times of the 90's and early 2000's. Everything from lowered prices in open markets to increasing production to even the proliferation of restaurants and bicycles suggests improvement. While these reports are based on speculation and interviews since hard data is impossible to come by, it can be safely concluded that the past year has seen improvements in the North Korean economic machine. 

Culturally, there are also signs of a more open groundwork being laid. Reports suggest that TV's made in China which can display both NTSC and PAL signals have opened North Korean citizens up to a greater array of entertainment options. While the government has attempted to crack down on the consumption of foreign media, the ease of access, particularly in the southern parts of North Korea, has made it impossible to totally restrict. This exposure to alternative ways of thinking, buying, and living, particularly those that depict a prosperous South Korea, can help shift North Korean attitudes and facilitate a smooth gradual reform. Already the impact of foreign media can be seen in shifting fashions that are aligned with what's popular in South Korea. (Hipster skinny jeans anyone?)

Additionally, the increasing access of North Korean citizens to cellular phones also helps to broaden the interpersonal, informal communication networks that will be crucial to both economic and cultural reform. Citizens can now share news, ideas, and gossip across long distances which will ultimately undermine the top-down news systems currently dominating the North Korean cultural landscape. Assuming this trend continues, it can reinforce the organic economic and social structures that have already been developing over the past 30 years. 

Granted, there are a million things that could go wrong. Recent violence on the peninsula is a chilling reminder of the fragility of human progress. The ideal outcome for Koreans on both sides of the 38th parallel is a 'smooth landing' into reunification. This cannot come about without significant economic and cultural improvements in the North which all take time. Time in which any number of mistakes, accidents, or idiotic gambits could unravel the slow progress. It is, however, worth noting the positive progress of the past few years if for no other reason than to strengthen the calls for patience and measured responses. 

No comments:

Post a Comment