Looking at North Korea As It Is

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Looking at North Korea As It Is

During the past two months we have received so many telephone calls related to the series of 18 articles entitled, 'Changes in the Winds Blowing to North Korea,' published in JoongAng Ilbo beginning April 25. Many readers, including elementary school students doing their homework, housewives, people separated from their hometowns in North Korea, officials at the Ministry of Unification, researchers at universities and research institutes, and officials at intelligence agencies, were considerably intrigued by these articles.

The opinions of readers differed in two major ways. Some were positive: 'refreshing!,' and 'JoongAng Ilbo has effectively dealt with changes in North Korea in a multi-dimensional perspective, in contrast to other news sources.' Conversely, negative voices griped: 'although there is no fundamental change in North Korean policies, JoongAng Ilbo exaggerated the superficial, minor changes.'

The special report team has been concerned about that question while running the series. We have done our best to highlight North Korea‘s objectives and convey accurate information about North Korea based on facts obtained from North Korean officials as well as experts who review a broad range of data. However, we never stop examining the possibility that we might be reading Chairman Kim Jong-il all wrong, or that we might be exaggerating the North‘s minor and inconsequential changes.

The special report team established a few firm principles prior to the introduction of the series. First, we resolved to report on North Korean society using only verifiable facts and proofs, eschewing the subjective scrutiny of ideologies. Second, we decided to rely on information obtained directly from our sources. Third, we agreed to reject all unsubstantiated information and rumors.

The outcome of the South-North summit proved that JoongAng Ilbo's manner of perceiving North Korea has been mostly on target. Chairman Kim Jong-il is a pragmatist, as we asserted in our first article. Chairman Kim stressed economic gains by inviting President Kim to discuss economic cooperation; this is as we predicted in articles 2, 4, 5, 6, and 15. He was definitely interested in computers and science, as we reported in articles 8 and 9. The changes were led by the North Korean elite power group aged 40 to 50 (article 16) . The changes were at the same time planned to maintain the North’s present system in the near future (14) and open up the North to the international world (17 and 18) .

It might be hasty to conclude that North Korea has entered its transformation period by dint of the extraordinary image of Chairman Kim broadcast over the summit‘s three days. North Korea’s people are at a watershed, poised to choose between the 'march to advance toward socialism,' and a radical policy to open up.

by Choi Won-gi

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