Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Lankov on North Korea

Dr.Andrei Lankov has studied North Korea [Democratic Republic of Korea or DPRK]. His latest book
details the daily life beyond the 38 parallel, in the DPRK. He has written of the demise of Stalinism in North Korea. In the November/December 2009 issue of the prestigious house organ of the US Council of Foreign Relations [CFR], appears his essay 'Opening North Korea'.
Professor Lankov grew up in the Soviet Union; he received there his training as a Korea expert. Now he lives and teaches history at Seoul's Kookmin University, which financially helped underwrite his article. He also lived and taught in Australia. Like other former Soviet scholars, he looks for the vein of change in Kim Jong il's DPRK; his model, more or less, remains the instrumentality which led to Communism in the west's demise, on one hand, and nourishes the hope that Pyongyang will copy the road to capitalist development which China and Vietnam have taken. He, however, is less hawkish than other scholars trained in the East European schools, calling for regime change.
Obviously, his article is not 'value free'. Furthermore for all his learning, Lankov fudges. Consider his sweeping opening statement that 'North Korea, a small country with no economic potential to speak of'... Guam Diary suggests that he contact Goldman Sachs' analysts in Seoul for a copy of that investment house's glowing report on yes, the economic potential of the DPRK! If the world's foremost bankers smell profits in North Korea, why cannot Lankov. The Japanese colonisers tapped its rich mineral potential for their own economic development. If that is not enough 'the irritant that North Korea is', according to the Kookmin professor is on the cutting edge of rocket technology, and in nuclear technology, has proven to be no slouch. The DPRK has
the industrial wherewithal, if harassed to the good will and cooperation of the Republic of Korea [ROK or South Korea], to give Japan and neighbouring China a run for their money in trade and global market share.
Consider, Mr. Lankov's remarks on the lack of economic reform in North Korea. Pyongyang, willy nilly, since the abrupt ending of Soviet aid and certainly the great famine of the early 1990's, which caused a severe human and economic crisis, has by the force of things, allowed economic reforms. The writings of Rudiger Frank suggest this. the North Korean leadership has done much running to stay in place in the beginning, and then has seen, encouraged, and at times limited freedom of action in the economy. We see through the reports of Russian Korean hands and of NGO's, proof of a degree of decentralisation in the provinces, the rise of 'free markets' all over the DPRK, and 'experiments' of pale liberalisation on the Cholema model, which in other words reads as a North Korean solution sui generis [despite borrowings from elsewhere].
Now let's consider the contract with an Egyptian company to instill coaxial cable for the internet throughout the DPRK. No matter the restrictions, this 10 year contract is an example that the leadership in Pyongyang is quite away of the steps to modernisation of infrastructure it needs to take. Fire walls or attempts to fool them notwithstanding, Pyongyang is not the 'old duffer of failed Communism' critics describe it to be. It has its own agenda. And North Korea watchers would do best to follow the evidence more closely, and less eager to make rash predictions.
Now, let's turn to cultural exchange. Pyongyang is no stranger to cultural exchange. Take for example, the visit of the New York Philharmonic to Pyongyang. It was broadcast live from Pyongyang, and then rebroadcast. The Philharmonic's maestro Loren Mazel in a heartfelt message in English and some smattering of Korean, spoke of the hope for a wider exchange between the US and the DPRK. Pyongyang did not demur. Washington put the kabosh on any follow up. There was even talk of the Pyongyang orchestra performing in London. It appears the reluctance comes from the west.
As for North Koreans total isolation from the outside world. Well, here the claim is porous. North Koreans, and not only the DPRK's elite corps, know of the latest telenovelas produced in South Korea and Japan. Information follows through the 'Arab telephone', so to speak, out of China, visitors from Japan and Koreans living elsewhere through the world. Although it cannot be denied that after 60 years of state propaganda, their view of the world may be not larger than the diameter of a well looking at the sky of its bottom. But, it is surely interesting to note that information does filter trickle down to the far most villages in the DPRK.
Were the readers of 'Foreign Affairs' more savvy about the DPRK, they could and should quest Dr. Lankov's assertions. The CFR is the fount of America's elite, but on some issues they remain as ignorant as cabbages.

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