Korea’s ‘Arbeit Macht Frei’ Bubble

This week, several new reports, chiefly those from the New York Times and the LA Times, describe a journalists’ group tour of the Kaesong Industrial Park, possibly the only place on earth where the spirits of P.T. Barnum(*) and Lavrenti Beria cohabitate.

A Paradise Within a (Worker’s) Paradise

In North Korea, a nation that is essentially one vast open-air prison, Kaesong is the new prison laundry — a relatively cushier, marginally less despotic part of the institution into which you can finagle your way for enough cigarettes (or worse). Your level of moral comfort with Kaesong’s particular form of capitalism probably depends on your perspective.

At Kaesong, the minimum wage for the 48-hour week is $57.50. But $7.50 is deducted for “social charges” paid to the North Korean government. The remaining $50 is paid to a North Korean government labor broker. None of the South Korean factory managers interviewed would guess how much of the $50 salary ends up in the pockets of workers.

“The exact amount is determined by North Korean authorities,” said Kim Dong Keun, a South Korean who chairs the Kaesong Industrial District Management Committee.

Under labor contracting arrangements in Russia and Eastern Europe, North Korea’s government often withholds half of their workers’ salaries.

Exact answers to the question were not immediately available, so James Brooke of the New York Times did something remarkable. He asked. (In the process, he did much to redeem his newspaper, and just after I castigated the bias and laziness of another of its reporters).

Attempts to interview seamstresses at the Shinwon factory elicited evasive responses and intervention by South Korean guides.

“No interviews with North Korean officials or employees are allowed,” Mira Sun, the foreign press aide to South Korea’s president, Roh Moo Hyun, lectured reporters by loudspeaker in one bus after reporters tried to interview seamstresses.

Barbara Demick of the L.A. Times was able to learn the answer anyway:

The monthly salaries of $57.50 for each North Korean worker — regardless of position — are paid directly to the North Korean government, which in turn gives the workers about $8, more than double the average monthly salary. South Korean companies have asked repeatedly to pay the workers directly and to give bonuses for better work, but have been refused.

Contrary to some of the other reporting – including Brooke’s otherwise excellent report – a worker at Kaesong will earn about 40 cents per day (not 23 cents an hour). Assuming 20 workdays per month and 8 hours per day, that’s 40 cents a day, or a nickel an hour. It’s hard to image how a family can live on that, even in North Korea, and even taking the state’s crumbling public distribution system into account. It says much that this is still an above-average wage in North Korea.

[Update 9/06: There’s another point I failed to note when I originally put this post up. The figure of $57.50 has since been advised upward to around $63 or so, to reflect the increased buying power of the South Korean won against the dollar. Anyone see a problem here? Well, unless the North Koreans are letting their workers collect their wages in South Korean won — chances of that are just south of nil — the $57 and $63 figures are meaningless, because the real wage that matters is paid in North Korean currency. These figures almost certainly come from converting North Korean won to South Korean won at the highly inflated official exchange rate, versus the actual market value of North Korean currency. How inflated? This calculator will tell you that 10,000 North Korean won are worth over four million South Korean won, or $4,544.77 American(!). At that rate, $63 is equal 138.62 won. However, the actual market value of North Korean currency is falling like a stone due to hyperinflation. Recently, the Daily NK reported that 1,200 won buys 1 kilogram of rice. Presuming that the North Koreans pay the workers that entire amount, which we already suspect they don’t, a person simply can’t live on 2.2 pounds of rice for nearly a year. So where does this leave us? With more questions than answers.]

There are other differences between Kaesong and “ordinary” sweatshops, where, say, underpaid Indonesian workers make sneakers for low wages.  (For now, set aside the question of the mendacious idealism used to sell Kaesong.) Surabaya Johnny can at least theoretically choose other employment, and  stands a realistic chance of doing so at better pay, thanks to rising real wages in the manufacturing sector. It’s not all rosy, to be sure, but there’s a tangible greater good for which you can argue. This isn’t an argument that Kaesong’s proponents can make.

And then there’s the question of collective bargaining. I mean, union label, anyone?

Not only are the wages the lowest in Northeast Asia, but independent labor unions are banned.

“Strikes?” Hwang replied dismissively in response to a reporter’s question. Raising crossed arms, he said with a slight smile: “Absolutely not.”

