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Comm Products and Change in the DPRK December 3, 2010

Filed under: Posts by Ashley,Uncategorized — zabc21 @ 10:22 am

As everyone that knows me is aware, I’m deeply interested in North Korea. I find it all fascinating: foreign policy, America’s involvement, the Regime, and in particular the markets and the rise of cultural products, and the telecommunication industry.

I’m actually working on a paper in relation to the later two of that list. Many North Korean scholars have high hopes that through the use of the markets with access to cultural and communication products like South Korean dramas, Chinese TVs that can pick up Chinese broadcasts, radios, etc, that there will be a change from the ground up. Meaning that there will be examples of civic unrest leading to the ultimate goal: democracy.

This will be a long and hard fight, but there are examples of change from within the Regime that are tolerating the capitalist market ventures, and allowing forms of advertising, mostly small billboards, to be present. Advertising is an increasingly capitalist concept, so one can only believe that the country truly is changing via the capitalistic enterprise of the markets.

The telecommunication industry also has a large amount of foreign investment to rebuild the failing infrastructure. Orascom, an Egyptian company is investing up to $400 million in a 3G-cell phone system that would be quite comparable to the international standard with SMS, voice mail, and call waiting, etc capabilities. This is exciting as well for multiple reasons. Orascom has developed the largest advertising campaign, well really the only advertising campaign in North Korea, with an information basis to teach the citizens about the products, and how to use them. Also, in Castell’s article “The Mobile Civil Society,” it is discussed how the citizens in the Philippines used their cell phones to ultimately oust the President. It can only be hoped that events like this could begin in the DPRK. And lastly, for when the Regime finally does fall, it doesn’t hurt the rest of the world that part of the society is up to date for economic reasons.

Sure this hope for democracy seems like a long shot, especially through the “use” of items such as South Korean dramas, and radio broadcasts that are illegal for the North Koreans to hear. This is the best hope for a change within the civil society that could prompt large-scale reform. If anything, it gives the world diplomacy options for how to start the progress, at a time that it appears North Korea needs it.

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2 Responses to “Comm Products and Change in the DPRK”

  1. Ben Says:

    Hey Ashley-it is exciting to hear about these developments, but I must play the skeptic and question the effectiveness of their potential implementation. The stability of the politburo rests on the control over information, they have deeply entrenched government ministries devoted to this task and have created an environment antithetical to the promotion of any kind of free speech. So, I wonder what good a 3G network would do a country with no free flow of information, heavily restricted Internet access, no power grid that could support it, and a government that learns all its lessons from China-including how to censor a population. It just seems like an awkward fit. As much as I would love to see the Korean civil society mobilize, it first needs a civil society. To me, it seems like an extraneous luxury that won’t effect the part of the population who really needs the regime to fall-the impoverished and struggling are not concerned with 3G, but probably more concerned with eating and surviving winter. It sounds like this could be something for Sinuiji and Pyongyang, places where people who are digitally literate enough could make use of them. And, that could prove to be a real positive thing-seeing as how those are the power centers of the North. But also in those places, any kind of civil society movements (are there any?) are dwarfed by the state. As much as I hate to say it, I don’t think the hardware alone will do anything for the North. Rather, it will be an elite-to-elite exchange that never reaches the layer of the citizenry that really needs it.

    • zabc21 Says:

      This is obviously a concern. I agree on a large part of it…but there are examples of civic uprisings that have resulted due to the markets and in particular the cell phone system. I actually meant to discuss that. For example, there have been a couple instances when the citizens have gone against the government and military after they closed markets. And before Orascom’s venture, Loxley Pacific began a cell phone system. A cell phone was turned into a detonation device and blew up a train, and was rumored to be an assassination attempt on Kim Jong-Il. This probably wasn’t the case, but nonetheless it’s a challenge to the system. And obviously this doesn’t tackle the issue of the price barriers and things like the cell phone implementation being used by the elites only, but there are things that are present on the markets such as the South Korean dramas, radios, etc, that are much more accessible to non-elites. The market actors with their growing capitalistic ventures are obtaining large excess capital that are necessary for any business, and through this excess capital these products are more economically reasonable. And yes, there are still others that are starving and not even up to this economic standard, but this is indicative of change. It’s a slow reformation process, but with hopes this will help promote faster change.


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