Money the ultimate universal ideologyAbout a month ago, the Institute for Far Eastern Studies of Kyungnam University hosted an interesting international conference called “Doing Business in North Korea.” Who can do business in the North and how? Since the sanctions of May 24, 2010, Korea has not engaged in any business with the North, with the exception of the Kaesong Industrial Complex. So the conference was packed. Businessmen from the Netherlands, Germany, the United States and Singapore gave presentations, and the global business veterans exuded confidence and composure.
They entered North Korea largely because of the cheap, quality work force. Global companies have high regard for North Korean labor. Paul Tjia of Dutch investment consulting firm GPI Consultancy said many companies with production bases in China use North Korea as an alternative outsourcing destination because the cost of labor in China has been increasing. Now, North Korea is in a position similar to that of China when it first opened its market, eager to attract foreign investors and expand the country’s middle class, he added. The presentation drew nods from government officials and resident foreigners in attendance. After hearing sporadic news about North Korea’s changes, they were convinced by voices from the field.
And as the conference was getting into full swing, the report that everyone was waiting for was presented. It was the evaluation of the parallel pursuit of economic development and nuclear weapons that came out of the Workers’ Party Central Committee meeting in March 2013. Singapore-based Choson Exchange’s Andray Abrahamian said that while Pyongyang publicly emphasizes the parallel pursuit, its focus is on the economy. Li Changjiang, an ethnic Chinese living in Korea who attended the conference, stressed that money has been the foundation of all values in the minds of North Koreans.
In the eyes of foreigners, North Korea has been rapidly changing since the May 24 sanctions. The Unification Ministry estimates 2.4 million cellular phones are in use in North Korea, and supply and demand are decided not by central economic planners, but by the market. Money circulates, and a new nouveau riche class is being formed. Money is solving problems that ideology has failed to effectively address.
International investor Jim Rogers argued that Seoul should not have an overly sensitive response to every move by North Korea, but rather it should remain composed and seek out possibilities for economic cooperation. While North Korea makes radical remarks, Pyongyang fails to realize the importance of economic cooperation, he contended. Why are we not seeing something that is so obvious to foreigners?
Four years after the attack on the Blue House, the July 4 Inter-Korean Joint Declaration was signed in 1972. Two years after the terror attack in Myanmar, the first family reunion was held in 1985. South Korea’s head of state was the target of terror in 1968 and 1983. Koreans were enraged and frustrated. There was even talk of retaliatory attacks on the North. But a few years later, South Korea made a more reasonable choice. Seoul needs to be more confident and composed and seek solutions to the May 24 sanctions.
The author is a researcher at the Unification Research Institute, JoongAng Ilbo.
JoongAng Ilbo, Feb. 23, Page 30
by KO SOO-SUK