Worrying Trends Point to Destabilization in NK

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[Caption]As discreet developments, the easing of travel restrictions and troop desertions are remarkable, even a moment to cheer; together they start to worry.

Firstly, Andrei Lankpv narrates the slow erosion of North Korea’s restrictive travel visa system.

Nowadays, the authorities issue travel permits for trips lasting a week or two. Often they can be bribed to speed up the process, and in such a case the permits are produced almost immediately. The amount of bribe varies, depending on the destination: from some $10 for Pyongyang to merely $2 to $3 for a humble countryside destination. Money seems to be paid usually in exchange for speed.

There is something even more remarkable: In recent years North Korean authorities began to issue certificates which allow its bearer to travel to China, crossing the border legally. The procedure is time-consuming, taking about six months. As usual, it requires special security checks by the authorities. However, the outcome of such procedures is not pre-ordained, so generous payments are helpful to steer officials in the right direction. In this case, the bribes are much larger, up to $100 (as opposed to the usual $50). For the average Korean this is a large amount of money, but a majority of the applicants are engaged in the cross-border shuttle activity, and for them $100 is not an exorbitant sum.

Small victories for liberty, yes, but couldn’t such easing also facilitate ever greater demands for travel? Once North Koreans get used to moving around, will borders stop them?

And then, there’s the indications of troop desertions in the North Korean military.

With no glue holding the starving and grumbling people together in the army, the North Korean army is showing more frequent signs of a meltdown. In the RFA article, military officials said the reported number of deserters is severely under-estimated. If the number of deserters is reported as 10 people, the actual number is closer to 50. (It was unclear from the article, whether the number 10 and 50 refers to the proportion of deserters in the army). Below the news article, some net users, such as Choi Jae-hyuk,[ko] pointed out that if only around 10 percent have fled, it can be understood, but if the movement involves 50-60 percent of members, it is a clear sign of change.

Not to be a spoilsport, but this is not how I want regime change n North Korea to proceed. I don’t want the country just to unravel without a hint of international contingency planning. Whereas lawless deserters are just a bad sign, workers with more room to roam might be a boon for the national economy that national planners could have to acknowledge with reforms. Still, both these developments are the sort of signs that snowball into crises, not happy endings.

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Filed under: Business/Economy, Korea, Military Tagged: andrei lankov, dprk, north korea, ppstaday2011


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