Cracks Emerge in North Korea's Communist Regime; Capitalism, Market Economy Slowly Take Root
WASHINGTON POST -- Kim's government in the past two years has closed some large markets, shifted Chinese-made goods to state-run shops and ordered that only middle-aged and older women can sell goods in open-air markets, to try to limit the number of North Koreans who abandon government jobs for the private sector. But capitalism seems to have already taken root. U.N. officials estimate that half the calories consumed in North Korea come from food bought in private markets, and that nearly 80 percent of household income derives from buying and selling in the markets, according to a study last year in the Seoul Journal of Economics.
Private markets are flooding the country with electronics from China and elsewhere. Cheap radios, televisions, MP3 devices, DVD players, video cameras and cellphones are seeping into a semi-feudal society, where a trusted elite lives in the capital Pyongyang. Surrounding the elite is a suspect peasantry that is poor, stunted by hunger and spied upon by layers of state security.
In the past year, the elites in Pyongyang have been granted authorized access to mobile phones -- the number is soon expected to reach 120,000. In the border regions with China, unauthorized mobile phone use has also increased among the trading classes. And unlike most of the mobile phones in Pyongyang, the illegal phones are set up to make international calls. Chinese telecom companies have built relay towers near the border, providing strong mobile signals in many nearby North Korean towns. Those phones have become a new source of real-time reporting to the outside world on events inside North Korea, as networks of informants call in news to Web sites such as the Seoul-based Daily NK and the Buddhist aid group Good Friends.
Affordable electronics are also cracking open the government's decades-old seal on incoming information. Imported radios -- and televisions in border areas -- are enabling a substantial proportion of the North Korean populations to tune in to Chinese and South Korean stations, as well as to Radio Free Asia and Voice of America, according to an unpublished survey of newly arrived defectors in South Korea. It found that two-thirds of them listened regularly to foreign broadcasts.
Thanks to Art Little.