Korea: Prosperity Will Kill Us


July 12, 2007: The lifestyle police are out and about in North Korea. Karaoke bars and video parlors (where you can watch DVDs on large TV screens) are being shut down. Along the Chinese border, police are searching homes and businesses looking for cell phones (which can get a signal from towers just across the border) and smuggled goods (particularly South Korean DVDs and music CDs). The increasingly powerful criminal gangs are fighting back, and more dead bodies are showing up. So the government is trying to rid the cities of the criminal element. Anyone who misbehaves is being forced to live in the country (where it's much easier to starve to death). It's all about economic reforms that have created more wealth in the north. There is a debate in the North Korean government about how to handle economic growth. China presents itself as a model (economic freedom within a communist dictatorship). But many North Korean leaders are not sure their people could handle the truth, about the decades of lies about how much better North Korea was doing economically, than the rest of the world. Too late for that. Most North Koreans now know, but are too busy just trying to survive to think about a revolution. But the government knows their history. Revolution comes as the economy improves. Thus a substantial improvement in the economy could bring the revolution North Korea's leaders have long feared. What do do? Close Karaoke bars.

July 11, 2007: North Korea has invited UN IAEA inspectors to return and verify that their nuclear weapons research reactor was shut down. This is being done in exchange for shipments of fuel oil and food, both of which are in short supply up north. South Korea has already sent the first shipments north, with more to come once the nuclear weapons program in the north is shut down. Unemployment in the north is about ten times what it is in the south (3.4 percent). Most North Koreans now know they are screwed, and that life is much better in neighboring China and South Korea.

July 6, 2007: North Korea has apparently completed testing of a new short range ballistic missile (the KN02). Based on Russian 1980s design (the SS21), the new missile has a range of about a hundred kilometers and carries a half ton warhead. The guidance system is much improved over what the North Koreans have been using. The SS21 is the Russian replacement for the SCUD, which was based on German World War II designs (the first combat ballistic missile, the V2). The SCUD used liquid fuel, which was dangerous and expensive to handle, and time consuming to load into the missile before launch. Most North Korean missiles still use liquid fuel, making it difficult to hide preparations for a major operation, like an invasion of South Korea. The new solid fuel missiles are mainly for export, as North Korea needs the cash more than it needs better weapons for invading the south.

July 3, 2007: Japan's crackdown on pro-North Koreans in Japan, and economic ties to North Korea in general, has forced North Korea to turn to China for most of its imports. For decades, Japan had been the major supplier of key goods, especially manufactured items. The quality of Chinese goods has increased a lot in the last decade, but the difference is still noticeable.




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