Saturday, October 31, 2009

Satisfaction of North Koreans living in Seoul compared to South Korean counterparts

North Koreans who have escaped from their Stalinist state and are now fortunate enough to be living in South Korea are indeed treated differently than their South Korean cousins. For one, the salary paid to a North Korean in Seoul will likely be one third less than what a South Korean earns. Far more North Korean transplants live in poverty in South Korea.

On the other hand, according to a 2007 study by the Korea Peace Institute, the average monthly salary for a North Korean who has lived in South Korea for more than seven years has increased steadily, from $374 (in 2001) to $710 (2004) to $1047 (2007).

When the North Koreans were asked to grade the level of satisfaction they felt with their lives, based on the categories of physical conditions, mental state and social and physical environment, North Koreans attached a considerable higher rating to their quality of life than did South Koreans living in the same environment.

Out of a perfect score of 5, North Korean defectors graded their lives in South Korea at 3.43out of 5, on average higher than what South Koreans gave.

Friday, October 30, 2009

North Korean Youth Look South for Entertainment

Myung Chul-jin, a recently defected North Korean living in Seoul, recalls there were some good times in Pyongyang: evenings with friends when they watched smuggled South Korean soap operas and American films like Superman Returns and Titanic. "North Koreans love foreign dramas," says Myung, using an alias to protect his family living in the North. "Many people watch them in secret, even when the police have tried to stop it."

In recent years, bootlegged South Korean dramas have been flooding into its northern neighbor — part of a recent explosion across Asia in popularity of South Korean TV shows and music known as the "Korea Wave." The nation's films and dramas have become so widespread in across the country that the regime launched a crackdown this fall on North Korean university students, the movies' biggest audience, and smugglers at the Chinese border, charging some with promoting the ideology of the enemy state. "The government is terrified of the ideas North Koreans are getting about the outside world," Myung says. "The people are starting to ask, 'Why are we poor?' And they point to South Korea."

The state-run media in the North has long derided South Korea's "decadent foreign culture and ideals," and has banned nearly all South Korean, American and Japanese films in favor of 1960s Soviet and Chinese films rife with revolutionary ideas. Yet foreign films have always been available to the country's élites, having been smuggled in before the 1990s though never at the rate that happens now. Even Kim Jong Il, the country's dictator, is said to own a library of more than 20,000 foreign and North Korean films.

"I used to believe strongly what the government told us — that foreign films are crazy and violent. We used to be terrified of watching South Korean dramas," said one North Korean university student in Seoul, who remains sympathetic to the regime. "But I've opened my mind."

"There are lots of stories on that from the defectors," says Lee Jong Ju, deputy spokesperson of Seoul's Ministry of Unification. "They said they can see [South] Korean soap operas in North Korea, and then that could be one of the reasons they decided to go to South Korea," says Lee.


Thursday, October 29, 2009

Military on the hotseat over South Korean defector to North Korea

Chosun Ilbo reports that the South Korean military is under a hail of criticism over a man's flight to North Korea on Monday through a stretch of border guarded by the 22nd Division in Goseong, Gangwon Province. This is the same area where an unidentified man defected to North Korea in September 1996.

The Joint Chiefs of Staff on Wednesday dispatched a team to find out if their soldiers are guilty of negligence.

If the man, identified as Kang Tong-rim, defected to North Korea through the military demarcation line, this means that South Korean patrols failed to find the breach for a whole day. "It's unheard-of for a breach in the fence to remain undetected for more than a day, since the fences are patrolled 24 hours a day," said one military officer.

Kang strolled past a checkpoint that keeps civilians from reaching the border area some 10 km from the military demarcation line, cut through the fence and entered the demilitarized zone, which is strewn with land mines. The military completely failed to detect or deter Kang from moving through the area.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Here’s a switch --S Korean defects to North Korea

A South Korean pig farmer has defected to North Korea after crossing the heavily fortified land border, the communist state’s official media reports.

Pyongyang’s Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) identified the man as Kang Tong-Rim, 30, and said that on Monday he crossed the eastern section of the Demilitarized Zone which bisects the peninsula.

Seoul did not confirm the rare South-North defection but a spokesman for the Joint Chiefs of Staff said troops had found signs of wire cuts in the eastern section of the fence.

“We believe this is a sign of an alleged defection.”


Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Why it's sane for Kim Jong-il to be mad

For those who see North Korean leader Kim Jong-il as a dangerous lunatic prepared to risk the annihilation of his regime by launching a devastating attack on his neighbors, there is no shortage of supporting evidence.

But for analysts and policymakers trying to gauge the chance of a catastrophic war, game theory offers a crucial insight. In Kim's position, it is perfectly sane to seem mad. And it would be a disaster for him if the world believed he was rational.

"No fool stays in power for years ... when there are so many generals, sons and wives waiting in the wings to launch a coup," says Bruce Bueno de Mesquita, who specializes in political forecasting based on game theory, and who advised the U.S. Defense Department on Korea in 2004.

For years, Kim has veered unpredictably between belligerence and conciliation. Viewed in terms of game theory, this behavior is entirely rational. In fact, it is Kim's only viable strategy.