So much for “freedom of association and the effective recognition of the right to collective bargaining,” a principle of which South Korea clearly runs afoul with Kaesong, and which ought, in a just world, to get it summarily kicked out of the International Labor Organization. And it bears endless repetition that while South Korea’s manufacturing jobs are outsourced to this high-tech corporate plantation, South Korea’s normally ferocious and violent labor unions haven’t uttered a peep. You could guess why, but doing so would be unnecessarily strenuous.

Finally, if things don’t work out for Surabaya Johnny at his current job, they probably won’t get this bad for him, or for his family.

Capitalism’s Worst-Kept Conspiracy

 

 

These uneasy questions go unanswered by the politicians and power elites of both Koreas, who have formed an alliance of convenience cemented by an ethical blindness not seen since Snuppy was whelped. As with the half-forgotten ruckus over Hwang Woo-Seok, Kaesong presents another complex relationship between “ends” and “means,” and how badly such relationships can end when their pretended premises unravel. Of the means, I’ve said about as much as we’ll be allowed to know. We can be reasonably certain that they won’t include attaching desperately needed human rights conditions to aid or investment in North Korea.

As for the ends, the theory behind Kaesong is that there is a higher social purpose for this Gulag of Tomorrow, where high tech meets low wage. The idea is that Kaesong’s seductive, corrupting power will be the harbinger of North Korea’s gradual reform toward prosperity, and perhaps even a relative degree of political liberalization. It’s a new variation on an old idea, although it was catchier in the original German:

I’ve previously compiled a lengthy parade of loss-making partnerships with the North Korean regime that have left neither the investors nor ordinary North Koreans any richer, and sometimes feeling trapped between two governments. Kaesong proves that for the South Koreans, sadder does not always mean wiser.

It’s probably also a safe bet that Kaesong won’t do much to advance the capitalist subversion of North Korea anytime soon, given the North’s extraordinary  determination to keep out subversive ideas. Demick’s article for the L.A. Times notes the isolation of the area around Kaesong, the armed guards and fences around it, and the careful attention paid to preventing contact between ordinary North and South Koreans, including separate stores, cafeteria, and clinics exclusively for the visitors. To the extent that Arbeit Macht Frei goes beyond being a self-serving cover for capitalism at its worst, the North Koreans are on to it:

It is the imperialist’s old trick to carry out ideological and cultural infiltration prior to their launching of an aggression openly. Their bourgeois ideology and culture are reactionary toxins to paralyze people’s ideological consciousness. Through such infiltration, they try to paralyze the independent consciousness of other nations and make them spineless. At the same time, they work to create illusions about capitalism and promote lifestyles among them based on the law of the jungle, in an attempt to induce the collapse of socialist and progressive nations. The ideological and cultural infiltration is their silent, crafty and villainous method of aggression, intervention and domination. . . .

Through “economic exchange” and personnel interchange programs too, the imperialists are pushing their infiltration. . . . Exchange and cooperation activities in the economic and cultural fields have been on the rise since the beginning of the new century. The imperialists are making use of these activities as an important lever to push the infiltration of bourgeois ideology and culture. . . .

The North Koreans aren’t fools, after all. Kim Jong Il is reported to be personally obsessed with the fate of Romania’s Nicolae Ceaucescu (as in, avoiding), and even ordered his underlings to watch the videotaped executions of Ceaucescu and his wife, over and over again. In the context of Eastern Europe, Kim has lectured that “[t]oday, the imperialists and reactionaries are tenaciously scheming to blow the wind of bourgeois liberalism into us,” and predicts the end of his regime if North Korea opens itself to the outside world:

People will ideologically degenerate and weaken; cracks will develop in our socialist ideological position; and, in the end, our socialism will helplessly collapse. A case in point is the bitter lesson drawn from the miserable situations of the former Soviet Union and Eastern European countries.

True to the Dear Leader’s guidance, the North Koreans are enforcing the hermetic seal rigorously:

South Koreans have covertly tried to give medicine from their private clinic to ailing North Koreans.

One South Korean employee was accused of trying to bribe a North Korean soldier when he gave him two packages of instant ramen noodles, said a military source who requested anonymity.

In a more serious incident, a South Korean was caught trying to distribute Christian literature, which is strictly forbidden in the communist country, the source said.

If anything, it’s South Koreans who are  subjected to the North Koreans’ ideology:

Mobile telephones, newspapers, books, videos, laptops, magazines, MP3 players and many other appurtenances of 21st century life have to be checked on the south side of the border.

Also best left behind are any wisecracks about the North Korean regime, in particular those involving its leader, Kim Jong Il. [I suppose there’s another story behind that!]

