Thursday, March 25, 2010

So, what's going on in North Korea these days?

Although North Korea's recent currency reform debacle is showing the world how far the DPRK government has fallen, it also seems that at the same time the Do Not Let North Korea Fail at all costs idea I have been writing about up until now may no longer be applicable. Especially as media coverage on the DPRK's food situation seems to be rather sparse -- or at the very least given little attention, my guess is that the United States and South Korea have all, but given up on negotiating with North Korea and are waiting to see what happens when Kim Jong Il dies. And, while China seems to have come through on aid after the implementation of the most recent round of sanctions, these sanctions do seem to be working and I believe the U.S. estimates that arm sales by North Korea have dropped in half. Plus, as there is no longer a lifeline from South Korea as under the previous two South Korean administrations (consider the threat by North Korea to seize South Korean assets in the DPRK), it finally seems the powers that be have all agreed to finally strangle stop subsidizing Kim Jong Il's regime. It will be interesting to see how this plays out, but we can get a rough glimpse at how North Koreans may perceive their government by looking at studies that have been coming out ever since the end of the famine and how much control the DPRK government retains over its people.

In particular, consider the study, "Political Attitudes under Repression: Evidence from North Korean Refugees" by Stephan Haggard and Marcus Noland (The pdf file is free). This was published just this month and is at the cutting edge of what is known about how North Koreans may feel about their government. I would at the very least read through the introduction and look at the nice graphs.  Even though the study is at the cutting edge of what is currently known, consider that one of the aspects of the study was to see if North Koreans make jokes about the government or Kim Jong Il -- I believe in order to see how much control the government still has over its people. These views had to be extrapolated out of representative samples of North Koreans living outside of the country. This goes to show how little information on North Korea has been available in the past and even with large numbers of North Koreans leaving their country recently, how little is still actually known about North Korea.

Unlike their earlier studies, such as, "Exit Polls: Refugee Assessments of North Korea's transition," this study focused more on changing views of North Koreans' government in the past decade or so (again, it highlights how much more information on North Korea has become available in the aftermath of the famine).

The study tries to address what North Koreans thought were the best paths at social mobility in terms of "getting ahead" or "making money." The study suggests a picture of a government that is widely thought to be corrupt  -- the study shows becoming a government official or a party member as the best way to get ahead and engaging in market, corrupt, or criminal activity as the best way to make money (working hard at assigned task looks to be at zero percent). Also, of note is that the study suggests the vast majority of North Koreans blame failed DPRK policies for their economic plight and, unsurprisingly, zero percent to global economic factors.

However, while the study again showed economic reasons as the primary reason for leaving North Korea, also of note is that in the study's samples 1% cited religious freedom to be their primary motive for leaving. Combining this with their earilier work that show a similarly low figure leaving North Korea primarily due to the assistance of NGOs, I wonder how effective NGOs truly are -- as most are led by religious movements.

So, perhaps, it's a good bet to see if the DPRK will manage to survive another -- revolutionary -- hereditary succession.

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