The market in the North Korean bastion of socialism

In theory, North Korea is a bastion of socialism, a country where the state provides everything, housing, health care, education and jobs.

In reality, at this point in time the state economy barely operates. People working in factories and fields find there is little for them to do, and they are paid almost nothing. Meanwhile, a vibrant private economy has sprung up out of necessity, one where people find ways to make money on their own, whether through selling homemade tofu or dealing drugs, smuggling small DVD players with screens called “notels” over the border, or extracting bribes.

As a university student who defected in 2013 related, “North Korea technically has a centrally planned economy, but now people’s lives revolve around the market. No one expects the government to provide things anymore. Everyone has to find their own way to survive.”

While men had to continue to show up for work in dormant factories, women would turn corn into noodles, and homeless children would steal manhole covers to sell as scrap metal.

A farmer who defected in 2014 recalls, “We lived in the city center, but we rented some land in the foothills and grew corn there. During planting and harvest season, we would wake up at 4 a.m. and walk three hours to reach the farmland. Besides a little break for lunch we’d work until 8 p.m. before walking home again. We’d then buy beans from the market and make tofu that we’d sell from our house. Our profit was less than 5,000 won [60 cents at the blackmarket rate] a day.”

Another defector adds, “It’s the women who can really make money in North Korea. My aunt was the main earner in the house. My uncle is in the military, so his position provided protection for my aunt’s business which was selling beans in the market. You also have to smooth the way with money.”

[Washington Post]

Defectors in Japan sue North Korea for millions over rights abuses

Five North Korean defectors in Japan filed a suit in Tokyo demanding Pyongyang pay ¥500 million [4.5 Million US Dollars] in damages over its alleged human rights abuses.

The suit was filed with Tokyo District Court and was the first legal action against the North Korean government by defectors, according to the plaintiffs’ lawyers.

The five claimed that North Korea asked Koreans living in Japan to return between 1959 and 1984 when the country advertised repeatedly through the pro-Pyongyang General Association of Korean Residents in Japan (Chongryon) that it was a “heaven on earth” where things such as clothing, food and shelter were secure.

The plaintiffs said they returned to North Korea between 1960 and 1972, but they were forced to live under harsh conditions including not being able to get food. They claim that North Korea committed an act of state-sponsored kidnapping by deceiving victims. They also said that their right to see their families in North Korea had been violated.

[Japan Times]

North Korea is planning a September celebration

North Korea is planning a party. Next month, the reclusive country will celebrate the 70th anniversary of the founding of the country, officially known as the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. And there are signs that the event, which will take place Sept. 9, will be a celebration to watch.

Those observing the preparations for the event have spotted practice for a military parade, while tourist visas to the country have apparently been blocked–sparking speculation about who, exactly, the VIP guests could be.

The North Korean state cherishes anniversaries, using them to reinforce the tale of how their small, embattled state fought off bigger foes such as imperial Japan and the United States. This year’s DPRK anniversary event will be different, however. In many ways, the messaging behind it will be more complex.

North Korea was previously happy to menace the United States and other rivals with visions of military might as tensions escalated rapidly. Now, Pyongyang clearly views things differently. As such, although relations are nominally warmer with the United States, a surprise Trump visit to Pyongyang on Sept. 9 looks unlikely. Instead, many are expecting a different guest–Chinese President Xi Jinping–whose presence would send a message to Washington that it isn’t the only game in town.

[Washington Post]

Recent North Korean defectors on how things have changed under Kim Jong Un

When Kim Jong Un became the leader of North Korea almost six years ago, many North Koreans thought that their lives were going to improve. In six months of interviews in South Korea and Thailand, The Washington Post talked with more than 25 North Koreans from different walks of life who lived under Kim Jong Un and defected. Some highlights:

A young mother (29) who defected in 2014 – “I could see how young he was, and I hoped that maybe things were going to get better.”