“You’ve got to watch what you say,” said Kim Yi Gyeom, a South Korean telecommunications worker standing in a long line of Monday morning commuters waiting to go north. “The spirit of openness has not come to North Korea yet.”

Another observation from Demick’s LA Times report:

North Korean patriotic music in praise of Kim blares over the loudspeakers of a futuristic warehouse where North Korean women in crisp blue uniforms stitch athletic shoes using brand-new sewing machines.

The Washington Post’s Anthony Faiola adds more:

South Koreans are not permitted beyond a bright green perimeter fence that is guarded by armed soldiers and separates the complex from a decaying North Korean village rife with communist slogans, including one telling all residents to “celebrate the greatness” of North Korea.

Nor does reform look likely in the future, even after nearly a a decade of South Korean appeasement. The hope to which advocates of tyranny-sustaining investment always clung was a series of very limited market reforms, initiated in 2001 (much more at the section entitled “Economic Reform?”). Late last year, however, even those reforms were reversed, a point even a South Korean diplomat had to concede when I questioned him on it recently. (Even Stalin ordered similar, modest reforms in the 1920’s, only to reverse them, clamp down again, and order more purges later.)

It’s harder than ever to see how Arbeit will macht Frei in North Korea. Stripped of its idealistic cladding, then, Kaesong looks like an especially pernicious new bastard of sweatshop and gulag.

The Strange Dance of the Isms

 

This makes for some fascinating reading, especially watching  Kaesong’s fans on the far left go all glisteny-eyed over the promise of Kaesong, letting the schmaltzy corporate propaganda wash over them like so much  815 Cola, arousing them to heats of unificationista passion.  Of course, I speak of Christine Ahn, writing in the International Herald Tribune:

At Incheon International Airport in South Korea, flat-screen televisions beam a Samsung cellphone commercial of a concert with South Korea’s pop icon, Lee Hyo Ri, and the North Korean dancer Jo Myung Ae. Korea’s most popular female stars, they sing a song about parted lovers with the lyrics, “Someday we will meet again, although no one knows where we’re going, someday we will meet again, in this very image of us separated.”As they hold hands, the blue “One Korea” flag rolls down behind them, and as they turn to watch the flag, Lee Hyo Ri says, “That day I was so nervous because the story wasn’t just about the two of us.”

Here was Samsung, one of Korea’s most powerful corporations, popularizing reunification. And the South Korean government was also sending a clear message to all foreigners landing on Korean soil: Reunification is happening, slowly, but surely.

Later, Ahn trumpets the growth of inter-Korean “economic exchanges.”  Reading this, you might not immediately guess that Ahn is a ferocious anti-globalization / anti-free trade  author-activist, a Dennis Kucinich groupie,  and an advocate of state-managed food redistribution.

Nationalism, meet socialism.

Again.

It’s almost too logically and morally oblivious, too intellectually dishonest,  to comprehend. If you hate globalism when it’s partially balanced by a free labor market, mostly-rising wages, and the right to strike, you can’t simultaneously love the Arbeit-Macht-Frei politics of Kaesong, a legally and morally unchecked union of factory bosses and concentration camp guards, where workers are silenced, unions are banned, and wages are a nickel an hour.

Even if a dour German Marxist playwright were sufficiently moved by the social injustices of Kaesong to write a storyline about class struggle there, the premise would be too unbelieveable to make good theater. A musical about a Kaesong Johnny would end, well, something like the reality that enclosed Brecht and Weill as they ranted on about the injustices of global capitalism.

How little times change.

In Closing, Always Follow the Cheerleaders

In the end, however, the cultural isolation of Kaesong’s hand-picked workers will fail. The workers will eventually take note of the health and prosperity of their southern counterparts, and they will talk about it. And when the regime’s security forces find out, they will do what they did after learning that some members of the nation’s cheerleading squad talked about what they saw in Busan. Kaesong itself will not be immune to that reaction. That means that predictions of explosive growth at Kaesong will prove premature, and that Kaesong will be fortunate to remain what it is now: a small, carefully sealed cash cow for Kim Jong Il’s regime.

———————–

Update: Edited, and re-edited. Also, don’t miss Don Kirk’s CSM story, which I received moments after putting up this post. I think Don’s last rental carn (a Kia) was made in Kaesong, based on its performance.

Another Update: South Korea is raiding the nation’s unemployment insurance fund to pay for job training at Kaesong. Hel-LO! Any UNIONS out there? Sheesh.

Yet Another Update: The Anti-Unification Ministry wants to relax the payment structure for non-performing loans for the Kumgang joint venture.

