The North Korean people appear ready for change. Certainly ever fewer believe DPRK mythology that they live in a world of plenty compared to an impoverished South Korea.
Refugees who have experienced life in China and regime elites spread information about the outside world. DVDs of Chinese and South Korean television programs circulate; some observers describe a “mania” for South Korean culture. A million North Koreans own cell phones. Famine forced many people into the black market to survive.
The regime is aware of the risks of liberalization and has embarked upon what author Scott Thomas Bruce called “the ‘mosquito net’ strategy, meaning that Pyongyang will allow foreign investment … while blocking potentially harmful news and culture from the outside world.” This strategy is risky, since the multi-headed genie cannot easily be put back into the bottle.
Indeed, the regime has tightened border enforcement along the Yalu and enhanced punishment of would-be refugees, targeting their families as well.
Nevertheless, Kim Jong Un’s rhetoric may raise expectations without yielding results, setting the stage for further unrest.