A student (37) who defected in 2013 – “I was in my second year at the university when this person was introduced to us as our new leader. I thought it was a joke. Among my closest friends, we were calling him a piece of s—. Everyone thinks this, but you can only say it to your closest friends or to your parents if you know that they agree.”

A drug dealer (46) who defected in 2014 – “I created some kind of fantasy in my mind about Kim Jong Un. Because he was so young, I thought he was going to open North Korea’s doors, but after he took power and I lived three years under him, life became harder.”

After detente with North Korea, Trump increasingly takes aim at a new foe — China

After 18 months of treating North Korea as the top national security threat, President Trump has increasingly turned his attention to China, taking a more confrontational approach that experts said shows a risky shift in U.S. policy.

Last week, Trump cited the Chinese military as the rationale for creating a new “Space Force” at the Pentagon, and injected China into the specter of foreign influence of U.S. elections. “All of the fools that are so focused on looking only at Russia should start also looking in another direction, China,” the president wrote, without offering evidence of any Chinese conspiracy.

Analysts said the rise in hostility suggests that Trump and his advisers have come to view the communist nation as a malign power and direct competitor and adversary whose expanding influence must be blunted through more extreme countermeasures.

Trump had talked tough on China throughout his campaign, but he pulled back after taking office and inviting Xi to his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida in the spring of 2017. But the president has soured on Beijing as his bid to force Pyongyang to live up to commitments made with leader Kim Jong Un in a nuclear summit in Singapore has faltered. As Trump’s relationship with Kim has appeared to enter an uneasy detente, analysts suggested the president sees China as a convenient political foil to juice his domestic political base.

“The Trump administration is trying surgery with a chain saw in making threats and demanding unconditional surrender,” said Daniel Russel, an analyst at the Asia Society who served as a top Asia policy official in the Obama administration.

[Washington Post]

North Koreans living in Japan loyal to their roots

There are 450,000 ethnic Koreans living in Japan.Many of third- and fourth-generation descendants of North Koreans, including many who were forcibly taken from their homeland to labor in mines and factories during Japan’s colonization of the Korean Peninsula from 1910 until its 1945 defeat in World War II.

Though many have become citizens of Japan or South Korea, these families remain loyal to their heritage, choosing to send their children to one of some 60 private schools that favor North Korea, teaching the culture and history.

Despite North Korean missile launches that flew over Japan some months back, students and graduates of these schools say they take pride in their community and view it as a haven from the discrimination they face in Japan. Portraits of the late North Korean leaders Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il hang on classroom walls. Teachers instruct in the language of their ancestry, and the cafeteria serves kimchee for lunch.

[AP]

The beautification campaign of Kim Jong-Un

“I had experience in … six prison camps in China and North Korea,” said Joo Seong-ha, who escaped North Korea in 1998 after facing prosecution. A friend with powerful connections to the regime was able to get him out of detention — a chance for an escape to China. He immigrated to South Korea in 2002 and now works as a journalist in Seoul.

Joo Seong-ha says he has hope for President Trump’s efforts but warns America’s strategy needs to change. “The U.S. does not understand North Korea,” he said.

Fellow defector Hyun Inae hopes for more dialogue that will lead to results but says it will be difficult to achieve unification. “We had high hopes for the summit, but actually it was a little bit disappointing,” she said— explaining that she wished more progress would’ve have happened in the weeks following the summit in Singapore.

Hyun Inae says it’s important to not forget the brutality of the Kim regime especially amid what is being described as a media beautification campaign of the dictator. “I think the South Korean government is shying away from the human rights issue because it doesn’t want to get on bad terms with North Korean regime, so North Korean defectors are all worried about that,” she said.

The beautification campaign — as it’s called — is on display in both print and broadcast journalism in South Korea. It seems many South Koreans are willing to temporarily turn a blind eye on the evils of the Kim regime as a means to eventually achieve better relations.