10 comments

  1. Korea’s ‘Arbeit Macht Frei’ Bubble

    […] There’s my opinion, then there’s THE opinion. Comments » […]

    COMMENT:
    AUTHOR: Brendan
    EMAIL: brendanbrown12@hotmail.com
    I read an interesting article by Barbara Demmick in the ‘LA Times’ liftout in Saturday’s Korea Times about North Korean women working under slave like conditions in the Czech Republic. Here’s the link.

    http://theseoultimes.com/ST/?url=/ST/db/read.php?idx=2862

    COMMENT:
    AUTHOR: Mark
    EMAIL: x85130c4@hotmail.com
    Schwindler’s List.

    COMMENT:
    AUTHOR: bluejives
    EMAIL: bluejives73@yahoo.com
    If the Kaesong Project is flawed and everything that the progressive lefties in the ROKGOV are doing is a series of appeasements then what is a viable alternative? What should SK be doing instead, in your view, that would be “the right way” to deal with NK?

    COMMENT:
    AUTHOR: Joshua
    EMAIL: onefreekorea@yahoo.com
    Read our “mission statement” link on the right.

    COMMENT:
    AUTHOR: Ian
    EMAIL: imorgan73@yahoo.com
    There was a telling statement in the WaPo article regarding NK using this as a way to swap useless NK won for spendable US$:

    It is unclear how much of that money actually goes to the North Korean workers. The dollar-denominated checks issued by the South Korean companies are paid to a North Korean government agency. Na Un Suk, director general of North Korea’s Central Special Economic Zone Control Agency, said the government makes deductions for room and board provided to the employees before paying them varying amounts in North Korean currency.

    COMMENT:
    AUTHOR: bluejives
    EMAIL: bluejives73@yahoo.com
    One of your critical arguments against the Kaesong Project seems to be that it serves as a source of revenue for the NK regime, which prolongs it, and thus is a bad thing.

    I believe that point has limited merit because even without Kaesong, NK can always conduct similar projects with the PRC. In fact, according to some recent articles, such endeavors are being undertaken and trade between China and NK is in the neighborhood of $1-$2 billion per annum.

    In fact, if Kim Jong Il et al is paranoid about creeping liberalism via osmosis, why does NK even bother with Kaesong? Isn’t it better to strictly conduct such ventures with China? How would you explain this?

    If NK is going to gain revenue anyway from efforts similar to Kaesong with China, why should SK be faulted for doing it? Is it in the highest interest of SK to just sit back and not do a Kaesong and watch the Chinese take all the initiative at the northern border?

    Finally, how successful is the “clandestine opposition movement”? How’s that working out? Is there any record of the effectiveness of it that you can point me to?

    COMMENT:
    AUTHOR: Joshua
    EMAIL: onefreekorea@yahoo.com

    NK can always conduct similar projects with the PRC.

    Yes and no. First, China isn’t the potential customer that South Korea is. It’s a less wealthy nation per capita, and lacks the ethnic angle that causes South Koreans to prefer NK products of even middling quality. China is also less technologically advanced than South Korea. Most importantly, China has more than enough cheap labor of its own, and needs nothing from North Korea but its resources and geography (ie., the port at Rajin). North Korea also seeks political influence over South Korea, something it won’t easily get from China, on which it’s already dependent. Part of Kim Jong Il’s goal for Kaesong is to depend on several different states, so that he can play them against one another. Kim Il Sung did the same with Russia and China for decades. So the China alternative doesn’t hold much water.

    Why bother with Kaesong if NK fears SK osmosis? First, I think my post pretty definitively establishes that NK does indeed fear influences from SK on its people. The cheerleader episode was a grim illustration of that, and the new reports from Kaesong show that the NKs are taking extraordinary measures to maintain control. The workers are hand-picked and tightly supervised. Apparently, Kim Jong Il thinks he can keep a tight enough lid on things to keep the risk-reward ratio favorable. On the reward side, if you look at the difference between $58 and $8 per worker per month, the operation obviously has tremendous hard-currency earning potential for the regime. But if I’m correct, Kim Jong Il will soon realize that “subversive” ideas have more traction than he’d feared, and he probably won’t allow Kaesong to grow much more. The question then becomes whether it can ever turn a profit.

    We’ll see.

    Why should South Korea be faulted for using nickel-an-hour no-union captive labor? Extend the argument and tell me why Japan should be criticized for making money with Korean forced labor.

