Understanding North Korea
By Kongdan Oh
Reviewed by John Sylvester
We should have little optimism about change in North Korea under its new young leader says Kongdan Oh, a Non-Resident Fellow of the Brookings Institute and writer on that strange hermit kingdom. She sees Kim Jong-un as refusing to implement reforms, instead backing a hard-line military buildup, and even psychologically preparing the people for renewed war with the South.
She says there are two countries in the North: a "Pyongyang Republic" of mostly party members enjoying the better life in a Potemkin Village, and a "Republic of Everyone Else," scrabbling out, often illegally, a meager existence in the poor countryside. She comments: "People are thinner and much more poorly dressed than they are in Pyongyang. They are also hungrier and sicker. Only local party leaders and the black-market entrepreneurs who bribe them are pear shaped; everyone else is banana shaped."
The Chinese, of course, have the best leverage on the North Korean regime. She quotes a Chinese as saying: "'The 'First Fat,' Kim Il-sung, was sort of a comrade to us, fighting against the colonial Japanese. The 'Second Fat', his son Kim Jong-il was disliked by most Chinese, but we continued to support North Korea. Now this 'Third Fat,' Kim Jong-un, seems to be the worst of the lot.'" China now has little patience with Pyongyang, but seems still to favor "non-interference."
With North Korea impossible to deal with, she sees the U.S. as able to do little but to push the Chinese, try to inform the North Korean people about the outside world, and gradually thus erode the regime from below.