How to solve a problem like North Korea


North Koreans are becoming more independent of the ruling Kim regime, with the vast majority of households earning their living through markets rather than relying on the state, according to a new survey that attempts to shed light on ordinary life inside North Korea, The Washington Post’s Anna Fifield reports:

Getting reliable information from North Korea is notoriously difficult given the restrictions on movement and information inside the totalitarian state. But the Beyond Parallel project run by the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington think tank, is trying to extract ever more information from North Koreans who live and work in the country, as opposed to the more prevalent surveys of those who have ­escaped from the nation. Its latest “micro-survey” found that 72 percent of respondents — or 26 of the 36 North Koreans questioned — said they earned all or almost all income through the markets.

The survey’s findings echo those of a recent analysis of the jangmadang from Daily NK, a partner of the National Endowment for Democracy.

Jangmadang Credit: Daily NK

So how do you solve a problem like Korea? asks Tom Malinowski, a former assistant secretary of state for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor. Here are some options that could actually be good: writes for POLITICO:

  • Flood the zone with information: In the last year of the Obama administration, we increased our funding for getting information to North Koreans. But the State Department still allocates less then $3 million for this effort, and the Trump administration’s first budget request did not mention it. Congress should work with the administration to create a well funded, dedicated program. …
  • Emphasize human rights and reunification, not regime change: In one sense, this is a distinction without a difference, since the Kim regime could not exist if North Koreans could speak, travel and vote freely, and of course it could not survive reunification. But we are more likely to gain support for goals that enjoy broad international legitimacy than with rhetoric that evokes the invasion of Iraq. …
  • Continue sanctions, but don’t shut off North Korea: Even if we can’t stop North Korea’s weapons programs, it makes sense to cause delays and disruptions, including through targeted sanctions against Chinese companies that work with the North Korean military. But we should not encourage an end to general trade between China and North Korea, because the movement of goods enables the movement of people and ideas….
  • Strengthen, don’t undermine, the U.S.-South Korean alliance: Everything we must do to empower the North Korean people and to manage the burdens and risks of the North’s eventual transformation depends on close cooperation with South Korea. We may need to sustain this difficult joint effort for years to come. …
  • Communicate to North Korean elites: When the Kim regime approaches its end, much will depend on whether key regime officials decide to stick with their leader or hedge their bets. Working with South Korea, we should find ways to convey to these figures that there can be a place for them in a reunified Korea (with at least their safety and wealth protected), so long as they are not personally tied to the regime’s crimes and make the right choices when it matters.
  • Talk to China about reunification: The Chinese government is terrified of regime collapse in North Korea. It does not want to concede the possibility by talking about it. Yet somehow, we must find a way to have an honest conversation. …. move north to secure nuclear facilities as Chinese troops move south?


“When we looked back after 1989, we recognized that soft power – the spread of democratic ideas and culture, aided by people to people ties and communications technologies, and our principled insistence on respect for human rights – did more than hard power to bring this about,” Malinowski adds. “One day we may look back upon the end of Korea’s division and say the same – if we see the cards we actually have, and play them well.” RTWT

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