    We advocate policies that will help build a North Korean opposition, which obviously implies that this is not an effort that’s yet begun in earnest. What we’re trying to do here is start serious discussion of that idea (thanks for your help). The opposition appears to be in its infancy, but the evidence is that some organized resistance does exist, and that it’s already having a significant impact on world opinion through the footage it’s smuggling out:

    http://www.korealiberator.org/2006/02/07/organized-groups-attack-n-korean-border-posts/

    http://www.korealiberator.org/2005/11/14/undercover-in-the-secret-state-must-viewing/

    http://www.korealiberator.org/2005/10/23/the-guardian-nk-resistance-cell-took-execution-video/

    http://www.korealiberator.org/2005/01/30/is-north-korea-collapsing/

    http://www.korealiberator.org/2005/01/20/down-with-kim-jong-il-lets-all-rise-to-drive-out-the-dictatorial-regime/

    In his excellent book, Rogue Regime, Jasper Becker catalogues a series of recent uprisings and mutinies in North Korea. The evidence suggests that discontent is widespread, but mostly remains disorganized because of the effectiveness of secret police and the lack of a viable political alternative (helping the North Koreans formulate one is the most important contribution we can make).

    Now, answer your own question. Exactly how is appeasement “working out” for the South Koreans? Aren’t they still living under the shadow of 12,000 artillery tubes and a growing nuclear arsenal? What tangible achievements can you point to that have really improved the safety or properity of people on either side of the DMZ? What could you say to the families of the 2.5 million dead North Koreans of “inferior” class, who never seemed to get much of the free rice or beef that South Korea sent across, or of the World Food Program aid? Are the North Koreans an iota freer than they were in 1997? Are there fewer of them in the concentration camps?

    What South Korea’s policies have accomplished is to prolong a regime that’s rewarded that unqualified generosity with mass murder, oppression, and constant threats of war.

  2. Korea’s ‘Arbeit Macht Frei’ Bubble

    […] Since we now know that the North Koreans at Kaesong only earn 5 cents an hour, I was interested in seeing Comrade Chung’s name on this list of Korea’s richest politicians, who somehow seem to do rather well on government salaries.  The Government Ethics Committee said Tuesday the wealth of 1,000 high-ranking officials increased on average W140 million last year. President Roh Moo-hyun reported assets worth W829.3 million, up W94.47 million from a year ago due to savings from his salary and investment in stock funds. Prime Minister Lee Hae-chan increased his assets by a mere W4.89 million to W748.9 million and National Assembly Speaker Kim Won-gi by W91 million to W1.293 billion. Chief Justice Lee Yong-hun and Constitutional Court President Yun Young-chul also increased their wealth to W3.853 billion and W2.977 billion. […]

    COMMENT:
    AUTHOR: bluejives
    EMAIL: bluejives73@yahoo.com
    Don’t get me wrong, Joshua. I am not opposed to the “clandestine opposition movement”. But I don’t see why it has to be mutually exclusive with the goals of engagement policy. I think that is a role that should be played.

    There are some progress being made on the engagement front, the most recent examples which I have noted on my own blog here.

    But you have to admit that engagement was never given a fair chance to demonstrate its effectiveness on its own. Official engagement policy, or as you like to call it “appeasement”, has been going on since 2000. George W Bush came into office in 2001. The Bush Doctrine and US hardball has put a lot of dent in SK’s detente efforts. You cannot deny this. It’s one thing call the engagement policy a road to failure if it was given a chance to execute itself unmitigated without any undue outside interferences, but that is simply not the case.

    Also I cant help but wonder if placing human rights at a position of primacy in any policy dealing with NK is fundamentally flawed. That is rather like putting the cart before the horse. Genuine human rights can only exist in a society that has a well-developed infrastructure of institutions that uphold constitutional liberty. That in turn can only come about after a period of economic development. That is a model of development that has proven over and over again in many different parts of the world since the Industrial Revolution.

    Think about it. Let’s say your ultimate goal, which is a North Korean collapse, is achieved tomorrow. What going to happen after that? What preparations does forced regime-change policy have for the post-collapse period? A collapse, by definition, means that all existing agencies that wield power and authority are no more. A sudden collapse would throw NK into a state of lawlessness and anarchy. I can easily see Chinese troops being moved into NK, even before the actual collapse happens, due to all the disturbances that they will surely notice, to impose martial law and maintain law and order. Where’s your human rights then?

    This is the advantage that engagement policy has over sudden regime-change. It is far more comprehensive. Regime-change only thinks up to the regime-change itself, but doesnt go beyond it.

