North Korea is a truly fascinating country; I have followed developments there for many years. But you can’t do that in any real sense using mainstream media. The recent rash of stories after the sinking of the South Korean ship and the revaluation of the North Korean currency have been typical, full of economic and social collapse. However,
[m]uch of the “evidence” we have for the latest uptick in internal tensions following the currency redenomination consists of recycled stories from unproven or unreliable sources relating anecdotes from small slices of the country. These publicly available sources for North Korea are very subjective and come through the lens of defector groups and humanitarian non-governmental organizations that, quite frankly, have their own agendas. Corroborating these reports is often impossible.
That quote is from a long and very valuable article by Alexandre Mansourov in which he paints a far more complex and interesting picture.
North Korea is not static and inflexible. Indeed, there tends to be a very dynamic picture once you look below the surface … However, there is little or no sign that current tensions, caused by changes in the distribution of power within the leaderships’ core cadre, positioning for succession, or economic reforms are eroding the overall strength of the regime. While such tensions may spill over into society, there have been no signs that they have risen to a level that significantly weakens the regime or have made it feel that drastic action is needed.
Mansourov claims that, far from the American media’s accounts of starvation and State bankruptcy,
Pyongyang is, in fact, on a path of economic stabilization. Last year’s harvest was relatively good—the second in a row—thanks to a raft of developments including favorable weather conditions, no pest infestations, increased fertilizer imports from China, double-cropping, and the refurbishment of the obsolete irrigation system. Thanks to the commissioning of several large-scale hydro-power plants which supply electricity to major urban residential areas and industrial zones, North Korea generated more electricity in 2009 than the year before … Despite a decline in inter-Korean commerce and international sanctions imposed after the North’s missile and nuclear tests in early 2009, foreign trade did not contract in any meaningful way thanks to burgeoning ties with China. Moreover, Beijing seems to be committed to dramatically expanding its direct investments in the development of the North’s infrastructure, manufacturing, and service sectors.
Importantly, Mansourov gives a far more nuanced picture of the significant economic changes that have been pushed through in the last year or so.
In view of the ongoing preparations for the leadership succession, the redenomination could be viewed as a populist measure aimed at inflicting pain on less than 10 percent of the population through wealth redistribution in order to win support from more than 90 percent of the population who still live on state salaries and have not seen any improvement in their life despite burgeoning market activities. North Korea is still fundamentally a socialist society, and Kim Jong Il’s regime probably won some measure of support from the vast majority of North Koreans for its crackdown on corruption and abuses by rich traders and corrupt government officials who benefitted the most from bustling activity in black markets.
The whole article is a very good read and a more than useful corrective to the demonizing pablum we are fed by the MSM.