As the United States and other nations grasp for new ways to sanction Pyongyang in response to its latest nuclear test, some North Korean defectors see investment in its rudimentary market economy as a way to foment gradual change from within.
South Korea forbids its citizens from trading with anyone in North Korea but turns a blind eye to remittances estimated at $10 million a year sent to relatives by many of the nearly 30,000 defectors in the South.
Surveys of defectors by Seoul National University found that the biggest challenge for North Koreans doing business was funding, followed by bribes paid to authorities and occasional crackdowns on market activity.
One young defector, Seoul-based activist Ji Seong-ho, has been sending funds of $300 to $500 at a time for North Koreans to open food stalls and crop-lending businesses in rural areas.
“The bigger markets grow, the weaker the regime gets, so we need to support North Korean entrepreneurs,” said Ji, 34, who heads Now, Action and Unity for Human Rights (NAUH), which tries to help North Korean refugees in China to defect. Read more