Thursday, August 30, 2012

All Aboard the Bicycle Express

They Want to Ride Their Bicycles | It rapidly becomes clear to anyone paying a visit to non-Pyongyang urban North Korea that bicycles play an important role in daily life. In percentage terms, anecdotal evidence has it that 70-75% of families have one. Thus, it is not excessive to say that the country has become a nation of cyclists, at least in the cities.

This is as true down in Kaesong as it is anywhere else. Indeed, in a recent piece released by Chosun Exchange, this very city was cited as one place that has enjoyed a particularly impressive increase in bicycle ownership over the last decade, to the extent that streets “that were a few years ago dominated by pedestrians are now clogged with bicycles.”

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Is Jang Sung Taek Going to Walk the Walk?

At some point in the second half of the 1980s, Hwang Jang Yop and Jang Sung Taek met. Hwang had called on Jang, then a newly elected candidate member of the Chosun Workers' Party Central Committee, to discuss his concerns about the state of the North Korean economy, which he had already begun to worry was in an uncontrollable downward spiral. Hwang was not an economic hand, and felt helpless.

“Comrade Jang,” Hwang is said to have begun. “What are we going to do? Our nation is going bankrupt!”

However, Jang seemed surprisingly indifferent. “There’s no need to worry,” he responded flatly.

“What do you mean?” an incredulous Hwang bounced back. His voice was as composed as ever, but there was unmistakeable concern on display, too. “By whatever measure you choose to look at, our economy is failing!”

“I said don’t worry,” Jang declared again. “And I said it because we are already bankrupt.”

Friday, August 10, 2012

Hyperbolic North Korea Reform Claims Debunked

Yesterday, Radio Free Asia ran a story that caused a bit of a furore, claiming as it did that North Korea has officially abandoned its state distribution (or 'rationing', if you prefer) system. Full text below (translation Destination Pyongyang);
North, Announces Discarding of Socialist Planned Economy Seoul- Moon Sung Hwee  
It has emerged that North Korea has officially introduced its ‘new economic management system’ and announced the abandonment of the planned economy and public distribution.

However, free education and healthcare will remain untouched as the authorities assert that the ‘new economic management system’ is not the same as ‘reform and opening’.

Moon Sung Hwee in Seoul has the story.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

When Is Page One Not Page One?

Yesterday, Geoffrey See unleashed Chosun Exchange's take on a controversial statement released by the Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of the Fatherland (CPRF) on July 29th, in which the CPRF declared that there is to be no "reform and opening" in North Korea.

The analysis was excellent, primarily because it went beyond simple restatement of the original Rodong Shinmun copy.

One thing it missed, however, was perhaps important: that the original statement actually appeared on page 5 of the paper version of Rodong Shinmun. It only appeared on the front page of the web version, which is for international consumption.

Can you imagine making global news out of something published on pg. 7 of the New York Times? Pg. 15 of The Guardian? No. Simply, this statement was shoved up the international agenda online for emphasis to the outside world, but it should not have been taken as much of an indication of policy. At best, think of it as what Kim Jong Il would have called "wrapping Chosun in a fog."