BEIJING - "The riots are expanding even
into North Korea. Hundreds of protesters have
collided with the authorities," said South Korea's
largest-selling Chosun Ilbo newspaper on Thursday,
as top news on its website. Now finally, the
global cascade of "Jasmine revolutions" in the
Middle East and North Africa appears to have
entered North Korea.
Chosun posted a North
Korea map with large red circles around multiple
cities to mark "riot zones", adding more drama to
One of the circles is the town
of Sinuiju on the border with China. "Hundreds of
people clashed with security forces ... The military
was deployed to quell the
demonstration, leaving some protesters wounded,"
said Chosun. While the protest was sparked by a
crackdown in a market, it was "an eruption of long
pent-up discontent", it said.
Korea's online newspaper Daily NK reported on
Wednesday that North Korea had created a special
mobilization force to prevent any demonstrations
similar to the recent uprisings in the Middle East
and North Africa.
Another daily, JoongAng
Ilbo, said on Thursday that the authorities had
begun purging elites who had studied abroad in
Russia for fear of a possible coup by people "who
were exposed to a Western lifestyle".
another vernacular newspaper, Donga Ilbo, on
Thursday ran a piece on the "dramatic increase" of
North Korean females choosing prostitution amid
worsening economic hardship, linking it to the
growing social instability of the country.
Indeed, hopes of a Jasmine revolution in
North Korea are rising amid coverage of increasing
pockets of resistance across the country,
including the cities of Jongju, Yongchon and
Sonchon, to mention a few.
South Korean sources, the Korea JoongAng Daily in
Seoul on Thursday said Meng Jianzhu, China's
minister of public security, made a trip this
month to North Korea to discuss ways to prevent
the wave of democracy protests in the Middle East
from spreading to China and North Korea.
high-ranking government source in Seoul told the
newspaper that Meng discussed with Dear Leader Kim
Jong-il ways to prevent public protests based on
information gathered on the tumult in Tunisia and
"North Korea and China had a common
understanding as they have been nervous that the
demands for democracy from the Middle East could
spread. They are likely to have discussed means to
prevent a mobile [telephone] revolution from
happening in North Korea by using Chinese
technology to trace phone calls made by North
Koreans who communicate with the world," said the
source in the piece.
Meanwhile, the United
States government-funded Radio Free Asia (RFA)
said resistance against the government in North
Korea was growing. A North Korean resident in
Chongjin, North Hamgyong province, told RFA that
an unidentified group of assailants stoned the
city's former inspection chief to death this
month, amid an increasing level of food thefts and
anti-government acts. In a most telling sign of
the breakup of social control, Chosun said even
solders, hungry for food, were joining the
Despite the raft of reports,
North Korea experts in China remain nonplussed.
"No, no, no. I don't think a revolution similar to
the ones in the Middle East can happen in North
Korea," said Zhu Feng, a professor of
international studies at Peking University in
Beijing. "North Korea has been the most deeply
locked country in the world. I don't think the
news in the Middle East is likely to penetrate
into North Korea. And I am pretty sure few North
Koreans actually know what's happening out there."
Liu Jiangyong, a professor of
international relations at Tsinghua University,
agreed. "Not a big chance for North Korea," he
said. Liu also warned against overstating Meng's
visit to North Korea, saying that North Korea was
just one of the countries on Meng's itinerary.
Liu Ming, a North Korea expert with the
Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences, also rejects
the view that North Korea is vulnerable to what's
happening in the Middle East. "The Arabian
countries under trouble are all linked to each
other. On the contrary, North Korea is very much
isolated. And its probably only channel for
interacting with the outside world is through
China. Therefore, unless big unrest occurs in
China, North Korea will be intact," said Liu in
Kim Jong-dae, a frequent TV
commentator on North Korea who heads the military
magazine D&D Focus, in Seoul, believes China
will play a crucial role in propping up North
Korea. "China will come up with a plan to absorb
the shock in case North Korea becomes unstable,"
On the surface, there are some
similarities between the Arab countries of Tunisia
and Egypt and North Korea, such as decades of
dictatorship and economic hardship. But analysts
point out there is another key ingredient for the
situation to lead to a revolution.
the presence of anti-government factions and a
good networking among them," said Lee Woo-young, a
professor at the University of North Korean
Studies in Seoul. "This is not present in North
Korea. So, the news reports in South Korean media
about a possible coup in the North are wishful
thinking at this moment." Kim agrees: "The late
North Korean leader Kim Il-sung said the biggest
enemy is not the US, but the enemy within."
Lee said that the North's leadership,
having witnessed the collapse of the socialist
eastern European bloc, will be naturally worried
about the situation in the Middle East and launch
harsh crackdowns on even slight signs of civil
discontent. This would give outside observers the
wrong impression that the country was breaking
down, when the reality is not the case.
know whether the situation inside North Korea
amounts to major instability or not, Kim suggests
the world should turn its attention to the US and
China, not North Korea. In other words, "the
writing on the wall" is outside North Korea, not
inside. "If there is any true sign of instability
in North Korea, China and the US will have an
emergency meeting first to discuss the matter.
That's the sign," said Kim.
Lee ([email protected]) is a
Seoul-born columnist and journalist; he has
degrees from the US and China.
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