[Viewpoint] The enigma that is the North

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[Viewpoint] The enigma that is the North

North Korean defectors who have settled in South Korea number nearly 20,000.

The JoongAng Sunday’s March 7 edition reported a vivid mobile phone conversation between a defector living in Seoul and a relative in the North. A journalist also talked directly with a North Korean resident with the help of a defector.

He learned that hundreds of North Koreans every day brave armed security guards to sneak to the north end of the country’s border along the Yalu River to catch satellite signals for their handsets in hopes of contacting family members and relatives who have defected to South Korea.

The paper reported extensive information from the reclusive impoverished country to the outside world. The border area is dubbed as a South Korean economic zone.

Whether the armed border guards have given up keeping tabs on their countrymen moving to the edges of the river or whether activity there has now become beyond control is unknown.

But one thing is clear: The world’s most heavily-guarded and introverted socialist system is showing serious fissures.

A propaganda photo to contradict the mounting rumors about the regime’s status was carried on the front page of the JoongAng Ilbo on Monday. It was a scene of last month’s massive public rally to celebrate the reopening of a synthetic textile factory in Hamheung.

The country’s omnipotent leader, Kim Jong-il, clad in a winter jacket, made a rare appearance at the event. Tens of thousands waving red paper flowers packed the plaza with Kim looking down.

Such a scene can only happen in a tightly orchestrated and controlled state.

Exactly how the North manages to keep control of its society despite severe economic strains and other signs of crisis remains an enigma to many other countries.

Talk that the regime is near collapse has been around for more than a decade. But despite it all, the society somehow has managed to hold on to the edge of a cliff.

North Korea is impossible to understand ased on common sense alone. Socialists in Western Europe are offended when North Korea is referred to as a Stalinist state. Some claim it a hybrid of communism, totalitarianism, gangsterism and Confucianism. University of Ulsan Professor Choe Chung-ho sees the North Korean regime as a replica of Japan’s imperialism before its military aspirations were dashed at the end of the Second World War.

Resemblances are clear. There is the absolute worship of an almighty ruler. The Japanese concept of Shinto looks a lot like juche. And Japanese military expansionism is similar to the North’s military-first principle.

The world’s first and only hereditary leader in a communist society is preparing to pass power to a son. The society is as strange and inexplicable as a work by Franz Kafka.

Rampant reports emerge of people dying of starvation in the hobbled society as aid dried up after trade sanctions imposed last summer. Maybe there are North Koreans who feel pride that they can survive despite scarcity and self-imposed isolation.

They may even be honored to spend whatever resources the country has left to help develop nuclear weapons and fire long-range missiles to make an international impression. If so, they know as much about the fate of their own society as a hog knows about Sunday.

Their precious nuclear weapons, in fact, are worthless to international politicians. Unless they are an attempt at suicide, the country cannot use nor sell them.

U.S. President Barack Obama rules out the option of a pre-emptive nuclear attack and instead prefers a deterrent policy against North Korea. Washington sees no need to use nuclear arms against North Korea, confident of overpowering the country with its state-of-the-art military capabilities.

North Korea’s nuclear artillery does not stand a chance against the U.S. deterrent capacity. Pyongyang is more or less begging for attention with nuclear weapons.

They should first feed their people before dreaming of building a powerful state.

Japan is considered a Galapagos of the mobile industry, producing ultra-tech smart gadgets that are only workable in Japan and nowhere else in the world.

The Galapagos Islands in the South Pacific are rigorously guarded against modernization to conserve its ecosystem.

The North Korean regime is also an isolated Galapagos. The species there have evolved in their own unique ways in an isolated habitat. They will become more and more defenseless, fall as easy prey to outside forces and eventually head for extinction.

They must open up and gradually build the ability to cope with the outside world. It is their only way to survive on this earth.

*The author is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.

By Bae Myung-bok
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