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North Korea: The Real Story

By Shlomo Maital

   The photo is NOT Kim Jong Un, North Korean leader, but a look-alike. But it conveys what the world perceives – a crackpot leader giving the world the finger.  

   But New York Times journalist Choe Sang Hun, based in Seoul South Korea, brings us a different perspective. Kim’s father Kimg Jong Il, son of Kim Il Sung, was decidedly anti free-market and worked hard to suppress any free-market activity in North Korea.

     His son, in contrast, Kim Jong Un, has taken another tack. Since 2010 the number of government-approved markets has doubled, to 440; the NYT reports that “satellite images show them growing in size in mot cities.   “In a country of 25 million, about 1.1 million people are now employed as retailers or managers in these markets, according to the Korea Institute for National Unification.”  

     “At least 40 % of the population in North Korea is now engaged in some form of private enterprise, a level comparable to that of Hungary and Poland shortly after the fall of the Soviet bloc, the director of South Korea’s intelligence service, Lee Byung-ho, told lawmakers in a closed-door briefing in February”.

       “This market activity is driven in part by frustration with the state’s inefficient and rigid planned economy”.   The result is an economy that is not doing so badly, despite strong world sanctions.

       So there is an alternate scenario to the one now causing the world to lose sleep – one in which North Korea assaults its neighbors and even the US with fearsome weapons. That scenario has North Korea shedding communism, like a snake sheds its skin, and joining the global economy and marketplace.

       The reporting on North Korea, overall, shows, I believe that the problem with modern journalism is not fake news, but bad news – bad shallow reporting that fails to convey what is really going on. There are a few exceptions, including the newspaper, NYT, Trump despises. With all the noise and clutter in the Internet, it is not easy to find insightful reporting. But it is still possible, with effort.

Blog entries written by Prof. Shlomo Maital

Shlomo Maital