[FORUM]A suggestion for the Dear LeaderAn open letter to Kim Jong-il:
I am writing in hopes that together, we can contemplate the livelihood of the Korean people in the 21st century. Here in South Korea, a mobile phone game titled “Let’s Defend Dokdo” has become enormously popular.
The company that planned and developed the game is none other than North Korea’s Samchonri General Trading Corporation. First proposed by South Korea’s Buknam Trading Corporation, the project was jointly pursued by the two companies.
There are three important things to consider about this. First, the joint project, which was brought about through online negotiations between the two companies in the North and the South, was possible because the North had opened its door ― however slightly ―to the Internet.
The second point is that companies in each of the Koreas are profiting from this project. The third point is that when it comes to software development, North Korea is capable of keeping up with the South, whose information technology capabilities are ranked among the best in the world.
I was very surprised to learn that a significant portion of the animated Disney film “The Lion King” was the work of employees in Pyongyang. How can this be possible in North Korea, where the people suffer from hunger and computers are scarce?
I was told that North Korea, a few years ago, had decided to focus on software development as one of its key industries, and that 6,000 talented programmers had been fostered since then. I was also told that North Korea has established many computer software-oriented universities and now can produce an educated workforce of 10,000 every year.
Experts say that North Korea has developed world-class technology in voice, fingerprint and character recognition as well as in animation and games. Baduk and Chinese chess computer games produced in the North are said to be highly regarded for their realism. North Korea’s Silver Star baduk game reportedly won the top prize at an international computer baduk competition. I am informed that North Korea has designed a fingerprint recognition security system for the Chinese authorities.
I was also told that North Korean hackers are as capable as those working for the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency. North Korean programmers are working in Japan, China and Singapore, earning high salaries.
It would appear that Koreans on both sides of the divide are blessed with talent in the IT field. The Yanbian Korean Autonomous Region, to take another example, has the highest rate of high-speed Internet connections in China. Because Koreans in China are disproportionately involved in the IT sector, their salaries tend to be exceptionally high.
Finally, I was told that the North is focusing on software development because it doesn’t have the resources to invest in hardware.
Doesn’t that tell you something?
Combining South Korea’s capital, its hardware and its inroads into global markets with North Korea’s gifted yet inexpensive software talent would turn the Korean Peninsula into an IT power. Already, animation produced jointly by the two Koreas has been exported to many countries.
Mr. Kim, I think the answer to your problems is not nuclear weapons. It is the IT industry.
I think you already know that the development of nuclear weapons will not provide security assurance to the North; it will only bring suffering and sanctions to your people. I think that you, Mr. Kim, are freer than anyone else in North Korea to contemplate new ideas.
Please stop the nuclear game now, and try to gain practical benefits for your country, such as international economic aid. For the Koreas to engage in a joint IT project, it is absolutely necessary for the United States to take North Korea off its list of state sponsors of terror. At present, because of the Wassenaar Arrangement barring export of “dual-use” strategic goods to communist countries, the South cannot send even outdated computers to the North. North Korea should also allow more of its citizens access to the Internet, to speed up their education in new technologies and to encourage trade with other countries.
Just as you opened up Kaesong despite the opposition of your military leaders, you can simply give up your nuclear arms programs by making a bold decision. Ireland, which was once a poor, agricultural country, skipped the usual stage of industrialization and became a wealthy nation by attracting IT companies from around the world. I have been told that North Korea dreams of a similar plan.
North Korean students are good in mathematics, or so I’ve been told. I think the North can learn much from India, another software power. I hope to see Kim Jong-il, the businessman, at an inter-Korean software development competition in Seoul.
* The writer is the JoongAng Ilbo’s deputy managing editor in charge of digital news.
by Kim Il