6/17/08 - north korea

In today's excerpt - China and South Korea work to prop up the failed economy of North Korea. Although they both seek to nudge North Korea toward economic liberalization and away from nuclear arms, they fear more the collapse of North Korea and a disastrous spillover to their own countries -- a collapse like the one that came after Moscow ended its subsidies in 1990, causing millions of North Korean to die of starvation:

'Beijing gives a few hundred thousand tons of grain to North Korea every year and sells it a large amount of oil at heavily discounted prices. ... In recent years [South Korea] has also essentially assumed responsibility for feeding the North Koreans. From 2002 to 2005, it provided 400,000 to 500,000 tons of grain annually, an amount equal to some ten percent of North Korea's annual harvest. The North's agriculture is heavily dependent on mineral fertilizers that the country can no longer produce; about two-thirds of the fertilizer it uses comes from the South. Seoul may thus be essentially contributing as much as 40-50 percent of the calories consumed by the average North Korean. ...

"The Bank of Korea recently estimated ... that per capita gross national income in the South is 17 times that in the North. By comparison, per capita gross national income in West Germany before unification was roughly double that in East Germany. ...

"[Seoul] worries that if the North were to be reunited with the South, the costs of the North's reconstruction would wipe out the South's hard-won prosperity. In late 2007, a report prepared for the budget committee of the South Korean National Assembly estimated that the expense of unification would be $0.8-$1.3 trillion -- a staggering amount and yet just enough to bring the North Koreans' average income to only half that enjoyed by South Koreans. ...

"Were North Korea to reform, the disparities with South Korea would only become starker to its population. For decades, Pyongyang has based its legitimacy on its alleged ability to provide its people with a better material life. Even though for most North Koreans living well means eating rice every day, government propaganda has insisted that they enjoy one of the world's highest living standards and has presented South Korea as a land of destitution -- a 'living hell.' It has managed to sustain the legitimacy of these claims with a self-imposed information blockade apparently unparalleled anywhere in the communist world, past or present. ... There are at least 150,000 political prisoners in North Korean labor camps today, that is, one political prisoner for every 150 citizens -- a ratio comparable to that in the Soviet Union under the worst of Stalin's rule. ..."


Andrei Lankov


'Staying Alive: Why North Korea Will Not Change'


Foreign Affairs


March/April 2008


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