    COMMENT:
    AUTHOR: Joshua
    EMAIL: onefreekorea@yahoo.com

    Don’t get me wrong, Joshua. I am not opposed to the “clandestine opposition movement”. But I don’t see why it has to be mutually exclusive with the goals of engagement policy. I think that is a role that should be played.

    Sit down in a sturdy chair — I don’t actually disagree.

    The Limits of Diplomacy

    I’m not a blanket opponent of diplomacy, I’m just realistically skeptical about what diplomacy can accomplish when the other side is not incentivized to comply with its agreements. This is such a case. For most nations, the desire to maintain a reputation for good faith dealing is sufficient. Not so North Korea, which not only lacks any compunction about renegeing on its agreements, but has done what not even Saddam Hussein would do — refused to repay its debts. (Even if the world were to lift all sanctions against North Korea, no one wants to lend money to a deadbeat.)

    So if good faith isn’t sufficient, you must have an iron fist in your velvet glove — an implicit threat to do something. Unfortunately, North Korea matches every implicit threat with a greater threat, bluff, and bluster, and the world is fundamentally unserious about backing up its threats. Worse, it’s foolish enough to take NK’s threats seriously. That leaves us with offering more “carrots,” which means we’re negotiating from weakness and consistently rewarding the worst behavior. It’s not clear that anything will make effective negotiation with NK possible, but it IS clear that this past approach has been a complete failure.

    Btw, I did note the examples of progress you note — mostly low-level inter-Korean dialogues — but none of it particularly impressed me. It all looked fairly cosmetic and inconsequential. None of it seemed to reflect any significant regime shift toward transparency, which is the real heart of the problem.

    No More Empty Threats

    You may reasonably ask: what realistic threat can we make? Military action is an empty threat because of the NK artillery. Economic sanctions would only be partially effective. First, North Korea itself wants to be isolated. Without isolation, the regime is doomed. North Korea wants a carefully isolated and controlled form of trade/aid that supplies the regime with hard currency. Also, China doesn’t want the regime to collapse and would attempt to take up the slack if other nations cut trade (at the same time, KJI seeks to diversify his sources of support, as his father did). It would take a substantial economic shock to destabilize the regime — not more of the slow, steady decline that we’ve seen in the past.

    Thinking Beyond Regime Change

    Plus, sanctions alone don’t offer a nation’s people a better alternative. Sanctions tend to isolate and embitter a people. Even as we isolate the regime, we ought to seek meaningful and direct contact with the North Korean people. That’s not easy to do when the government has a morbid fear of just that. But that’s why we have to be creative. I see refugees as one group of North Koreans to which we can reach out almost immediately.

    You argue that regime change is a recipe for lawlessness. I would respond that regime change and at least some degree of post-revolutionary lawlessness is probably inevitable, regardless of what Chung Dong Young wants.

    Nobody wants a nuclear Somalia. So don’t you think it’s prudent for us to help shape post-KJI North Korea into something better, or would you prefer to default to this-or-that faction or warlord, each with competing strains of juche, Maoism, or outright banditry? If no responsible power — South Korea or a democratic resistance force — helps build a foundation for an alternative authority, lawlessness is much, much more likely. So is Chinese intervention. Why not immediately start helping the North Koreans build a constituency for democracy, free markets, and the rule of law?

    Finally, note that South Korea is actually disbanding the very political and military plans that would allow it to restore the rule of law in North Korea (I doubt China is equally naive). One of the genuinely legitimate criticisms about our effort in Iraq is that we were not immediately prepared to put Iraqis on the ground to help restore order. Have we learning nothing from this?

    Keeping China Out of Korea

    Doing so could also help to deter Chinese intervention. The last thing China really needs now is getting drawn into a messy insurgency in the mountains of North Korea, which are perfect terrain for guerrilla operations. A true, broad-based insurgency with real popular support would make Iraq look like a (wait for it!) cakewalk. And one of the lessons of the Soviet-Afghan War is that dictatorships don’t fare well politically in guerrilla wars.

    The United States could help prevent Chinese intervention by quietly sending the signal that we’d arm and train the forces opposing them. A Chinese intervention would likely drive South Korea back into the American camp, making such an effort easier logistically.

    Summary and Conclusion

    What supporting clandestine resistance does is (1) set the stage for the political, economic, social, and psychological recovery of North Korea; (2) directly challenges China’s support for the regime by threatening its supply lines to Pyongyang; (3) give North Korea a real incentive for negotiating in good faith; (4) provide the United States with an alternative network that can provide us information about North Korea’s compliance with its agreements; and (5) it’s the right thing to do from the perspective of our nation’s morals and values to help people liberate themselves from democidal oppression.

