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    Self-reliance

    A North Korean ship that runs between Niigata and the DPRK–I think as a combination of ferry and cargo ship–has put in at Niigata for the first time in a while (Japanese, English):

    The protesters included members of a group supporting families of Japanese abducted by North Korea, who shouted, “Give us our families back.”

    It was the first time that the vessel entered a port in Japan since Dec. 1 last year. The entry followed the March enactment of the revised oil spillage compensation security law, which bans entry of ships without expensive shipowners liability insurance.

    Initially the Man Gyong Bong had intended to enter the port in April, but the trip was delayed because of the revision to the law.

    Later, however, insurance was taken out and the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport issued the certificate the ship needed to enter the port.

    Not everyone was sad to see the ship:

    Officials from the pro-Pyongyang General Association of Korean Residents in Japan, however, welcomed the arrival of the vessel.

    “We have been looking forward to reuniting with compatriots from our homeland,” a member of the association said.

    For those who haven’t had the pleasure, the General Association of Korean Residents in Japan (在日朝鮮総連合会: Zainichi-Chousen-Sourengou-kai) does the DPRK’s gladhanding here. Technically, Japan doesn’t have diplomatic relations with North Korea, but there’s still trade. There’s also the remittance of funds back home by DPRK nationals, though the nationalizing of Ashikaga Bank a few years ago meant, if I recall correctly, the discontinuation of the only direct banking relationship between the two countries.

    Dean has a link to a post that R.J. Rummel just put up about North Korea, which ends this way:

    So far, what are the solutions offered: Cozy up to Kim, provide food and material aid, meet with his henchmen one-to-one, then maybe he’ll compromise on his development of nukes. Yes, but tell me, how does this help the poor North Koreans suffering this enslavement, and that is what it is, pure and simple slavery under the worst of masters.

    I think one of the reasons that the DPRK’s internal horrors get so little play (considering their extent) is that they’re nearly incomprehensible. In Japan, we fairly often see video from North Korean news–usually, of course, when some Japan-DPRK diplomatic tangle is mentioned. Given the revelations about the abductions of Japanese citizens, the fact that the DPRK tends to fire its test missiles in our direction, and the occasional encounter between ships in the Sea of Japan (the East Sea to Koreans), there are frequent tangles. The first-person stories of Japanese women, often widows of North Korean men, who have escaped and return here, have immediacy and are reported in human-interest features. But those stories come one-by-one; they don’t really bring home the scale of the DPRK’s malefaction and economic incompetence.

    How incompetent? I don’t know who wrote this Wikipedia entry, but it appears to be accurate for the most part. One section that I wonder about:

    During the early 1970s, North Korea attempted a large-scale modernization program through the importation of Western technology, principally in the heavy industrial sectors of the economy. North Korea found itself unable to finance its debt, because demand for its exports shrank steadily after the oil crisis of the 1970s, until it became the first communist country to default on its loans from free market countries.

    That ain’t exactly the way I heard it. My understanding has always been that the DPRK waited until Western governments and corporations had coughed up the technology they were to provide to help the country develop–then simply nationalized it and refused to go forward with the planned joint ventures. Or, naturally, to pay off the loans involved. By now, if I recall correctly, the DPRK’s yearly volume of foreign trade is considerably lower than the ROK’s weekly volume. In fact, that’s the stat I learned some time soon after I arrived in Japan. The economy shrank so quickly during the 90’s famines that it more or less isn’t possible for it to contract further, so who knows what the figure is now?

    Tokyo and Pyongyang are only 800 miles apart. That’s about the distance between Philadelphia and St. Louis. It’s also closer than Sapporo and Fukuoka, the two most far-flung super-sized cities on the Japanese mainland, are from each other. I’ve often wondered just what the psychological impact will be when the country finally cracks and Western aid workers, investors, and journalists get in and start documenting what they find. A Treblinka with the land area of Mississippi. I doubt we’ll be able to wrap our heads around it even then.

    2 Responses to “Self-reliance”

    1. John says:

      It’s basically 1930s Ukraine.

    2. Sean Kinsell says:

      But back then, everyone and his grandmother didn’t have a digital video camera, and there was no satellite television.

      I think I’ve asked this before (to the world at large), but people don’t seem to answer: do you, in fact, see segments from DPRK newscasts there at home the way we do in Japan fairly frequently? Spooky in a big, bad way.

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