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    Korea
     Aug 21, 2009
SPEAKING FREELY
It's all a North Korean plot
By Peter Van Nguyen Aug

Speaking Freely is an Asia Times Online feature that allows guest writers to have their say. Please click here if you are interested in contributing.

The North Korean government recently agreed to resume tourism with South Korea after the project was frozen because of the shooting of a South Korean tourist and the hardline policies of South Korean President Lee Myung-bak. North Korea seems interested in going forward with a plan to eventually open its economy towards a free market.

Like its communist allies China and Vietnam, we can see this intent in the North's opening of a new fast-food restaurant. Also, despite threats of increasing monthly wages and land rental fee

 

being considerable, the North is sending more workers into the Kaesong industrial complex after much anticipation of its closure.

Why is North Korea defying the international community if it plans to open up its economy to the world? With Kim Jong-il deteriorating in health, North Korean generals and Communist Party members are getting nervous about plans to reform the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) after his death. Military and political leaders are now wary of a possible collapse of North Korea and fear for their own futures.

In the event of a collapse of the regime, these leaders would be prosecuted for inhumane acts of violence and atrocious human-rights violations, which could result in Cambodian Khmer Rouge-type trials. Even if they manage to escape the collapse of the North Korean socialist dynasty, China may not provide them with protection as it might just wash its hands of the murderous regime.

Those responsible for millions of North Korean deaths will have to live in fear of being hunted down like the Nazis who fled to other countries and changed their names. Though Kim Jong-il has chosen a successor - his youngest son Kim Jong-un, who is 26 years old - other members of the DPRK may fear that he might not be able to extend his influence and consolidate people's loyalty like his father and grandfather.

Opening North Korea to the outside world will be dangerous, but the current leadership knows that it cannot hold out for much longer. It needs to open up the market to globalization, as capitalism is seeping into the country in the form of Chinese products and South Korean DVDs.

With China trying to demonstrate to the world that it is a responsible country, it might not be so obliging in sheltering North Korea from international condemnation. Therefore, the current leaders would want more assurances than a young and inexperienced son of Kim Jong-il to keep the country together.

Most likely, the North Korean government will take precautionary steps to secure its own future rather than that of its starving people. These precautionary steps could involve taking advantage of Kim Jong-il's health and coercing or convincing him to bargain for more concessions regarding security than former US president George W Bush offered in return for nuclear disarmament.

The two biggest concerns for the North are the US and South Korea, because they might instigate social unrest through the use of media and other forms of communication when Pyongyang decides to open up. Right now, the DPRK fears more than anything else free-flowing ideas and thinking that will penetrate every corner of the North if its human-rights activists and religious advocates find freedom.

To contain the consequences of free-market reform, the regime will require brutal suppression and complete control over the population. By raising the stakes in the nuclear disarmament discussion, Pyongyang hopes to gain more concessions from the US government - particularly a more muted response to its human-rights problem.

North Korea is also dragging negotiations for disarmament with the Barack Obama administration on as painstakingly long as possible so that future US administrations will think twice before criticizing the regime. Pyongyang's fresh international defiance may be aimed at gaining the ultimate concession - the withdrawal of US troops from South Korea in exchange for handing over the nukes they have made.

This will undoubtedly apply psychological pressure on the South Korean government and people by keeping the conservative parties' hawkish policy on North Korea in check. Also, by firing a long-range missile, the North is demonstrating to possible customers that it has the technology and know-how now, compared to 2006 when its first nuclear test was seen as a failure.

These capabilities will provide North Korea with a source of hard currency in the event of international sanctions. Pyongyang wants the world to understand that sanctioning it for whatever reason - whether for torture or mass murder of its own civilians - will lead to it developing its nuclear program. Denuclearizing the Korean Peninsula is a painful process that the US will dread going through all over again. So, Washington will rather opt to turn a blind eye to the North's poor human-rights situation.

Peter Van Nguyen is a freelance contributor.

(Copyright 2009, Peter Van Nguyen)

Speaking Freely is an Asia Times Online feature that allows guest writers to have their say. Please click here if you are interested in contributing.


Through the (North Korean) looking glass (Aug 19, '09)

Freedom comes at a price in Pyongyang
(Aug 15, '09)

Pyongyang purges for a new era
(Aug 1, '09)


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