    Oppressed and mortally endangered people who lack a peaceful means of achieving change have a right to resist, a right grounded in Article 51 of the UN charter.

    COMMENT:
    AUTHOR: slim
    EMAIL: slimilsung@yahoo.com
    I’d like to see concrete examples of the dent Bush has put in detente — as opposed to all the excuses for non-performance and stalling that North Korea has used Bush as a peg for (and found a ready audience in the South). The USFK didn’t block the DMZ railroad work, even if it didn’t like it at first. Those delays were due to North Korean footdragging. Ditto every exchange that has failed to live up to its 6.15 promise, from the family reunions to the return summit. The “our nation by ourselves” language in the 6.15 declaration was forced on DJ by the North as a way to keep the South feeling embarassed by its military relationship with the U.S. The North should instead be held to its word and not allowed to point to Uncle Sam every time it wants to renege or renegotiate. And we can’t forget that Bush’s March 2001 skepticism about Kim Jong-il keeping his word was borne out by the HEU program that predated Bush by 4-5 years.

    COMMENT:
    AUTHOR: Mi-Hwa
    EMAIL: ajung@knology.net

    The United States could help prevent Chinese intervention by quietly sending the signal that we’d arm and train the forces opposing them.

    This coming from someone who preaches the “Death of the Alliance” and withdrawing the USFK from South Korea. What contradiction and hypocrisy.
    Joshua, if you are really serious about backing up the NK insurgents, then you should support the USFK staying in South Korea and sticking around for the post-KJI period.

    Also, South Korea should not completely rely on the US to prevent a Chinese intervention. The American government may decide that it is best to let China take care of North Korea, just like the way America has put China in charge of the six-party talks.

    COMMENT:
    AUTHOR: Joshua
    EMAIL: onefreekorea@yahoo.com
    That coming from someone who loathes the United States and those who serve in its defense but refuses – repeatedly – to assent to the withdrawal of our troops. How amusing, coming from you.

    There isn’t anything hypocritical or contradictory in what I’m saying. The alliance, as I’ve said repeatedly, depends on common interests and values shared by both nations. I question what values and interests Roh’s Korea shares with America, hence, my calls for the withdrawal of at least most of our ground component. It would not leave Korea unable to defend itself, it would just mean that Koreans would have to pay their own taxes, like we do.

    I suspect, however, that if China invaded North Korea, there would be a dramatic political shift in the South, which could mean a revival of that old unity of interests. If you change the facts, you change the conclusion.

    Having tens of thousands of troops is completely unnecessary for supplying, arming, and training guerrillas, however. Keep in mind that the training should not initially be military. It should be political, medical, agricultural, and educational. This is a long process that begins with infiltrating highly skilled cadres into North Korean communities. A small number of Special Forces could do that job. In fact, we don’t have many SF guys in Korea. Far more of them are on Okinawa. And North Korea has two very long coastlines.

    So either way.

    COMMENT:
    AUTHOR: Mi-Hwa
    EMAIL: ajung@knology.net

    A small number of Special Forces could do that job.

    In your dreams, maybe. You are not a military tactician, that’s for sure. I would rather put my trust in the ROK and USFK troops.

    COMMENT:
    AUTHOR: Joshua
    EMAIL: onefreekorea@yahoo.com
    Yes, Mi Hwa. Please enlighten us with your extensive military tactical knowledge! I can hardly wait! The John F. Kennedy Special Warfare School thanks you in advance for your insight.

    Here’s a quote from what looks like a very interesting read, “The Special Forces Guerrilla Warfare Manual:”

    The original mission of the U.S. Army Special Forces is to organize, equip and train people who live under oppressive governments in the business of guerrilla warfare. This handy manual is a primer in the many facets of a successful guerrilla campaign as taught by the pros in Special Forces. It not only covers such all-important fundamentals as small-unit tactics, the proper use of patrol bases and specialized combat principles, weapons and techniques of guerrilla warfare, it also lays out a blueprint for three vital but often overlooked areas — setting up intelligence networks, conducting psychological operations and organizing a solid political infrastructure — that are the real tools for long-term success in an insurgency.

    Covering everything from the first acts of sporadic rebellion to the final overthrow of a tyrannical government and establishment of a just, democratic society, this book is a fascinating tutorial in modern armed resistance.

