Sunday, March 3, 2013

Outside the paradigm of the regime: North Korea really is evolving

I do not believe that Kim Jong-un intends to truly open up the north and allow open access to information for the people.  But these two paragraphs are something to keep in mind both about how to view the north Korean people and the potential that the small acts of opening provide to support a major influence operations campaign.  Now is the time to really begin exploitation of Kim's actions.  We (as in the ROK/US Alliance) now more than ever should be executing an influence campaign to prepare the north Korean population for what comes after the Kim Family Regime.
The North Koreans that tourists see pretending to do things are not dumb. They know their situation -- they know they live in a repressive state, and that they are instructed to act in a certain way for a reason. An actor knows she is acting. Piracy of South Korean music and TV shows is rampant; iPads and smartphones are common; even skinny jeans are a popular fashion accessory. To reduce these people to stooges is not only to patronise, but to dehumanise.
That makes the move to open up 3G internet to tourists a brave one for the regime. Ordinary people might not get access to the web, but they can see something if you're standing next to them, holding it in your hand. Google Earth renders of Pyongyang saved to a MacBook were a big hit in 2010, as were the lyrics to Pulp's "Common People". Who knows what the they might think of Gangnam Style's tongue-in-cheek satire of nouveau riche South Koreans? The more people engage with North Koreans outside the paradigm of the regime, the more the illusions wavers. Nobody saw the fall of the Berlin Wall coming, but it had been coming, bit by bit by bit.
Outside the paradigm of the regime: North Korea really is evolving
02 March 13

In 2010,'s Ian Steadman spent just over a week in North Korea. After the events of recent weeks -- such as Google's Eric Schmidt visiting the nation, and 3G being switched on -- he reflects on his trip, and how significant the North Korean regime's changes of stance could affect its people and our understanding of them.

You wait years for North Korea to open up a little, and it does so -- twice! -- in one week. You can now follow people Instagramming and Twittering from within the Hermit Kingdom as surely as they do so anywhere else, thanks to foreigners being granted 3G internet access.

That goes alongside the utterly bizarre sight of Kim Jong-Un sitting next to former NBA player (and notorious joker) Dennis Rodman, watching members of the Harlem Globetrotters face up against North Korean players in a game of "basketball diplomacy" for a Vice and HBO documentary.
One of these is a positive thing, the other, not so much.

North Korea elicits an understandable fascination in westerners for being a country apparently frozen in time. Most of the news we receive comes from the country's propaganda machine, or from whispers in neighbouring capitals. It's mysterious because we never know exactly what's going on. Unfiltered information, uploaded straight to the web (albeit perhaps with a sepia filter added for effect) is a sign that it's becoming a place less hard to picture. But let's not confuse a push for more tourists, with reported new hotels and attractions on the way, as some kind of concession to international law and better human rights -- visiting North Korea means giving money to a totalitarian regime that starves its children. The US State Department's press conference on Rodman's visit is an unsurprisingly tetchy example of that.

When I visited North Korea, more than anything it reminded me of being taken on a bus tour of the poorer parts of Cape Town. There is no justification for these township tours for wealthy western tourists -- they exist in the same way that wildlife safaris do, for the purpose of letting people gawp at things that are Other. The groups that run these tours often claim that they use the proceeds to fund charitable work, but if I wanted to have given to charity I could well have done so without sitting in a bus separated from other humans by glass just as surely as I'm separated from gorillas at the zoo. It is dehumanising in a fundamentally wrong way.
(Continued at the link below)

No comments:

Post a Comment

North Korea says talks with Pompeo were ‘regrettable’

As I wrote in March and posted on my blog here on June 6, the bar for success of the Singapore summit was pretty low:  http://maxoki161. bl...