North Korea: A Prisoner of Its Own History

7 12 2008

By Leonid Petrov,  Acta Koreana (Dec. 2008)

kji_paranoid-peninsulaA globalized and interdependent world is deep in a financial crisis. Responding to the new tough realities, individual states and regional communities adjust their production and consumption mechanisms. Flexibility and common sense help the economic systems survive and recover. Only North Korea — the last “orthodox” communist state — has no plans for change. Experts predicted North Korea’s imminent collapse in the early 1990s, but it remains defiant and ignorant to the obvious necessity of modernization. The country remains locked in a self-destructive cycle, where ideology controls the politics and faulty policies kill the economy. Self-imposed isolation and external sanctions keep North Korea poor but stable, providing the regime with unconventional opportunities for survival. Isolated and paranoid, it may well stay around for another century.

Paul French’s book “North Korea: The Paranoid Peninsula. A Modern History” (first published in 2005) is now in its second edition, revised in 2007. It offers a profound and comprehensive analysis of the DPRK’s political and socio-economic peculiarities and examines the phenomenon of this country’s obstinate denial of reality. A director of Shanghai-based Access Asia, Mr. French boasts the first-hand knowledge of North Korea that positions him well to judge its business practices and domestic policies. Relying on open-source material and personal observations, the author provides a dispassionate analysis of what is known about the situation in this highly secretive state.

See the full text here…

Paul French, North Korea: The Paranoid Peninsula. A Modern History (2nd revised edition), Publisher: Zed Books, London, NY, 2007, 334 pages.

Australia and the DPRK: The Sixty Years of Relationship

11 09 2008

By Leonid A. Petrov Nautilus institute, Policy Forum Online 08-069A: (September 9th, 2008)

This year the two Korean states are celebrating their 60th anniversary. Established respectively in August and September 1948 the Republic of Korea (ROK or South Korea) and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK or North Korea) both have covered a long and winding road of struggle for recognition, survival and prosperity. With different degrees of success, both states have entered the 21st century of Globalization but still refuse to recognise each other. Ideological confrontation between the East and the West, which sparked a civil conflict in Korea, continues to dominate inter-Korean politics now and effectively prevents the prospect for reconciliation and peaceful unification.

All these years Australia has been one of the countries intimately involved in political developments on the Korean peninsula. As part of the West, Australia was closer to the ROK and even fought on its side during the Korean War (1950-1953). Active economic, cultural, and human exchange continued cementing the firm alliance between South Korea and Australia. These days the ROK is Australia’s third largest trading partner; South Koreans visiting Australia reach hundreds of thousands every year; academic and language exchange is on the rise. This year both countries decided to start the process leading to the Free Trade Agreement, which will fully open their domestic markets to each other.

On the contrary, relations between Australia and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK or North Korea), have been one of the oddest and most chequered in diplomatic history. Australia was prominently represented in the UN Temporary Commission for Korea in 1947 and contributed to the creation of two hostile states on the peninsula. A short period of mutual recognition and cultural cooperation with the DPRK took place in the mid-1970s but was suddenly and mysteriously broken off. In May 2000, encouraged by the improved climate of inter-Korean and DPRK-US cooperation, Australia and North Korea resumed diplomatic relations. However, the resurgent nuclear crisis and the drug-smuggling incident in Victoria proved to be hard tests for this shaky relationship. (See the full text here…)


북한의 범죄 행위는 생존 전략의 일환이다

25 03 2008

Choi Dongsong

레오니드 페트로프(호주국립대학)

북한 마약 운반선 봉수호의 선장 및 3명의 선원에 대한 오스트레일리아 빅토리아 주 최고법원의 최근 무죄 판결은 아무도 예상치 못했을 정도로 놀랍다. 북한이 국제 무대에서 불법 행위를 지원하고 있다는 지배적인 견해는 오스트레일리아인과 미국의 북한 전문가 2명(에이드리안 부조, 발비나 황, 조 베르뮤데스)가 행한 증언에 잘 표현되어 있다. 이들은 조선민주주의인민공화국(DPRK)의 최고 지도부가 사건의 배후에 있다고 믿어 의심치 않았다. 그런데도 여성 7인과 남성 6인으로 구성된 배심원단은 봉수호 선장 송만선, 정치 지도원 최동송, 1등 항해사 리만진, 1등 기관사 리주천에 대해 무죄를 판결하고 3년간의 구금 상태에서 그들을 석방시켰다…

The full story is here:

North Korea’s Criminal Activity is Part of Survival Strategy

25 03 2008

Pong Su

By Leonid Petrov

It has been exactly two years since the acquittal of the captain and three officers of a North Korean drug-running cargo ship, Pong Su, by the Supreme Court of Victoria, Australian. After the three years of investigation and four months of trial, this decision caused a sensation that continues to cause debates about the DPRK government’s involvement in illicit activities across the globe.