    Think I’ll order it. Cool excerpts here (scroll down and click “excerpt”).

    More on SF here at their official site. SF is divided into brigade-sized groups, with battalions and even companies operating very independently. (A company is generally composed of about 150-200 soldiers, and a battation is typically 500-600.) Our largest SF unit in the region is at Torii Station, Okinawa, Japan, where I often went TDY to defend SF clients after their bar fights in Bangkok or the PI after Cobra Gold or Balikpatan (sp?). Not only were those guys great clients, they had great stories.

    Incidentally, are you ready to agree that U.S. ground forces can leave Korea tomorrow? No matter how many times you refuse to answer, it still amuses me.

    COMMENT:
    AUTHOR: Mi-Hwa
    EMAIL: ajung@knology.net
    Relying on the Special Forces to fight the communists in North Korea is almost like saying the Korean War could have been won by “a small number of Special Forces”. It’s absurd.

    The best way to support a growing pro-democracy movement in North Korea against the Communists, both North Korean and Chinese, is with the combination of ROK and USFK troops, as well as international support.

    COMMENT:
    AUTHOR: slim
    EMAIL: slimilsung@yahoo.com
    This is silly, Mi-Hwa, and I get the feeling you’re not reading Joshua carefully enough before you reply:

    “Relying on the Special Forces to fight the communists in North Korea is almost like saying the Korean War could have been won by “a small number of Special Forces”. It’s absurd.”

    COMMENT:
    AUTHOR: Joshua
    EMAIL: onefreekorea@yahoo.com

    Relying on the Special Forces to fight the communists in North Korea is almost like saying the Korean War could have been won by “a small number of Special Forces”. It’s absurd.

    I’ts not at all like that. The political and military situations were entirely different. One was a conventional invasion by a large, well-armed, well-trained armored force imbued with fresh revolutionary spirit and high morale. The other is the subversion of a rotten, decayed, failing, and unpopular tyranny.

    The best way to support a growing pro-democracy movement in North Korea against the Communists, both North Korean and Chinese, is with the combination of ROK and USFK troops, as well as international support.

    Translation: please stay and buy our OB lager. Keep those U.S. government contracts coming. Subsidize our national defense. Also, stay on post and keep away from our daughters.

    If that’s a recipe for political victory, why is the gesture so unappreciated by you and your countrymen? What message could it ever get through to the North Koreans, other than to feed KJI’s occupation / imperialism propaganda?

    It’s time for us to reduce our footprint in Korea and start getting our message directly to the people of both Koreas. Thank God Alexander Vershbow appears to understand that.

    COMMENT:
    AUTHOR: Mi-Hwa
    EMAIL: ajung@knology.net
    In the post-KJI period, there will be a lot of instability, especially since there isn’t a clear successor who can win popular support. In addition, there is the ongoing economic and social problems. The North Koreans will also be divided between the Communist and pro-democracy groups.

    In this period that will happen in the near future, it is imperative that ROK and America identify and support the pro-democracy groups. Without this support, it would be easy for China to set up a puppet government in Pyongyang with the collaboration of some NK officials.

    That’s why it’s important to prepare for this upcoming transition period. The defectors in South Korea and elsewhere can become the leaders of the pro-democracy movement, once they can return to North Korea.

    COMMENT:
    AUTHOR: Mi-Hwa
    EMAIL: ajung@knology.net
    I also want to mention that it’s important for South Korean politicians to be very pro-active in North Korean relations. The only way to counter the Chinese influence in North Korea is for South Korea to exert as much influence as possible in North Korean matters. Re-nification is not going to happen automatically, unless Koreans from both sides pursue it strongly, overcoming Chinese intervention.

    COMMENT:
    AUTHOR: Joshua
    EMAIL: onefreekorea@yahoo.com

    In the post-KJI period, there will be a lot of instability, especially since there isn’t a clear successor who can win popular support. In addition, there is the ongoing economic and social problems. The North Koreans will also be divided between the Communist and pro-democracy groups.

    In this period that will happen in the near future, it is imperative that ROK and America identify and support the pro-democracy groups. Without this support, it would be easy for China to set up a puppet government in Pyongyang with the collaboration of some NK officials.

    That’s why it’s important to prepare for this upcoming transition period. The defectors in South Korea and elsewhere can become the leaders of the pro-democracy movement, once they can return to North Korea.

    Holy crap. I agree with every word. Who are you, and what did you do with Mi-Hwa?

  3. Korea’s ‘Arbeit Macht Frei’ Bubble

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