[Fox]

Christians incarcerated in concentration camps in North Korea due to their faith

Religion is cracked down on in North Korea, with citizens encouraged to treat the ruling Kim dynasty as demigods. North Korea persecutes Christians, regarding believers as hostile elements that need to be eradicated, according to Open Doors, an organization that supports persecuted Christians.

Some 70,000 Christians are incarcerated in concentration camps in North Korea with many coming to an untimely death in squalid conditions, Open Doors has revealed.

When Christian Hea Woo, whose name has been changed for her safety, was forced into a camp there was a sign that warned ‘Do not try to escape, you shall be killed’. Speaking about the way she was treated at the camp, Ms Woo told Open Doors: “The guards were merciless. They kicked me and beat me with sticks. Christians are sometimes killed or locked up for the rest of their lives in concentration camps.”

And the threat of death always lurked. Ms Woo said: “Constantly there were people dying. Death was a part of our daily life. The bodies were usually burned and the guards scattered the ashes on the path. Every day, we walked down that path and I always thought, one day the other prisoners will be walking over me.”

But despite the threats faced at the camp Ms Woo was not deterred form practicing her faith. Using the toilet as a church, Ms Woo held short services for five other people, which included teaching the Bible verses and singing songs of praise.

Ms Woo was eventually released from the camp and now lives in South Korea.

{Express – UK]

Kim Sang-woon the company man

Kim Sang-woon, 30, left Tanchon in 2009, and nows works at a subsidiary of SK Corp:

When I was at college in North Korea, I was watching South Korean dramas and other foreign media. I realized that North Korea was so backward, so I decided to escape.

When I got to South Korea, I had to spend a year preparing for college entrance, so I applied to work part time at a call center because I thought it would be easy. But as soon as they heard my accent, they asked me how I thought I could work at a call center. So to make ends meet I started sticking up posters at 4 o’clock every morning, and I worked on a phone assembly line.

Then 2011, I entered university and started studying international trade and Chinese. During my senior year, I did an internship and spent some time in their Beijing office because of my Chinese.

I didn’t know if I could get into one of these big companies, but I had this conviction, so I studied very hard, and opportunities arose like visiting the United States with an entrepreneurship foundation, where I went to New York and Boston, and I even visited Harvard.

When I graduated, I applied to [a large corporation]. I did the entrance exam and went through two rounds of interviews. There were a lot of smart people among the competitors, but I think coming from North Korea and having overcome so many difficulties helped me to get my job. I never hide where I’m from. It’s a big point of pride for me. Now I am a supply chain manager, I’m in charge of bidding tenders. My job is to get the right price.

In 10 years’ time, I want to be back in North Korea, running the office in Pyongyang. Once North Korea opens up, I think there will be a lot of potential for development.

[Washington Post]

Eun-jeong the poet

Oh Eun-jeong, 26, defected from Kyongsong, North Korea in 2009:

My dad was a sailor, and he had alcohol problems, but still, I had a happy childhood.

In North Korea, I had read only one novel, which I’d borrowed from a neighbor. It was all torn and there were pages missing, but it was all I had. Years later, then in college in South Korea, I discovered a wonderful Korean literature professor whose way of teaching was very emotional, and I ended up taking three classes with him. The whole time, I was writing down little notes in my phone. I didn’t even know that the notes I was writing were poetry. I was just scribbling spontaneously.

“Even though there is oppression, there were also moments of happiness,
and I don’t have to deny those times.”

The biggest motivation for me behind writing poetry was missing my sister so much. I was so full of hurt, I was overflowing with hurt, and I had to let it out onto the page. It was a whole new world to me. I felt like each cell in my body was coming to life.

My first book came out in 2015. It’s called “Calling Home.” I was invited onto a TV channel, and I gave poetry readings. That’s how I was selected as a rising poet, and I was asked to contribute to another collection.

A lot of my works are related to North Korea. I have such fond memories of there. Even though there is oppression, there were also moments of happiness, and I don’t have to deny those times. People are hungry and life is hard, but the essence of humanity is the same.

[Washington Post]