The dominating view that the North Korean state supports illicit activities on the international stage had been consistently expressed in the testimonies provided by one Australian (Adrian Buzo) and two US-based (Balbina Hwang and Joe Bermudez) experts on North Korea. They and many other commentators had little doubt that DPRK top leadership was behind the incident…

Read the full story here:

Taedonggang Beer

24 03 2008

Taedonggang beer brewery

North Koreans are very proud of their Taedonggang Beer, which, in fact, is of excellent export quality. However, for some reason, its export is allowed only to South Korea (which is technically the same country).

The hardware is, indeed, British but the story of brand creation goes back to Kim Jong-il’s visit to Russia in August 2001. During his visit to the Baltika brewery in St.Petersburg, the North Korean leader invited its experts to cooperation and, in memory of the tasting, took away a 5-liter keg.


Some cooperation between this Russian brewery and North Korean Taedonggang took place soon after that. Also, Taedonggang beer owes its qualities to the technological processes of Chinese Tsingtao and Japanese Sapporo (according to the factory’s official guide, Ms. Kim Seong-bok). Its byproducts include Taedonggang soju and Taedonggang barley tea.

Barley and hop, which are used for Taedonggang beer, come from the northern Ryanggang Province, and the fresh water from South Hwanghae Province. The filtering material is also produced locally. Taedonggang is produced bottled and draft (10° and 12°). But the North Koreans prefer stronger liqueurs and consider beer merely a “beverage”, not alcohol.


See “Taedonggang Beer: The Simple Pleasures” by DPRK Studies

Questions from NK Monitor

22 03 2008


NK Monitor has asked many interesting questions. I hope my answers are not completely wrong.

>Some (anecdotal) evidence seems to suggest that the public distribution system, especially in the border regions, is breaking down…

– Apparently, the PDS has been revitalized all across the country after 2003. It can break down again only if the government is collapsing or there is nothing to distribute. So far, these do not seem to be the case.

> …and as this happens, the jangmadang are increasingly filling this gap.

– This is why the “farmers’ markets” (jangmadang) were officially permitted in 2002-2003 virtually in every district and village. Moreover, after the 2005 crackdown on private selling activity, people still trade and speculate but discreetly, at night. The authorities know about that but seldom react.

> Imaginably, some of this food, especially up in the border areas, is imported from China. Assuming a large percentage of the food in that region is imported from China, wouldn’t that drive up prices in the region ?

– Food (and other goods) come from China as the result of barter (non-cash) deals with North Koreans. The food prices are growing, so the prices on the commodities which North Korea is exporting.

>(Also, due to predicted food shortages locally-produced food prices will no doubt rise as well).

– Yes, in jangmadangs the food prices rise and fall seasonally. But the prices on food sold through the PDS is likely to stay at the same level. PDS remains for the central government an important stabilizing factor which buys it time to look for survival paths.

>And as those traders start accumulating power and money and coalesce together, is it possible that this could contribute to the formation of “fiefdoms” along the border area that are autonomous and able to resist the central government?

– This process began in the early 2000s, when economic freedoms were hardly controlled from the centre. After 2005, when Pyongyang gained momentum, many of the freedoms associated with “7.1 economic measures” were curtailed. Recently, the government began to crack down on collective property on the means of production (trucks, buses, machinery) to undermine their ability to earn cash and barter.

And, the most important, you cannot “resist the central government” in societies like North Korea unless you feel suicidal…


Can Surging Grain Prices Spark Unrest in N.Korea?

18 03 2008
The Hyundai Economic Research Institute, via Chosun Ilbo, reported that

surging international grain prices may worsen North Korea’s food shortage and lead to other serious problems in the country. In a report released on Sunday, the Hyundai Economic Research Institute said, “Soaring international grain prices will further worsen North Korea’s food shortage and encourage more North Koreans to flee the country. This will very likely lay a big stumbling block to North Korea’s opening and create instability for Northeast Asia as well.”
If it is protracted, the upward rise of grain prices caused by short supply will have serious effects on global food security. This, in turn, may cause wide-spread starvation, produce more refugees, and cause regional armed clashes, the research institute said.
In order to attain food security, the research institute urged the South Korean government to enhance its food self-sufficiency and lay a stable foundation for food supply by strengthening cooperation with neighboring countries in cultivating food crops on undeveloped land. The institute also called on the government to seek strategic cooperation with North Korea in the agricultural sector.

This report does not seem to be exactly right.

1) North Korean agricultural sector is NOT linked to international grain markets;
2) Humanitarian aid from overseas does NOT necessarily need to be given in the form of top-quality grain;
3) North Korea is NOT going to “open up” even if the grain prices are low or humanitarian assistance is bountiful.

On the contrary, the soaring grain prices may help North Korean become a net exporter of grain, raising the badly needed foreign exchange. If needed, a single directive from Pyongyang can make the whole country switch from rice and