Some 30 North Korean defectors have rolled up their sleeves to create reconstruction plans for their hometowns and help residents improve their lives post-unification.
“While studying the reunification of East and West Germany, I thought there are certainly roles that we defectors could play in the reconstruction of North Korea,” said Kim Byeong-uk, the founder and president of Seoul-based think tank North Korea Development Institute and founder of the 185 Project. “I think South Korea can cut unification costs if it narrows the development divide with the North. If concrete, area-specific construction plans are in place, it will be easier for the South to reconstruct the North, and this, consequently, will reduce costs.”
One of the project’s current plans is for North Korea’s public markets. [By analyzing satellite imagery] “we’ve found 414 markets all across North Korea, which have become an integral part of the North Korean way of life,” Kim said. “As long as the North Koreans are allowed to make a living through the markets, they won’t care much about politics or nuclear weapons. But they won’t sit back if the North Korean authorities attempt to suppress market activities because these are their lifeline,” he said.
Kim said the thriving markets in the North indicate that a wind of change is blowing. He also noted that in the country’s relatively basic manufacturing industries, North Koreans import raw materials from China and send them to the cities or counties that have sufficient facilities and labor forces to process them into finished products.
“The markets are classrooms in which North Koreans learn the capitalistic way of life. The thriving markets indicate that, whether intentionally or not, North Koreans are preparing themselves for reunification,” Kim said.